Dialogue can be a bit intimidating. All that punctuation. But it’s really not that complicated. The usual practice is to put dialogue in quotes and place an attribution after it, separated with a comma inside the closing quote mark. The attribution will not be capitalized, because it’s part of the same sentence:
“Hello,” he said.
The only thing that’s a little weird is if the quote is a question, you still don’t capitalize the attribution, even though it sort of looks like you should:
“How?” he asked.
When using a character’s name, it’s best to place the name before the verb, as in
“Hello,” Mark said.
This has fallen out of style:
“Hello,” said Mark.
You can also put the attribution first:
He said, “Hello.”
That’s really about all there is to dialogue punctuation.
The other important rule is to change paragraphs each time you change speakers. This would be confusing:
“Hello,” he said. “How are you?” she asked.
But this isn’t:
“Hello,” he said.
“How are you?” she asked.
Great dialogue in a novel or screenplay is very different from ordinary conversation. In real conversations, people chatter endlessly and often boringly about nothing. But that’s not something you want to include in your novel!
Dialogue in your novel is a form of conflict. As with all conflict, it serves one of two purposes. I should either advance the plot, or develop the characters. If it doesn’t, you can cut it.
It’s also important that your dialogue sounds like someone said it, not like it was polished in a word processor. Here are a few ways to make your dialogue seem more real:
- Eliminate long speeches. Use quick back-and-forth exchanges.
- People don’t talk in long, complex sentences. In fact, they rarely complete a sentence at all.
- Avoid information dumps; people rarely converse about things they both already know. It usually requires a question to elicit a statement.
- People rarely say the other person’s name in a conversation and almost never more than once.
- Use lots of interruptions and pauses. Conversations aren’t continuous. Silence is important.
I’ve prepared a five-page summary of good dialogue techniques and some exercises to let you practice improving some horrible dialogue from a very popular best seller! You can download your free copy here: Dialogue Exercises
For more help with writing great dialogue, check out my newest class, Creative Writing Projects. It gives you twelve projects designed to take you from brainstorming to publication, step by step, in twelve weeks. The class is regularly $299, but for a limited time you can enroll for just $39 using this link:
Creative Writing Projects Limited Time Offer Regularly
$299 Just $39