Tuesday 21 February 2023

Tip Sheet: setting out dilaogue

 Balloons, Thoughtless Blow, Comic

“Do you know what? I get really stuck on setting out dialogue[GJ1] ,” said the Creative Writing student.

“It’s not really all that difficult,” replied[GJ2]  the teacher. “Do remember to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks[GJ3] .”

“Oh, is that when you start a new paragraph in the middle of a conversation?” The[GJ4]  student looked as if a light bulb had gone off in her head. “And what are the rules about where the speech marks go?”

“They always go around the speech[GJ5] , with the normal punctuation marks inside it[GJ6] ,” said the teacher[GJ7] , “although you use a comma instead of a full stop at the end, if you are assigning the speech. And if you put the assignation in the middle of the sentence, you don’t start the second bit with a capital letter and you put another comma in front of it.”

Pardon[GJ8] ?”

“Look. Like this.” The[GJ9]  teacher showed the student this document. 

“It’s actually a good idea to have this in front of you when you’re working on a dialogue in a piece of fiction.”  Now it was the teacher’s turn to grow a light bulb[GJ10] . “Or, even, have a well written book open as you work. You can see the pattern. It’s easier than trying to remember[GJ11] .”

“How often should you put “said”?”

“As little as possible. But actually you must use it if otherwise the reader wouldn’t know who was saying what.”

“Okay. But doesn’t it get a bit boring for the reader?”

“Actually they tend not to notice[GJ12] .”

“What about other words – like expostulated, screamed and so on?”

The teacher shook her head. “Best not to. They draw attention to themselves. “Whisper”, “shout”, “asked” and “replied” and sometimes “reply” are all right[GJ13] .

“And you can always use a bit of body language to let us know who’s speaking.” The teacher winked.  

“You can’t do that all the time, can you?”

“No, but a lot of the time you don’t need to put anything – you can tell who is talking by the way they talk and what they’re saying. Especially if there’s only two of them. You only need more tags or body language if they go on for more than a page, if they’re very similar to each other or if you’re writing for younger people.”       

“Okay. Thank you for your help.”

“My pleasure. That’s what we’re here for.”              

 [GJ1]Note: normal punctuation within the speech marks EXCEPT comma instead of full stop. 

 [GJ2]“replied” is just about all right for assigning speech.

 [GJ3]And of course, there is no new paragraph here because the teacher is still talking.

 [GJ4]We have used no word to assign.  We have reconfirmed that this is the student speaking by telling you something else about her.

 [GJ5]See, a normal punctuation mark.

 [GJ6]But a comma here and note that it is inside the speech marks.

 [GJ7]The teacher has not finished her sentence so we have a comma here and no capital letter at the beginning of the remaining speech.  

 [GJ8]We don’t need “said” here because it’s clear it is the student speaking.  

 [GJ9]We know it is the teacher speaking because we see her do something else.

 [GJ10]And here we know that it is the teacher.

 [GJ11]This really works.  Try it.


 [GJ13]Note, we haven’t closed the speech marks because the teacher continues to speak. But has started a new paragraph.

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