Dialogue Examples (With Writing and Format Tips)
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1. Do your research
The simplest way to write realistic dialogue is to write what you know. And that’s fine – unless you want to write about something outside of your day-to-day existence. In that case, you’ll need to do some research – and speak to some real people who know their stuff.
Take the Fast & Furious franchise. Maybe you want to write a screenplay for the fifteenth instalment. but you have no idea how to drive a car. In which case, you’ll want to spend some time talking to petrolheads. Preferably while sipping on a Corona.
2. Show, don’t tell
Sometimes the best dialogue is no dialogue. One of the common mistakes that first-time screenwriters make is churning out endless lines of dialogue, when all your script needs is a page of pedal to the metal action. Because action – not small talk – is what grabs an audience.
Take a look at this round-up of action clips from Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4). As McClane and co. battle it out amid a series of explosions and gunfights, there are very few occasions where the characters actually use dialogue. After all, what needs to be said? Except for the occasional cry of “get down!” of course.
3. Use an outsider
A solid way to improve your dialogue writing is to use someone aside from the main character to give information. So instead of having our favourite boxer Rocky say “I’m better than that”, it’s much stronger to have his coach Mickey give a line of dialogue: “I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that, kid”.
Having someone else provide information makes it seem more like real life – as if there’s inside information that everyone in the story already knows. It’s a subtler way of getting your point across than making characters talk about themselves.
4. Write between the lines
How To Write Dialogue
While it’s fine to have only the spoken words in quotes, too many sentences like this can become confusing. Who just said what? You may wish to add extra information to let the reader know who is speaking. For example:
Note that only the words spoken aloud by the mother are in quotation marks. The informative tag at the end is not part of what she said, so it does not get quotation marks. You can also put the tag before a line of dialogue:
For internal dialogue, you can use quotation marks or italics to set it off, depending on the situation. Typically, first person works will use italics, but a third person work might use either.
Writing Dialogue Examples: Identifying a Speaker
When the tag comes first, it’s followed by a comma. After the comma is a space, followed by the quotation marks for the dialogue. Note that the punctuation at the end of the dialogue comes before the closing quotes. This is the order that dialogue punctuation always uses when the tag comes first:
Susan asked, “When will Daddy come home?”
I rolled my eyes at the thought of having to answer this question for the millionth time. “Soon, baby,” I offered in my most soothing tone.
“But, he said he would be home for dinner,” she wailed, “and it’s past dinnertime!”
“In life, you’ll learn there are many things that are out of our control,” I retorted through the massive wails. I continued, almost to myself, “But, we have to just carry on.”
When you choose to place your tag after the line of dialogue, the comma comes at the end of the spoken words, before the closing quotation marks. In this case, following the dialogue with a comma lets the reader know that there’s more information to come. After the comma comes the quotation marks to end the dialogue, then a space, then the tag, followed by a closing period to complete the sentence. For example:
“We were having a lovely dinner,” Michael prompted.
Doug made a short, chortling sound. “Yeah, until he showed up.”
“What’s the matter with Scott coming around?” I asked, rather astonished.
Michael dropped his fork and aimed daggers at me. “Are you kidding me, Jill? He’s a miserable, sarcastic punk.”
I blinked at him, astonished. “Well, yes,” I said. “I know that. But you two always carry on with him like you’re best friends.”
“Girl, please,” Doug retorted. “We thought you wanted us to keep the peace. Now that we know the misery he’s caused you…” He paused, seeming to search for the right words. “He’ll never walk through those two doors again.”
Note that the only exception to using a comma before the tag is when your quotation must end with a question mark or exclamation point. In this case, that punctuation replaces the comma:
How To Format Dialogue Examples
“I don’t want to go home,” said Julia. “I like it here at the zoo. The animals are all so funny.” She began to cry and then wailed, “I didn’t even get to see the elephants!”
“I know,” replied her father. “Don’t worry. We’ll come back another time.”
“The zoo is now closing. Please make your way to the exit,” came the announcement over the speaker.
Note that when Julia’s father speaks, a new paragraph begins. Another paragraph is introduced when the announcer speaks. This makes it easier for the reader to keep track of who is saying what because the new paragraph is a strong signal that someone else is speaking.
“You must know I’m very upset,” I snarled. “I even paid extra to insure the package!”
“Ms. Sullivan, please lower your voice,” the agent drawled. “I’ll search the system now.”
“Sheila Sullivan? Is this your package?” I didn’t know where the man appeared from, but I wanted to reach over the counter and give him a big, fat kiss. I’d never been so happy to see a cardboard box.
The only exception to this rule is when a character makes a long speech. In this case, you may wish to break up their dialogue into paragraphs as they change subject, just as you would in standard writing. When you do so, you begin each new paragraph with quotation marks to remind the reader that someone is still speaking, but you don’t use closing quotation marks until the speech has ended.
“I want to make sure everyone is ready for the field trip next week,” the teacher said. “That means you’ll need to pack your lunches the night before and make sure that you bring plenty of water and a bag that is comfortable to carry.
“It will be hot the day of the trip, so wear light, comfortable clothing and layers that you can remove as the day goes on. You will also need sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
“Finally, make sure you have fun!”
In the example above, the teacher’s long speech is broken into paragraphs to keep topics well organized. Notice that only the final paragraph of her speech has quotation marks at the end of the quoted text. When a paragraph of dialogue does not have closing quotes, it lets the reader know that the same person is still speaking.