Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

How to format dialogue is a topic I encounter again and again in the editing and writing community. Questions about where to put the quotation marks, how to indicate interruptions, when to use capitalization, etc., abound.

Here is a quick tip sheet to refer to whenever you are writing. I’ve provided a downloadable version below.

Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

Direct Dialogue

  • Direct dialogue should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • A change in speaker should be indicated by a new paragraph.
  • Punctuation of the spoken sentence should be enclosed in the ending quotation mark.
  • If using dialogue tags to break up the sentence, the second clause does not need capitalization unless the first word is a proper noun.

Examples:

“It’s so hot today,” said Jane. “Did you bring the beach umbrella?”

“Yes,” Michael replied, “it’s here.”

Long Dialogue by One Speaker

A speech that spans multiple paragraphs requires an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each new paragraph, but a closing quotation mark is only placed at the end of the final sentence of the final paragraph.

Interrupted or Faltering Speech

  • Use an ellipsis to indicate faltering speech.
  • Use an em dash to indicate interrupted speech or abrupt changes in thought.

Examples:

“I . . . I mean . . . it’s fine. It will all be fine.”

“Are you sure? Yesterday you—”

“I said it will all be fine. Just drop it!”

Unspoken Discourse

  • Internal dialogue or thought may be written with or without quotation marks. Whatever the author’s preference, consistency is key.
  • If a thought begins midsentence, it should begin with a capital letter.

Examples:

“Why,” I wondered, “did I choose this book?”

Why, I wondered, did I choose this book?

She wondered, Why did I choose this book?

Numbers in Dialogue

  • Most numbers should be spelled out when writing dialogue.
  • Numerals for years, trade names such as 7-Eleven, and phone numbers may be used if it is deemed more practical.

Examples:

“I have two hundred thousand dollars to invest in this business.”

“Please call me at 555-302-5588.”

Click the link below to download and save this document for future reference.
Dialogue Formatting Tips

I hope you find these tips helpful. Happy Writing!

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