How to Write Great Dialogue That Your Readers Will Love

As a writer, there are times you’ll have to write dialogue in your essays or fiction. In such a case, knowing how to write grammatically correct dialogue is important.

How to Use Commas in Dialogue

Commas are the basic building blocks of dialogue. Commas should be between your opening quotes when writing dialogue. This rule has exceptions. For instance, you do not need a comma when you introduce text with a conjunction such as ‘that ‘or ‘whether’.

Use commas when your character has spoken a sentence. This may be one of the few cases where a sentence doesn’t end with a full stop.

When a tag comes after dialogue, then use a comma before the closing quote when you would normally use a period. We discuss tags further down.

If there is no tag, then you can end the character’s spoken sentence with a full stop. This rule applies only applies to them.

Avoid omitting extra punctuation that adds meaning or clarity to a sentence, such as an exclamation point or question mark. We’ll discuss how these are used in dialogue next.

Using Question Marks and Exclamation Marks in Dialogue

In most cases, question marks and exclamation marks fall inside quotation marks when used. Depending on the meaning you want to convey, sometimes we place these marks outside of the closing quotation mark.

Direct and Indirect Speech in Dialogue

Understanding direct and indirect speech is indispensable when learning how to write grammatically correct grammar.

When a character in your story is speaking directly, what they say is set off in quotation marks. This only happens with direct dialogue.

Meanwhile, indirect dialogue is a recap of what one of the characters said.

Single lines of direct dialogue do not require a dialogue tag. On the other hand, multi-line direct dialogue, such as when character is talking to another, requires a dialogue tag.

Dialogue tags are phrases. Examples are “he said” or “she said”. They go before, comes after or appear in the middle of a bit of dialogue.

This lets the reader knows who the speaker is. They can also tell how the speaker’s mood as they speak.

Use Open Quotation Marks If Your Dialogue Takes up Several Paragraphs

Dialogue that takes up multiple paragraphs should open with a quote. However, the closing quotation mark does not appear until the last paragraph.

Each new paragraph begins with an opening quotation though.

Use an Em Dash When Your Characters Dialogue Is Interrupted

If your character is surprised, cut off or otherwise interrupted, you should use an em dash

You can tell the em dash because it’s longer than a hyphen. When the speaker stops speaking on their own or is interrupted., an em dash indicates that the dialogue stops abruptly. They are placed inside the closing quotation marks.

To Wrap Up

We hope we’ve cleared any confusion about how to punctuate your dialogue. These short rules on how to write grammatically correct dialogue should start you off in the right direction.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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