Knowing how to format dialogue is important for a lot of writers. However, knowing all of the formatting rules is not easy.
There are writing rules, punctuation rules, dialogue rules, speaking rules, and so on that are important to master so you can properly format your manuscript.
In this article, we will be going over some of the basics of formatting written dialogue so you can get your book ready to be published.
How To Format Dialogue
Why Dialogue Formatting Matters
Dialogue formatting matters because it enhances readability, ensuring that readers can easily distinguish between spoken words and narrative text. Proper formatting also helps convey character emotions and tone through the use of punctuation and tags.
Also, it adheres to publishing industry standards, making a manuscript more professional and ready for publication.
Remember that dialogue is a powerful tool for character development and storytelling. Use it to reveal your characters’ personalities, advance the plot, and create engaging conversations.
Formatting Helps Flow
Proper formatting is one of things that readers do not pay attention to, unless it is incorrect. Good formatting should go unnoticed as the silent hero of your book.
If your formatting is weird or wrong, people will notice that before anything else in your story. It will knock them out of the flow of your chapter, which can be a point that some readers do not come back from.
They might even choose to put your book down, which is not what you want as an author.
How To Format Dialogue
Formatting dialogue in writing is an essential skill for creating engaging and readable conversations between characters. Proper dialogue formatting helps readers follow the conversation and understand who is speaking. Here are some guidelines for formatting dialogue:
1. Each speaker gets their own paragraph
Whenever a different character speaks, begin a new paragraph. This helps readers easily distinguish between speakers. This will help prevent a lot of confusion for your readers when it comes to figuring out who is speaking at any given moment.
“I love this book,” Sarah said.
“Really?” John replied. “I thought it was boring.”
If you are having the same character continue to speak, it is okay to include that in the same paragraph.
2. Use Quotation Marks
Enclose the spoken words within double quotation marks (“) or single quotation marks (‘) depending on your style guide (double quotes are more common in American English).
“I can’t believe it,” she said.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
The most important thing is to stick one style of quotation marks and continue to use it throughout your book.
There will be times where you use both, but you will need to understand and apply the basics first before you worry about that.
3. Use dialogue tags
Dialogue tags are words that attribute the spoken words to a specific character. Common dialogue tags include “said,” “asked,” “replied,” “shouted,” “whispered,” etc. Use them to clarify who is speaking. Here are some examples:
“I’m so tired,” she said wearily.
“Can you help me?” he asked.
4. Give proper attribution
You will need to let the reader know which character is speaking in certain dialogues.
In the dialogue, you will want to include things like, “said Marie”, “said Mark as he walked down the stairs” and so on.
You might even want to give deeper details of how they are saying it as well as who is saying it. Are they saying it with an exhausted expression? Are they rolling their eyes with certain parts of their dialogue? These little things matter.
5. Omit excessive dialogue tags
While it is essential to use dialogue tags, at the same time, you do not want to use an excessive amount in your books.
In many cases, you can omit dialogue tags if it’s clear who is speaking due to the context or the flow of the conversation. Overusing dialogue tags can be distracting and break readers out of their immersion in the story.
5. Punctuation inside quotation marks
Place punctuation marks (commas, periods, exclamation points, and question marks) inside the closing quotation mark.
“I’m going to the store,” she said.
He asked, “What time is it?”
6. Separate dialogue from tags
Use a comma to separate the dialogue from the dialogue tag. If the dialogue tag comes before the dialogue, it should end with a comma. If it comes after, it should begin with a comma.
She said, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” she said.
While it is the end of the sentence of what the character is saying, it is not the end of the full sentence, so you do not want to use a period.
7. Properly use indentation
In standard manuscript format, dialogue is typically indented. You can use a consistent indentation for all dialogue lines to make your writing visually appealing and organized. However, some writing platforms may automatically format paragraphs, so check the requirements of your medium.
8. Use paragraph breaks
While we went over the fact that you will want to switch paragraphs when a different character is speaking, you will also want to do so when there is a change in topic. That can be a change in topic between two characters, a change of thought, a new action occurring, or some other change that is taking place.
When a character speaks at length or there’s a change in the speaker or topic, you should start a new paragraph. This helps readers follow the flow of the story.
You do not want to completely switch topics in the middle of the same paragraph as you will confuse readers. It might make sense to you while you are writing your story, but be sure to catch splitting them up when you
9. Show actions
Instead of always using dialogue tags, you can use character actions to indicate who is speaking.
Mary poured a cup of coffee. “Would you like some?”
John scratched his head. “I’m not sure what to do.”
In your story, you should also use actions to indicate how the character is speaking and their overall tone. Instead of saying a character is joking, describe how they are smiling or laughing with what they are saying.
10. Separate actions from characters and narrator
A lot of writers fall victim to combining sentences from the narrator and the characters. You will want to use a dialogue tag, such as “said” “asked” or something else to tell the difference between them.
11. Stay consistent
More than anything, you will want to keep a lot of your formatting and rules consistent.
Choose a style for dialogue formatting and stick to it.
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Dialogue can be a hard thing to master, but we have a helpful guide!
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