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Grammar resource: Formatting dialogue - Basic rules

Consistency is key. Clarity too - it must be clear what is dialogue and what it not. It must be clear who said what.

Single vs Double Quotation Marks

Whenever a character is speaking out loud, their words should be enclosed in quotation marks. You can use single or double quotation marks for this, but be consistent.


Quotes within dialog

If a character is quoting somebody else within their dialogue, you can use the alternative set of quotation marks to indicate this.


New Paragraphs

There’s a simple rule when arranging dialogue into paragraphs: any time you change speakers, begin a new paragraph. This applies whether a character says one or 100 words!

If the first line of dialogue comes after a line break it is not indented. In all other cases, when a new speaker starts talking, the new paragraph is indented.

If the speaker stays the same between two separate lines of dialogue, don’t change paragraphs. This avoids confusion for the reader over whether a new speaker is talking.


Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags indicate who has spoken a line of dialogue. They stay outside of quotation marks, as they are not spoken out loud by a character.


Punctuating Dialogue

Commas are used when dialogue tags are employed, be they before or after dialogue. Before dialogue, they go directly after the dialogue tag. After dialogue, they go inside the closing quotation mark.

When a line of dialogue ends with an exclamation point or question mark, a following dialogue tag begins in lowercase. This is because the dialogue tag is part of the same sentence.

Ellipses are used to indicate a sentence which trails off into a long pause. If a line of dialogue ends with an ellipsis, do not add any additional punctuation after it.