Writing dialogue isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. It was one of the areas I was dinged on when I first submitted my manuscript. My dialogue dragged. Basically I wrote out conversations just like real people talk. After taking a few classes and looking at how other authors wrote in published books, I did get a grasp on what the literary agent was saying. My dialogue was weighing the story down and offering unnecessary detail. It caused everything to come to a stop.
Fictional speech is more focused and coherent than real speech. Fictional speech also has to be purposeful. You can’t just rant and rave about the newest fashion with your friends unless it’s an integral part of the story providing information that you are going to need later. Your dialogue should be evoking something from a character or moving the story forward. It also needs to be seamlessly integrated into the story. Told you there was more to it than you would think.
There are special rules of punctuation that are used to separate dialogue from other texts and signify who is talking. These rules are pretty standard and if you pick up any novel and turn to a page with dialogue you will see them in use.
- Direct quotations are set apart by using quotation marks.
- Alternating speakers are set apart by paragraph breaks.
- All quotations begin with a capital letter.
Dialogue tags are not part of a quote and should not be included in the quotation marks. They are necessary to identify who is speaking and to convey information that isn’t clear. A character tag usually includes the character’s name and some version of said, unless conveying information that isn’t clear.
e.g. “I love you,” Mary said. vs. “I love you,” Mary sobbed.
Dialogue tags should be used sparingly. You don’t want to bog down your story with he said, she said. Use them only when necessary to inform the reader who is speaking or to convey feelings.
If two characters are in a short conversation you should probably be able to get by with identifying both at the beginning of the conversation without adding additional tags. If you’ve written a long conversation between two characters, you may need to add tags ever so often to help the reader keep up with who is talking. It isn’t fun when you have to stop and go back to the top of the page and count by two’s to figure out who is saying what. You also may want to use the tags to convey feelings. Mary may have gotten angry in the middle of the conversation and you need to add a tag to suggest this.