Updated: Sep 1, 2021
"Say, what?" A quick how-to on dialogue
In my Editing Cave posts, I use real-world editing issues that I've come across in my work - I never name names and I always reword examples to share any blushes (except my own - those I will shamelessly share!)
One of the most common areas new writers struggle with is how to present dialogue. Sometimes, a writer who reads a lot will have a certain understanding of new paragraphs and where to put speech marks, but when it comes to the intricacies of capitals and commas it can all get a bit much.
So, to help you out here's a quick and dirty guide to speech, using one of my favourite books ...
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton:
When using dialogue tags (he said, she said, they sang, I continued, etc.) end the speech with a comma inside the speech marks:
‘Why not take off the mask so we might speak face to face,’ I say.
If the speech continues, remain on the same line:
‘I know you,’ he says. ‘That’s enough for now.’
Note the lower case h of he. This remains even after a question mark:
‘What did you bring with you?’ he asks.
Use ellipses for tailing off speech:
And an em-dash (Hurray!) for an interruption:
‘Quiet, Phillip,’ interrupts Herrington.
Action beats replace dialogue and give an idea of what the character is doing as they speak. In this case, end the sentence with a full stop and the following word begins with a capital:
‘I’ll tell the chaps.’ He looks me up and down.
Speech marks: single or double speech marks are fine (in the US “ is more common and ‘ in the UK). Indent speech, and start a new paragraph for each new speaker.
This is not an exhaustive set of rules but should see you through most dialogue requirements.
When writing character dialogue keep it (and the character) interesting – be purposefully inexplicit, leave questions unanswered, or avoided. Toy with the reader. Show emotion, or none at all, drop hints of what’s to come.
Dialogue should deliver information. Whether it's reliable information ... well, that's up to you.
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From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing