Some Deets on Dialoguing!

Hi there! I’ve been considering posting about tips and tricks for a bit since joining this forum, and I’ve decided to take a deep breath and give it a go! Hopefully you guys can find something in the post you will find useful!

I will say up front, I am by no means an expert but I have learned loads from books and the feedback of other writers over the past thirty years.

So dialogue. Some of us love it, some of us struggle with it…
Good dialogue can really make or break a story. We want our dialogue to sound natural and flow well as it disseminates information about plot or character progression (or both).

So one of my first pieces of advice for writing dialogue is simple. Read what you’ve written out loud (don’t worry about those strange looks, they’ll get over it!), and ask yourself: “Does this sound like something a person would naturally say?”

These two things can really help smooth out the flow of a conversation. If you quirk your head and your expression takes on that quizzical look, it’s possible you may want to revamp how the words are made.

The next thing I can offer about dialogue is to have action or description sprinkled between the words.
A block of dialogue can get droll just like a wall of text, so I suggest finding ways to tell how the characters are moving and reacting to one another, or give us some peek at the environment they’re sitting in.

For Example:

His body jerked upright and twisted all in one graceful motion, belying his job for all too see.
“Tell me you’re not contemplating suicide off the side of this tub,” a voice cut through his hypnosis. “Not that I could blame a guy after the past ten months!”
“Lee,” he breathed, shaking his head. “No, not even, just watching the waves.”
She shook her head, making the dark bangs swing stiffly in front of her swarthy face, even as a snort worked out of her slightly flattened nose. “You were like halfway over the gunwale. Thought I was going to have to pull you back by the waistband or something.”

This can make your story and your dialogue more dynamic and accomplish multiple tasks at the same time.


The next thing, and something that is somewhat harder to get right, is the mechanics of dialogue.

A basic sentence:

Easy enough. A single word and the exclamation inside of quotes, no attribution.

But if we build on it:

“Jacob!” a voice barked.

Things start getting tricky. You’ll notice that the “a” is lower case even when there is an exclamation ending the dialogue.

This is because “Jacob” is part of the sentence with “a voice barked”

A step further:

“Jacob!” a voice barked. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

After the attribution “a voice barked.” There is a period before the new piece of dialogue begins because it is its own full sentence.

If I take the same sentence and lower the energy of it:

“Jacob,” a voice called. “What the do you think you’re doing?”

You’ll note that there where the period is is now a comma. You’ll also note the comma (and the exclamation point above) are inside the quotation marks*** Remember this: “Punctuation before quotation.” Again because the dialogue is part of the first sentence, it becomes a dependent clause and needs to have a comma.

That’s the basics. I’ll put some more complex dialoguing tips in a new post!

***There are certain areas or situations that are different! This is not all inclusive


So just like there are simple, compound, and complex sentences there are also the same categories of dialogue. I think I covered simple and compound pretty well, so lets talk a complex sentence.

So I’m going to start with a very basic dialogue sentence with a standard attribution:

“Marion, if you would be so kind as to give me that IV bottle?” Tom straightened trying once again to get the kink out of his back.

So this is a pretty straightforward piece of dialogue with action rather than an attribution following the question (in my mind not EVERY piece of dialogue needs attribution.)

We can rearrange these two sentences to make a complex dialogue piece. I’m actually going to show you several different ways you can write this dialogue that will both be correct.

First example:

“Marion,” Tom straightened trying once again to get the kink out of his back, “if you would be so kind as to give me that IV bottle?”

This particular version puts the second sentence between the complex sentence to break up the dialogue and give a nice implied pause. Please note that the comma after “Marion” is pretty much the same as a simple or compound dialogue piece. What’s different is that, because we’re interjecting the sentence between the dialogue, there is a comma following “back” which despite looking weird is actually correct. This tells a reader that the action of him straightening is happening pretty much at the same time as he’s talking to Marion.

The other way to write this:

“Marion?” Tom straightened trying once again to get the kink out of his back. “If you would be so kind as to give me that IV bottle?”

This version makes it three full sentences with the action once again implying it is happening at the same time as the words.


Regarding punctuation and quotations, it depends on where you are. I’m Canadian and we were taught it goes after the quotation marks. The exception being if the quotation is it’s own sentence.

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Yeah I had heard that from another writer I was working with, so thanks for that caveat (I did disclaimer that! LOL)


Okay one last general area of advice. Attributions.

I love to have attributions do as much heavy lifting as the rest of my dialogue, so my advice for this is simple find other ways to say “said” and a poster will illustrate that better than I:

Pick a target emotion and go nuts!

Though not recommended frequently and not recommended if more than two people are talking, there is also that dialogue doesn’t always need an attribution in the first place. It could be followed (or preceded) by action by a character or movement through an environment. It could be followed (or preceded) by nothing at all.

You can also play with the placement of the attribution! Use it at the beginning, in the middle (at an appropriate pause) or at the end - wherever it will be most impactful for you!


And thank YOU for writing the tips out for us.

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Sure thing! Glad to pass on my school of hard knocks so others don’t have to trip as much as I did.

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Thank you! I’ve saved this image to my writing folder.

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:+1: :grin:


Thanks for the tips!
I have a pretty stupid question: What can people talk about? In my story, there’s a lot of internal conflict and description, but I find it very hard to write dialogues because I simply don’t know what my characters could be talking about. I don’t want it to be just boring stuff and empty talking - that won’t help the story much. At the same time, I find it hard to find something they can talk about that truly affects the story … How can I make an interesting conversation that is relevant for the storyline and the character development?


Am I the only one who feels that all dialogue doesn’t have to advance the story? That filler is okay, depending on what it is and how interesting it is? For example, my MC has a pet (grown) steer. There are scenes in the story where she talks about him or interacts with him. He’s not really pertinent to the story except for when he flung a drug cartel member into the air in defence of the MC and her family, but my readers on an adult site (not porn) find him interesting.

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Hi! Thank you so much for sharing all these tips! I have a question about grammar(american)

In this example, would she be capatalised or no?


I know this isn’t my thread, but I can answer. (I hope Darwin doesn’t mind! :slight_smile: )

‘She’ in your example should not be capitalised. The rule is that the dialogue tag is part of the sentence that has the dialogue, so doesn’t have a capital letter (see Darwin’s second post for a better explanation!).

However, as an aside, ‘she asked’ doesn’t quite make sense in the example you give as you don’t have a question mark after ‘That seems fun’. It isn’t a question (not technically at least) so a better tag would be ‘she said’ (or any of the appropriate alternatives in the image Darwin posted further up).

Alternatively, you could say:

“Oh! Is that fun?” she asked, turning her attention to the overdramatic boy.

Notice that ‘she’ still isn’t capitalised, even though the dialogue ends with a question mark as ‘she asked, …’ isn’t a new sentence.

Another alternative is to remove the dialogue tag altogether e.g.
“Oh! That seems fun.” She turned her attention to the overdramatic boy.

Now ‘She’ is capitalised because this is an action, not a dialogue tag.

One way to check is to see if the bit after the dialogue is a standalone sentence e.g.:

‘she asked, turning her attention to the overdramatic boy.’ is not a full sentence so shouldn’t start with a capital letter.

‘She turned her attention to the overdramatic boy.’ is a full sentence so can.

Sorry, I’ve gone on a bit! Hopefully some of that helps.


My two cents on this one too!

I love using dialogue to move the story and the character arcs along so I rely on it a lot! But I’m reading a story right now that barely has any dialogue and you still get to know the characters well by their behaviours and inner thoughts. So I think it depends on what works for your story.

In real life, people talk about a lot of unimportant, irrelevant boring things that no one wants to read about in a story. You usually include dialogue in a story for various reasons:

  1. To bring the characters to life. Readers can get to know the character and how they change through the story if they can ‘hear’ them talking and interacting with others.
  2. It can show the relationship between characters. How they speak to each other and what they say can reveal a lot about the relationship dynamic. So even if it doesn’t move the plot along it can show the reader many things about the characters. Rather than saying ‘Joe and Jane don’t like each other’, you can show they don’t like each other through how they communicate with one another.
  3. A way to progress the plot. Instead of you explaining what is happening, you can see what is happening through what the characters are talking about.
  4. Linked to the above, a way to explain something to the reader without ‘telling’ them. A character could be filling another character in on something that happened historically or ‘off-screen’.
  5. It makes your story feel real. In real life, people talk to each other. Unless it’s an extraordinary situation, when humans are together, they communicate.

If you think you need dialogue, but just don’t know what to write, try acting it out in your head or with a friend. Think about what you would say to each other if you were the characters in that situation and test it out.

OK, I’ll butt out now. Great thread!


My favorite is also dialogue strips, where you’ve already established which two characters are speaking (usually works with only two characters) and then you write the dialogue continuously without any dialogue tags.

“Well,” Rick said. “High time you dump that idiot.”

Marvin took a long, deep drag of his cigarette and watched the smoke spiral away. “Well, easier than done.”

“Yeah, so do it.”

“You’re forgetting I still love him.”

“You sure do, but get your head out of that lovey-dovey goo and see— he’s rotten to the core.”

“Fine,” Marvin sighed. “No use arguing.”


Thank you so much! Yeah, with the sentence I was copying and pasting from my story, realized the original story didnt make sense unless you knew the whole situation so i just randomly changed it but that didnt work with my tired brain lmao

It does! :beautifulheart:

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Well, I mean it depends upon the situation. As Jayda said below if the story doesn’t call for it you don’t have to do it.

If you’re looking to build character or something then you could have one character who is acting pensive or withdrawn and have another ask what that’s about.

It could be a common interest. It really does depend upon the situation.


Nothing wrong with that at all, honestly. It’s pretty situation dependent and could be for something as simple as comic relief!


If it has an attribution no… so because it says “she asked” it makes the first part a part of a complex sentence.

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