Format Dialogue


Understanding how to properly format dialogue in a story or novel, with example dialogue formatting, can be a help to even the most talented writer.

From the outside, knowing how to format dialogue correctly is a black box of contradictory rules. In this article, I want to dispel the myths regarding the format of dialogue and detail a set of easy-to-use guidelines, which will allow you to grasp the basic building blocks of dialogue formatting and teach you how to write dialogue. In short, you'll learn the dialogue formatting rules you need.

Before we get started, here's a list of the most common punctuation marks:


Common Punctuation Marks



The best way to explain the rules of how to write dialogue is by looking at example dialogue.

Here's the unformatted dialogue example:

Hi have you seen my cat Bob said. No Bill said I have no idea where your cat is. If you see my cat will you let me know Bob questioned looking sad. Of course Bill replied with a tone of concern.


How To Format Dialogue: New Speaker, New Sentence

This is a pretty easy rule to apply. Each time a new speaker speaks you place the line of dialogue on a new sentence. This sentence should also be indented.

We can see how this applies to our example:

Hi have you seen my cat Bob said.

No Bill said I have no idea where your cat is.

If you see my cat will you let me know Bob questioned looking sad.

Of course Bill replied with a tone of concern.

How To Format Dialogue: Adding Speech Marks

Our next rule says that all speech should be placed in speech marks. When thinking about format of a dialogue you can apply this simple rule. 

These can be either single (') or double ("), it's your choice. However, keep in mind that if you use, say single ('), you need to be using the opposite, in this case, double (") when you are reporting speech inside speech. I also like to use the opposite when a writer places thoughts within a text.

'Hi have you seen my cat' Bob said.

'No' Bill said 'I have no idea where your cat is.'

'If you see my cat will you let me know' Bob questioned looking sad.

'Of course' Bill replied with a tone of concern.

How To Punctuate Dialogue: Punctuation

When wondering how to punctuate dialogue you will often use 'tags'.

These are verbs that link the spoken words with the remainder of the sentence. Commonly used tags include said, asked, replied and many more.

Without going into the technical detail, to correctly punctuate spoken words and tags you must link them using a comma. If you use a full stop the sentences are broken and it no longer makes sense.

If we look at the second line of our example we see:

'No' Bill said

This is a single sentence and therefore must end with a full stop, giving us:

'No' Bill said.

The tag in this sentence is 'said' and this must be connected to the speech. If you added a full stop at the end of the spoken words, it would separate the tag and become incorrect:

'No.' Bill said. [WRONG]

Instead, we must link the spoken word and the tag with a comma, this gives us:

'No,' Bill said. [CORRECT]

If we apply this to the full example we get:

'Hi, have you seen my cat?' Bob said.

'No,' Bill said. 'I have no idea where your cat is.'

'If you see my cat will you let me know?' Bob questioned, looking sad.

'Of course,' Bill replied, with a tone of concern.

Please note that in the first and third lines we have used a ? instead of a , since it is a question.

As I said this is a quick and dirty guide designed to get you out of most tight spots. If you are interested in really delving into the murky world of grammar and punctuation, I suggest you check out the Chicago Manual of Style.

If you'd like to learn more about writing dialogue, I'd suggest this article called How to Write Effective Dialogue in Your Novels

Here's a nice video I found about how to correctly format your dialogue tags: 





Writing Manual Cover

Claim your free eBook today and join over 25,000 writers who have read and benefited from this ebook.

'It is probably one of the best books on writing I've read so far.' Miz Bent

Find out more >>