How To Write A Dialogue

What is a Dialogue?

A dialogue is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people. The style is less formal than report writing. Remember that a dialogue is a two-way communication and not a monologue. Neither is it just one person asking questions and the other answering. Let the conversation be brisk and rapid. Give each character a unique voice and the dialogues need to be realistic with interruptions and overlapping speech. It should appear to be spontaneous or impromptu. Try to remember how real people talk in conversations. In real conversation, people often use exclamations, expressing surprise, irritation, pleasure and so on. Interjections may be used from time to time but use them sparingly.

Dialogues provide information, reveal emotion, advance the plot and expose characters. The dialogue should lead to a conclusion. It should not end abruptly.

How to Format Dialogues?

  1. Use quotation marks to indicate spoken words. Whenever someone is speaking, their words should be enclosed in double/single quotation marks. (“…”) (American) (‘…’) (British)

    Example: How are you? (American)
    ‘How are you?’ (British)
  2. Dialogue tags let us know who is speaking. Dialogue tags stay outside the quotation marks. (You do not need to use dialogue tags all the time but you will not want your readers to be lost as well.)

    Example: “Give me another minute and I’ll be done!” Karen said hastily. (American)
    ‘Give me another minute and I’ll be done!’ Karen said hastily. (British)
  3. If the dialogue tag comes before the dialogue, the comma appears before the first quotation mark.

    Example: She whispered, “Don’t tell anyone.” (American)
    She whispered, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ (British)

    The dialogue tag can also comes after the dialogue.

    Example: “Don’t tell anyone,” she whispered. (American)
    ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ she whispered. (British)
  4. If the dialogue ends with an exclamation point or a question mark, the tags that follow begin in lowercase unless it starts off with a name.

    Example: “Keep quiet!” she shouted. (American)
    ‘Keep quiet!’ she shouted. (British)
  5. Dialogues should be indented and a new paragraph must be given to a new speaker even if it is just a word.

    Example (American): “I am going to the mall. Would you like to come along?” mother asked.
    “That would be lovely!” exclaimed May in excitement.

    Example (British): ‘I am going to the mall. Would you like to come along?’ mother asked.
    ‘That would be lovely!’ exclaimed May in excitement.

  6. Use single quotation marks when quoting something within a dialogue. (American)
    Use double quotation marks when quoting something within a dialogue.

    Example (American): She reminded him, “Last week you told me ‘we will meet today’, do you still remember?”

    Example (British): She reminded him, ‘Last week you told me “we will meet today”, do you still remember?’
  7. Starts with a lowercase if action comes in the middle of a sentence of a dialogue.

    Example (American): “I always have to be the one cleaning up,” he sighed, “and nobody will help me out.”

    Example (British): ‘I always have to be the one cleaning up,’ he sighed, ‘and nobody will help me out.’
  8. For long speeches, start the speech with quotation marks and close the quotes when the character stops speaking a sentence or two later. You may divide very long speeches into paragraphs and each paragraph will have its own quotation marks.
  9. Em dashes indicate interruption. When formatting dialogue with em dashes, the dashes should be placed inside the quotation marks.

    Example (American): Alan suggested, “Why don’t we – “
    “Forget it!” Ethan interrupted.

    Example (British): Alan suggested, ‘Why don’t we -‘
    ‘Forget it!’ Ethan interrupted.
  10. Ellipses ( … ) in the middle of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker stopped talking momentarily.

    Ellipses at the end of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker faltered before completing his or her statement and do not forget the period. (fourth dot)

    Example (American): I wish ” …. “
    (British): I wish ‘…. ‘

    Please note that ellipses overload is not advisable.

How is Dialogue Tested in Examinations?

You could add dialogues to your narratives as they help to reveal each person’s real personality and voice to give the story realism. During examinations, students could also be asked to write a dialogue or conversation between two people. It could be a face-to-face conversation or a phone conversation, video conferencing, a tele-conference, meeting or briefing.

For instance: Imagine that you and and a friend read a magazine article about Taylor Swift’s rich dad buying her career. Both of you had differing views. Write the dialogue you had with your friend who disagreed with the article.

Lay it out like a script, use a colon and use language that is realistic to the character. Include non-verbal cues by putting the cues in brackets.

Joe: Hey, wait for me!
Alan (in a hurry): I am running late for my job interview. I need to go now!
Joel (gulping up his drink): Just one more minute, I will be done.
Alan (tapping his fingers): Hurry up!

More examples of non-verbal cues:

  • Barging in (interrupting)
  • Turning away (showed disinterest)
  • Shrugged (ignorant or showed disinterest)
  • Stamping her foot (agitated)
  • Rubbing hands (anticipating something)
  • tapping his fingers (impatient)
  • Stroking chin (trying to make a decision)
  • Biting nails (feeling nervous)
  • Raised eyebrows (surprised or in disbelief)

An example of a dialogue between two friends:

Madison: Hazel, did you know that Justin Bieber’s ‘Yummy’ topped the charts yesterday?
Hazel (in delight): Wow, that’s amazing! Justin really deserves it.
Madison: Eh, really? I think he is quite overrated.
Hazel (in shock): How so?
Madison: His songs are pretty repetitive and the lyrics are also lame –
Hazel (cutting in): No, no, that’s not true at all! He has many meaningful songs, for example ‘Turn To You’, which is a Mother’s Day dedication.
Madison: Alright, but ‘Turn To You’ is an exception. His first hit, ‘Baby’ had really silly lyrics.
Hazel (trying to reason): I agree with you partly, but he was only 16 when he sang ‘Baby’. The lyrics are actually sweet.
Madison (unimpressed): He sounded really immature! I would expect more from a 16-year-old, honestly. ‘Baby’ is also really repetitive…did you know that Justin sang the word ‘baby’ 56 times in the song? He also repeated the chorus 6 times!
Hazel: Well, the chorus is catchy, so no one really minds if he sings it 6 times.