How to Use Dialogue Correctly

If you’ve never learned the rules of using dialogue in fiction, it can be bewildering when you hand your first short story in to a teacher and get it back covered in red marks. Nevertheless, the rules of dialogue are an essential and rarely broken law, for good reason: without these standards of how to use dialogue, it would be hopelessly confusing as to who was speaking in a story. If you’re unsure about some of the unwritten rules for dialogue use, brush up on your skills and read on.

Rule #1: A new speaker makes a new line.

If you have two characters speaking in a story, it’s important to keep it clear who’s speaking. Hemingway often makes things challenging by having long back-and-forths between characters without dialogue tags (tags are “he said” and “she said”). That’s allowed, as long as you make a new line every time someone else is speaking.

The wrong way:

“I wish I could fly,” John said longingly. “Why don’t you grow wings, then?” Sarah snapped back.

This is wrong because we don’t know it is Sarah speaking until we get to the end of the dialogue. The convention tells us that it is still John speaking.

The right way:

“I wish I could fly,” John said longingly.
“Why don’t you grow wings, then?” Sarah snapped back.

With the line break, it keeps the reader on track, knowing that someone else is speaking.

Rule #2: Quotes, quotes, and quotes

Even a small thing like using the wrong quotation marks can reflect poorly on your story, particularly if it’s being read by an editor or agent. Here are the rules to remember for American standard dialogue use.

Two quotation marks for speech; one mark for speech within speech

“You wouldn’t believe how he treated me,” said Mark. “He said, ‘Go back where you came from!'”

This way, we know for sure who is speaking and whether what is said is a direct quotation or not.

After the jump: rules of thumb for effective dialogue.

Rule #3: Break up dialogue into two parts

It’s awkward in speech to wait until the end of a speech to give the dialogue tag, because then we don’t know who is speaking for a long time. Instead, give the first thought, then a comma and tag, then go back into dialogue. That way, your reader will be able to picture who is speaking throughout the speech.

The wrong way:

“I can’t believe I failed the test. I studied and studied, but somehow I choked and left most of it blank. I’m probably going to have to retake it,” Mark said.

The right way:

“I can’t believe I failed the test,” said Mark. “I studied and studied, but somehow I choked and left most of it blank.”

Rule #4: Avoid flashy dialogue tags.

Here’s a bit of shocking news: your elementary school teachers were wrong. They urged you to stretch your vocabulary by using every big word you knew for dialogue. If you do that, though, you end up with a clunky, distracting mess. Here’s an example:

The wrong way:

“You broke my heart!” she screamed.
“It’s not my fault!” he growled.
“But you cheated on me!” she wailed.
“I’m sorry — it just happened,” he stammered.

The problem with this passage is that the tags start overshadowing the actual words being spoken. They’re completely unnecessary. They are often crutches in our writing; in reality, the words themselves should suggest the tone with which they are spoken. In fact, using “he said” and “she said” is so familiar to readers that the words blur into the background, retreating so that the main action of dialogue can come to the fore. That’s why it’s best to keep wordy dialogue tags to a minimum and just use “said” for most of your dialogue. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear only two people are talking back and forth.

The right way:

“You broke my heart!” she said.
“It’s not my fault!” he said.
“But you cheated on me!”
“I’m sorry — it just happened.”

Rule #5: Use action to show who is speaking

Now that you know dialogue 101, you’re ready to move on to advanced dialogue. It can still get tedious to have long strings of back-and-forth dialogue. Instead of using “he said” and “she said” back and forth endlessly, use action both to break up the dialogue and indicate who is speaking. If you have dialogue without tags, whoever is given an action afterward is the implied speaker. Let me show you what I mean.

The wrong way:

Sarah stood up. “I love you, John.” He shrank away shyly.

This is not technically wrong, but it is very unclear, because the convention is that the speaker is who is given action after the dialogue. In this passage, it sounds like it is John who has said “I love you, John.” Here’s how you can make it clear.

The right way:

Sarah stood up. “I love you, John.” She reached out to him longingly.

As you can see, it’s very clear in this passage who is speaking and how her words are linked to her actions. That’s another rule of thumb to keep in mind: most of us talk while doing other things. Don’t stop the story so that your characters can give soliloquies; instead, give them things to do as they talk, whether it’s chopping vegetables or fidgeting nervously.

If you have any other questions about the rules and conventions of dialogue, raise them in the comments and we’ll figure them out together.


  1. Clair says:

    Hi! I’ve been reading Writerly Life for a long time and nothing encourages me to get writing as much as a blog post. This one raised lots of questions (and answered many; I’ve been nervous about how to handle dialogue):
    Was Hemingway wrong to be so sparse with his dialogue tags? Do you think it’s best to keep up a steady stream of “he said”-“she said”s? At what point should you leave off with dialogue tags altogether; and at what point should you bring them back? Is it okay to just use “she said” if you have two women speaking, or vice versa?
    Thank you so much, Ms. Hurley, and please continue to be an inspiration!

    • Layne M. Barry says:

      Hi, I couldn’t agree more, for I have just finished my first book and I believe Hemingway wright. In the creative flow of writing, just the mere idea of have to do drop downs, brakes and so on take away from the inspiration to write.

  2. haimoko says:

    Well, the period should be a comma if you are using something like ‘he said or she said, etc.’

    “I do not approve,” Charlie stated calmly, rubbing his imaginary beard.
    “Why?” John asked.

    Okay Donny, your sentence should look like this or this:
    “Yeah I agree,” John said.
    “Yeah, I agree,” John said.
    In the first sentence, having no comma makes it sound like its more jumbled together, and that he did not pause after saying yeah.
    In the second one, the comma lets the reader know there’s a slight pause after the yeah and slightly more emotion.
    But it would also help sometimes to vary the saids. Like using a better word to help the reader feel the emotion of the words. Ex:

    “No,” he said. Here, the it sounds like the reader is speaking normaly.

    “No!” he said. In this sentence, the exclamation point lets the reader know he is probably saying it louder and probably with a little more emotion than he is normally speaking. It could be more stern than normal or slightly annoyed.

    “No!” he yelled. This sentence shows shows more emotion, because:
    1) the exclamation point automaticly indicates more emotion,
    2) the verb helps the reader hear the volume of the speaker, 3) it can help describe the speaker’s emotion a little more.

  3. MH says:

    Hello! I have benefitted from reading this page. I have a question. How do I use ellipses in dialogue correctly?

    “Hello…” he said.


    “Hello, …” he said.


    “Hello…,” he said.


    Are the above all wrong? Could you enlighten me as well as give me the correct way to use ellipses in dialogue accurately? Thanks a lot!!

  4. Excellent and always needed. One extra comment I’d make is that, in the “A new speaker makes a new line” rule, the new paragraph should start when the “camera” turns to the new speaker, not when they start speaking. E.g.

    “Are you going home?” asked Laura. John shook his head.
    “No,” he said.

    “Are you going home?” asked Laura.
    John shook his head. “No,” he said.

    • rebbecca says:

      Thanks! That is actually what I was looking for. I was about to post it as a question when I saw your comment 🙂

    • Sable says:

      Thank you so much, that’s exactly the answer I was looking for. How to do dialogue correctly is sooo confusing to me. I am a beginner writer and I’m trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can because I want to enter my short story in a contest.
      Again, Thanks so much

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  7. katharine says:

    I’m writing a short story and I want to know if this is right and if I’m using too much dialog. Any advice is welcome. Note: this is the start of the story.

    “Mommy, can we please get a pet?” Janet begged. Carol sighed. She has told Janet too many times that they can’t have a pet.
    “I told you before, we cannot get a pet so don’t ask me again,” Carol replied.
    “Why can’t we get a one?”
    “Because I’m allergic to cats and your father is allergic to dogs.” Carol said, getting annoyed.
    “Can we at least look for a different animal?” Janet asked.
    “Maybe when your father gets home we can all go together to agree on one.”
    “Oh thank you Mom!” Janet exclaimed. “I can’t wait to go!”

    • Anonymous says:

      I might be wrong, but I believe it would be this.

      “Mommy, can we please get a pet?” Janet begged.
      Carol sighed, “I told you before, we cannot get a pet so don’t ask me again.”
      “Why can’t we get a one?”
      “Because I’m allergic to cats and your father is allergic to dogs,” she said, getting annoyed.
      “Can we at least look for a different animal?” asked Janet.
      “Maybe when your father gets home we can all go together to agree on one.”
      “Oh thank you Mom!” Janet exclaimed. “I can’t wait to go!”

  8. Peggy Foster says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I definitely needed this because I’m working on my first book. I’m having a friend of mine critique my work and she commented that I needed to work on my dialogue. Thanks again!

  9. Laura says:

    Oh, that’s freaky because my two characters were in fact chopping vegetables and fidgeting nervously in the scene I wrote today. Anyway, thanks for making this post – some good advice!

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  13. Matthew says:

    I am writing my book and there is two people talking sure but i am wondering about it because it is in the same chapter i dont want to make my dialogue to wordy without actually getting to the point of the conversation because i see having to break dialogue between two people that constantly can become tedious for readers and i need a way to get past that and keep the flow of it correct

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Um I just need some advice about a sentence like this:

    “Of course” Sara sneered, turning back to her console and starting to program the course. What to do? What to do? I had to get out. “Hey!” I called to turn her attention back to me.


    “Of course” Sara sneered, turning back to her console and starting to program the course. What to do? What to do? I had to get out.
    “Hey!” I called to turn her attention back to me.

    • I’ve read your post several times and I can’t see the difference between the two versions. Am I missing something?

      As a general comment, I’d suggest you need a comma after “Of course” (inside the quotes) and I’d recommend starting a new paragraph at the first What to do? (when the focus changes from Sara to the POV. I’d also suggest you avoid repeating “course” in the first sentence.

    • Danica says:

      Nyki’s right: you need a comma after “of course.”

      The second is correct.

      Everyone who is confused like Nyki is:
      In the first, there is no new line. In the second, the first line ends at “out.” The second line starts at “‘Hey!'” This is because a new person is speaking.

      • Ah, right. I had to copy and paste it into Word to see the difference, because the run-on new line was in exactly the same place in version one.

        I’d still say the new paragraph should start after “course.” The place for the paragraph to change is where the “camera” shifts to the second character, not where they start to speak.

  15. Melody says:

    Hi im 16 and Im currently working on a book but im finding the dialogue part very difficult . To make it realistic and not confusing

  16. Erica says:

    Is this correct?

    She chirped, “Sure!” Before hurrying back to her seat.

    I’m not sure about the capitalization of the “b” in “before”. I feel that it is should be in lower case, but autocorrect changes it to a capital B.

    • It should be lower case, because it’s a continuation of the sentence. “Before hurrying back to her seat.” isn’t a complete sentence, just the end of the previous one. The autocorrect changes it because Microsoft can’t conceive of a situation where you can have an exclamation mark (or a question mark, or an elipsis) without it being the end of a sentence. It doesn’t seem to know about dialogue.

  17. Rocky says:

    If i have two characters interacting with each other, and one of them is the narrator, so we can only have the thoughts and feelings of one of them compared to the other character not having the ability to see their thoughts. But if it was third person, i could see both of their thoughts and feelings and do this for example:

    John sneered,” Atleast i know i have a house bigger than yours.”
    Tom growled,” Be quiet i have way more money than you.”

    They both argued until both of them went opposite directions.

    Tom yelled,” jerk!” John soon thought of how he said the same thing in their first argument.

  18. How do you punctuate one character interrupting another’s thought process?

    The example I have is:

    ‘She’d got used to comfortable silence with him. She was miles away, planning her own weekend when he blurted out


    It seems best to have it on a new line, as the thinker and speaker are not the same person. But should there be some punctuation in there? A colon? A dash (often used when characters interrupt each other’s speech)?


  19. Philip says:

    Ok how would dialogue be if the person was talking to themselves
    “I think I need car,” Phil said to himself.

  20. Payton says:

    Being 15, I’m fairly new to all of this writing stuff.
    I recently started writing my own story and I’ve run into a problem.

    After a short silence, “..’kay.” was the brunette’s only reply.

    ^ Is this even correct? Is there a way to split up a sentence to squeeze in a little bit of dialogue?

  21. Kaz says:

    Most of my questions have been answered, but I need a little light shed on thoughts versus dialogue or thoughts in dialogue.

    “Ma’am!” Will lunged forward and caught her.
    “Are you alright? What happened?”
    Mayumi opened her eyes slowly. At least he didn’t see this…

    Well this is annoying, okay ‘At least he didn’t see this…’ is supposed to be in italics as a thought. So any advice. Thoughts in dialogue and outside of dialogue and differing between thought and emphasis in certain circumstances.

    • Tinny says:

      If the first two phrases are both said by Will, it should be written like this:

      “Ma’am!” Will lunged forward and caught her. “Are you alright? What happened?”

      The last line would be correct with the thought in italics. However, because you are writing in past tense, the switch to present tense could be reconsidered. You could re-word it or blend it in the narrative like this:

      Mayumi opened her eyes slowly. At least he didn’t see this… she thought.
      Mayumi opened her eyes slowly, relieved that he didn’t see this.

      Then maybe you could think about whether or not ‘this’ is the most appropriate word.

      Have a read of this post:

  22. Alex Diakonis says:

    I read something recently that named the speaker and their quote without linking it with full attribution. Like this: Frank: “Why did you start the fight, Chris?”

    Is this common, correct or incorrect? What are the rules for it?

    • I’ve come across this occasionally, including in some surprisingly old works (though I can’t think of specific titles off the top of my head). It’s basically using the play/script approach, and can be seen as an “alternative” method. I don’t think there are any rules, except the universal rule of not confusing your readers (unless you’re doing it deliberately for a good reason, that is).

  23. Jessica says:

    Thank you, I didn’t know holw to do, “Rule #3: Break up dialogue into two parts.” the other blogs weren’t clesr on this or how to do it. I’ll fix this mistake in the next edit. Well, at least it’s an easy fix. I do everythingelse thats said on here. 🙂 This article rocks, it’s bookmarked.

    • If it’s essential, a few different verbs are OK, though they need to be used sparingly. Most of the time, how the dialogue is said can come over from either the words themselves or from the context, which can also do the work of showing the character or filling in background.

  24. Rosa says:

    Hi there, what happens if a person is talking without an answer? So, there a quite a big paragraph, say 8 lines, where in the middle of it someone said two bits of dialogue at different places. (with no answer). Would it be better to break the dialogue up each on new paragraphs to make it clear? or keep it within the main paragraph.

  25. Nathan says:

    So, a bit a help please.

    “I got you!” as Evelyn struck him across his back with a stick.
    Vin, stumbling forward before soon regaining balance, replied “Hey! We aren’t playing Swords!”

    Is this acceptable?

  26. Adrienne says:

    First, thank you for sharing all this knowledge.

    I am working on my first manuscript and still learning how to properly format it.

    My manuscript starts with a character talking. I read the first paragraph is not to be indented. Is it acceptable to indent if the first line is dialogue?

    Thanks for any help!

  27. Kadence Collins says:

    Hello. How do you quote when two people are talking and then one of the people tell a story about two other people?

    For example,

    “How does this anger show itself, Liv?”
    “Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Last week I was home in my kitchen. I was on the phone with my brother, Paul. Jokingly, I said something that wasn’t very nice about someone else.
    “Paul kiddingly said, “Remember Serena’s favorite saying, ‘There is some truth to everything.’
    “I felt the flames ignite. I yelled, “You know what, Paul? I hate that saying. That is not true. I am so sick of it. I can’t stand it!”
    “What just happened!? I have no idea what that was about.That was insane.”
    He tells me he is getting off of the phone. I dropped to the ground.

    “Okay, good, Liv. How else has anger come up for you?”

    • The most normal way is to use single quotes for dialogue within dialogue – eg “I felt the flames ignite. I yelled, ‘You know what, Paul? I hate that saying. That is not true. I am so sick of it. I can’t stand it!’” And remember to close both sets of quotes. If you were using single quotes for the main ones, which some publishers prefer, it would be the other way round, but you wouldn’t need to worry about that in a submission.

      For the quote within a quote within a quote in the third paragraph, that would probably be better in italics.

      • Kadence Collins says:

        Hi Nyki. Thank you for your quick response! Okay, sounds good, thank you. For the 3rd paragraph, that is used a lot in this segment of the book. It’s a conversation between a therapist and a patient. The therapist asks questions and the patient responds, sometimes with a story (sometimes involving quotes) to describe how she is feeling, or to tell the therapist about past events. I already have my thoughts in italics throughout the book. That is why I am a little stumped about how to quote all of it. 🙂

  28. Tiffany says:

    Hi my name is Tiffany. So after ending the dialogue for someone who was speaking and there is no more conversation after should we still continue writing the story on the same line or should i just move on to the next line? Should a new paragraph be made after the dialogue has ended or should I continue with the same paragraph that i was using before? Please answer quickly because i have an English Language Examination tomorrow morning at 9 am sharp. thank you for you cooperation, this is very important to me, and all that was said on this sight has been really helpful to ma and it has made my examination a lot easier to deal with. Thank You!!!!!

  29. Daniel mack says:

    It’s frustrating loving english and words and writing, but I don’t understand the langue of having it all working together. I’ve written about ten short stories and have given up due to feeling I’m writing all wrong. I have a huge imagination. Like when describing something for instance. The fog horn blows, like red dragons coming off red hot metal in the ears. I don’t want to sound like a failure, but feel like I write as a hobby while others have told me, “Dan you have a real talent with words and keep me interested and always wanting more.” Also having a learning disabilities to read something understanding it, but can’t comply. It’s upsetting.

    • Matty says:

      It’s okay. Sometimes I feel like that too. My family tells me i’m great, but I’m not sure I can really trust them. I mean they’ry family right! It always seems like they’re either being biased or just saying it to make me feel better. Most of the time I start a story, but end up never finishing it because i’m unsure how if it’s going to turn out good which is a shame because when I look back i’ve actually written some pretty killer stuff. It’s just that i’m afraid to continental on and end up writting a completly different story under the false hope that I will be ab,e to finish that one. What I try to do though is to do is to never look back. I challenge my self by ting to make the next paragraph better than the first and if I doubt that i’ve done it right I try to make the next one right. It’s a way to motivate your self to keep moving. I don’t know if you can tell, but I also struggle. With spelling mostly and recognizing words. With out sell check and the crutch of having someone read my work after wards i’d be a gonner. But it’s the satifayion of writting something good that keeps me moving on.

      • Matty says:

        Hope that helps Daniel. Sorry about the eirors. That was kind of personal so I didn’t want other people in my family to read it. If you want to make your writting clearer make sure you priture exactly what the dragon is doing and don’t get ahead of your self. Like this… the fog horn blows loudly, it’s sound sounding like what I imagine a dragon would sound like. Loud, angry and it hurts my ears, my head, my whole body! I’m panicking and can’t help picturing red hot pokers punctuating me. My ears, my head, every where. I think i’m screaming now and then just to seal my fate a dragon apears, laughing at me, it’s hot breath sufficating me and a red poker in his claw ready to gorge out my eye. I feel people around me, but all I can see hear and feel is the dragon, the pokers, and the fog horn. Ooh that’s good. Mind if I use that? The trick is that everything has to connect other wise the reader gets confused and won’t see that what promoted the dragon was the frog horn and what promoted the readers pain, described as hot pokers, was the loud sound of the dragon/foghorn. Just explain a little more other wise the reader will have to puzzle out the sentence witch they don’t like to do. Your thoughts will make sence if you explain them just like my poor a tempts at spelling will make sence when I actually speak the word. Just know that your not alone in this!

    • Pami Perry says:

      Don’t give up on your writing after you are done with a story have a friend or family member read your story and tell you what’s wrong.
      Then go fix it and then send it of to a editor.

  30. Wes says:

    Okay, I have a question that I can’t find anywhere. Let’s say I’m having a dialogue between two people, I understand that you start a new paragraph when a new person speaks, but do you start a new paragraph if you interject something during the dialogue? So for example:

    Example A

    “I’ve seen him enjoying his extracurricular activities when he should have been at home taking care of his wife.”

    Suzanne nodded in agreement. She was mystified by Diego Lopez. He seemed friendly, almost cordial in the way he spoke to her. It appeared he was showing her deference.

    Example B

    “I’ve seen him enjoying his extracurricular activities when he should have been at home taking care of his wife.” Suzanne nodded in agreement. She was mystified by Diego Lopez. He seemed friendly, almost cordial in the way he spoke to her. It appeared he was showing her deference.

    I’ve been doing example A, since although it is not a new dialogue, it is something different than the mono/dialogue. Is this correct?

    And what if it’s just a short phrase.

    “Why am I going to tell you what he did?” Diego asked.

    Suzanne nodded.

    “You will know soon enough.”

    Does that work, or is it this?

    “Why am I going to tell you what he did?” Diego asked. Suzanne nodded. “You will know soon enough.”


    • Jazzie says:

      Have you figured the correct way of writing this? I have this exact same issue! for example:

      “Don’t thank me for that. I’m just doing my job.” She rolled her eyes and started whisking the eggs.
      “Right, it’s your job to make sure the citizens of America are safe.” Jake grabbed her hand, causing her to look up at him.

      See, in the first line, the male is speaking, and in the second line the female is speaking. But their action tags seem to be a little confusing.

      • Kimberly says:

        I’m not too sure about how to answer Wes’ question, but with your dialogue, I think your action tags need to be on the same line as the person speaking. As a reader, I was convinced that Jake was the one saying the second line until you noted otherwise. Writing it more like this might make it clearer:

        “Don’t thank me for that. I’m just doing my job,” he said.
        She rolled her eyes and started whisking the eggs. “Right, it’s your job to make sure the citizens of America are safe.”
        Jake grabbed her hand, causing her to look up at him.

        Or, if you’re not a fan of using speech tags all together, lose the ‘he said’, as long as it’s implied in the context of the conversation flow. Personally, I have a tendency of starting a line with the character’s action and finishing the line with untagged dialogue (on the same line). It’s my favorite way of sprinkling in action while keeping the dialogue relatively natural.

        Hope this helps!

  31. Destiny says:

    My book has a lot of citations in it. When they say “she said” the they don’t put the gaps between the sentences. Sometimes in puts them between the sentences but most of the time it doesn’t. They put the question mark if its a question and it has parenthesis, they put explanation marks.

  32. John says:

    So this my dialogue

    Interior- hospital- patient room

    John wakes up from a comma “ where am I? John confused

    The nurse stops writing the patients result on lab test for the patient blodd “you awake” nurse smiles

    The nurse then pulls out her phone, and calls the Nero surgeon “ doctor Brian, this is nurse cooper can you come to room 456? John Doe is awake.

    This a random story I just came up with for an example I want someone to write back, and tell me if this is how I write dialogue with action?

    Email me at email me at aymanaltamimak282003@

  33. Veronica says:

    I love writing but sometimes I have issues with formatting dialogue right now I have someones sentence being finished by someone else

    “I’m sorry it it’s been a long day,” she said sniffling and wiping her nose “an- and-”

    “-and it’s hard when something bad happens to the ones you love and you feel like it’s because of you that it happened, it’s the worst feeling in the world,” Dean said finishing Alina’s sentence.

    Is this formatted correctly?

  34. Rae says:

    Hey I need help on the quotation marks? I was writing when the dialogue got to long and I wanted to continue the dialogue in a new paragraph without starting a new dialogue. Here’s an example:

    Allura smiled sadly and whispered in the dead silent room, “What you have seen, is Voltron in two different times. The first one, was training all their life to just to get to see the legendary Voltron while the second one is very much like you. They had heard of Voltron, but had never thought they would be able to fight in it. That was their first battle after many pratices together.
    Soldiers were called in to go save them against the practice RoBeast. But, at that time, the king knew it was time to go get help.”

    Is what I just did the correct way with the Quotations?

  35. Jazmin M Lovejoy says:

    So when you split dialogue, how do you do it with questions? For example,
    “Love?,” He asked, ” I like that.”
    Or would it have to be separate dialogue all together?

  36. CJ says:

    Hello, my name is Cj. I have been writing since I was around twelve. I’m seventeen now and it just came across me as I was reading a short story. Which way would be more correct?
    An old lady says, “I’ll see you around Jack!”
    “I’ll see you around Jack!” An old lady says.
    I’m not quite sure whether or not I need to put the character in front of the dialogue or behind the dialogue. Could you please explain this to me?

    • Either can be correct, depending on how you want the sentence to flow, except that the second one should be
      “I’ll see you around Jack!” an old lady says. (Ignore what the autocorrect tells you). I’d be slightly more inclined to say
      “I’ll see you around Jack!” says an old lady. That’s a matter of taste and style, though. Also, in all versions you need a comma after around.

  37. Gabriella says:

    Hi, so I’ve never really written anything before other than for my classes. I started a book and never finished or really started, when I was about eight years old and knew nothing about writing, (I still don’t know that much about writing). I am now fourteen and trying to restart it but I don’t know how to do dialogue very well. Your article really helped a lot but I still have a few questions. How do you know when to put ‘said’ before the person’s name? Do you just do it when you break up dialogue into two parts? I hope my questions made sense.

    • Anne says:

      It shouldn’t matter whether you put “said” before or after the person’s name. It can go either way. Even when breaking the dialogue into parts, neither is grammatically wrong:

      “I’ll write you a letter,” said Maya, “and I hope it gets to you soon.”

      “I’ll write you a letter,” Maya said, “and I hope it gets to you soon.”

      Of course, you may prefer one way to the other depending on how you want the sentence to flow. Hope this helps.

  38. Anne says:

    Hi. How would you insert an action in the middle of dialogue? These are two ways I would consider doing it:

    “Today we are gathered to celebrate the uniting of two people,” he points at us, “and the joy of love.”


    “Today we are gathered to celebrate the uniting of two people—” he points at us “—and the joy of love.”

    Which would be more correct?

  39. bunnyblues4 says:

    What if you are writing a novel and you are quoting something like a song or words off of a T-shirt? Example: Coffee 4 Life. Would it be, “Coffee 4 Life.” or ‘Coffee 4 Life’?

    • Anne says:

      For quoting a song or words from a sign or a shirt, you would definitely use double quotation marks. As far as I know, in America, you would only use single quotation marks for a quote that’s inside of regular double quotation marks. Like this:

      Mary said, “I know you want to go to the party, but your father said, ‘He’s not going anywhere until he’s done his homework.'”

      I believe the rules for this may vary depending on what country you’re in. Otherwise, hope this helps!

  40. Molly says:

    In writing a book and I’m puzzled on periods. one sentence was (hi. Ruth said. How are you doing?) Was this to many periods? Or should I have done something like this( h i Ruth said how are you doing? )

  41. This is great. But, let’s say we have a memoir where a person is describing the scene and then dialogue begins…does this first line of dialogue have to be on a new line, even if it’s the dialogue of the person who was describing the scene? Here is an example where Amanda starts by describing the scene:

    Matt broke the silence, anchoring the moment to reality. “Hi, Amanda,” he said, in a resonating voice. The sun peeked around the church steeple. The future looked bright.

    Should “Hi, Amanda” be on a new line? And, what if that dialogue was from Amanda? Would that still have to be on a new line?

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