How to Format Dialogue: Complete Guide

Dialogue formatting matters. Whether you’re working on an essay, novel, or any other form of creative writing. Perfectly formatted dialogue makes your work more readable and engaging for the audience.

In this article, you’ll learn the dialogue formatting rules. Also, we’ll share examples of dialogue in essays for you to see the details.

What is a Dialogue Format?

Dialogue format is a writing form authors use to present characters' communication. It's common for play scripts, literature works, and other forms of storytelling.

A good format helps the audience understand who is speaking and what they say. It makes the communication clear and enjoyable. In dialogue writing, we follow the basic grammar rules like punctuation and capitalization. They help us illustrate the speaker’s ideas.

dialogue in an essay

General Rules to Follow When Formatting a Dialogue

Dialogue writing is an essential skill for both professionals and scholars . It shows your ability to express the issues and ideas of other people in different setups. The core rules of formatting are about punctuation. So, below is a quick reminder on punctuation marks’ names:

dialogue in an essay

And now, to practice.

Please follow these rules for proper dialogue formatting:

  •  Use quotation marks. Enclose the speaker’s words in double quotations. It helps readers distinguish between a character’s speech and a narrator’s comments.
  •  Place punctuation inside quotation marks. All punctuation like commas, exclamations, or interrogation marks, go inside the double quotations.
  •  Keep dialogue tags behind quotation marks. A dialogue tag is (1) words framing direct speech to convey the context and emotions of a conversation. For example, in (“I can’t believe this is you,” she replied.), the dialogue tag is “she replied.”
  •  Use an ellipsis or em-dashes for pauses or interruptions. To show interruptions or pauses, end phrases with ellipses inside quotations. Em-dashes go outside quotations. No other extra marks are necessary here.
  •  Remember a character’s voice.  Ensure that each character’s phrases reflect their background and personality.

5 More Rules to Know (+ Examples of Dialogue)

For proper formatting of dialogue in writing, stick to the following rules:

1. Each speaker’s saying comes in a new paragraph

Begin a new paragraph whenever a new character starts speaking. It allows you to differentiate speakers and make their conversation look more organized. (2)

“Has Mr. de Winter been in?” I said.    “Yes, Madam,” said Robert; “he came in just after two, and had a quick lunch, and then went out again. He asked for you and Frith said he thought you must have gone down to see the ship.”    “Did he say when he would be back again?” I asked.    “No, Madam.” — from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

2. Separate dialogue tags with commas

When using dialogue tags ( e.g., “she said,” “he replied,”), separate them with commas. 

For example:

“You’ve got to do something right now , ” Aaron said , “Mom is really hurting. She says you have to drive her to the hospital.” “Actually, Dad , ” said Caleb, sidling in with his catalog , “There’s someplace you can drive me, too.” “No, Caleb.” — from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

3. When quoting within dialogue, place single quotes

If a character cites somebody or something while speaking, we call it a reported dialogue. In this case, use single quotations within double ones you place for a direct speech. It will help readers see that it’s a quote.

John started to cry. “When you said, ‘I never wanted to meet you again in my life!’ It hurts my feelings.”

4. You can divide a character’s long speech into paragraphs

Dialogue writing is different when a person speaks for a longer time. It’s fine to divide it into shorter paragraphs. Ensure the proper quotation marks placing:

 The first quotation mark goes at the beginning of the dialogue. Each later paragraph also starts with it until that direct speech ends.

 The second quotation mark — the one “closing” the monologue — goes at the dialogue’s end.

Josphat took a deep breath and began. “ Here’s the things about lions. They’re dangerous creatures. They only know how to kill. Have you ever seen a lion in an open area? Probably not. Because if you had you’d be dead now. “ I saw a lion once. I was fetching firewood to cook lunch. All of a sudden I found myself face to face with a lion. My heart stopped. I knew it was my end on earth. If it wasn’t the poachers we wouldn’t be having this talk. ”

Yet, you can keep a long text as a whole by adding some context with dialogue tags. Like here:

dialogue in an essay

As you can see, there’s no quotation mark at the end of the paragraph in red. It’s because the next “Ha! ha!” paragraph continues the character’s speech.

5. Use action beats

Describe actions to provide context and keep readers engaged. Help them “hear” your characters. Punctuation also helps here: exclamation (!) or interrogation with exclamations (?!) demonstrate the corresponding tone of your narrative.

He slammed the door and shouted , “I can’t believe you did that ! “

Mistakes to Avoid When Formatting Dialogue

A good dialogue is a powerful instrument for a writer to show the character’s nature to the audience. Below are the mistakes to avoid in formatting if you want to reach that goal.

 So, please don’t :

  • Allow characters to speak for too long. Writing long paragraphs will bore the reader, making them skip through your speech. Short but sweet talk is the best. When writing, aim to be brief, dynamic, and purposeful. If your character speaks too much, generating opinion essays , ensure this speech makes sense and serves a bigger purpose.
  • Overburden dialogue with exposition.  Avoid telling the story background or building sophisticated words in your characters’ speeches. Instead, reveal the narrative content in small bursts and blend it around the rest of the prose. Convey it through your character’s actions and thoughts rather than summaries and explanations.
  • Create rhetorical flourishes. Make your characters sound natural. Let them speak the way they’d do if they were real people. Consider their age, profession, and cultural background — and choose lexical items that fit them most.
  • Use repetitive dialogue tags. Constant “he asked” and “she said” sounds monotonous. Diversify your tags: use power verbs, synonyms, and dialogue beats.

Frequently Asked Questions by Students

How to format dialogue in an essay.

Formatting a dialogue in an essay is tricky for most students. Here’s how to do it: Enclose the speaker’s words with double quotations and start every other character’s line from a new paragraph. Stick to the citation styles like APA or MLA to ensure credibility. 

How to format dialogue in a novel?

 A dialogue in a novel follows all the standard rules for clarity and readability. Ensure to use attributions, quotation marks, and paragraph format. It makes your dialogue flow, grabbing the reader’s attention.

How to format dialogue in a book?

Dialogue formatting in a book is critical for storytelling. It helps the audience distinguish the hero’s words. Follow the general rules we’ve discussed above:

Use double quotations and isolate dialogue tags with commas. Remember to place the discussion in blocks for better readability.

How to format dialogue between two characters?

A two-character dialogue offers the best way to prove successful formatting skills. Ensure you use action beats, quotations, and attribution tags. It allows readers to follow the conversation and understand it better.

What is the purpose of dialogue in a narrative essay?  

Dialogue writing is the exchange of views between two or more people to reach a consensus. It reveals the character’s attitude and argumentation. Last but not least, it helps convey the descriptive nature of your narrative essay.

References:

  • https://valenciacollege.edu/students/learning-support/winter-park/communications/documents/WritingDialogueCSSCTipSheet_Revised_.pdf
  • https://www.ursinus.edu/live/files/1158-formatting-dialogue
  • Essay samples
  • Essay writing
  • Writing tips

Recent Posts

  • Writing the “Why Should Abortion Be Made Legal” Essay: Sample and Tips
  • 3 Examples of Enduring Issue Essays to Write Yours Like a Pro
  • Writing Essay on Friendship: 3 Samples to Get Inspired
  • How to Structure a Leadership Essay (Samples to Consider)
  • What Is Nursing Essay, and How to Write It Like a Pro
  • Features for Creative Writers
  • Features for Work
  • Features for Higher Education
  • Features for Teachers
  • Features for Non-Native Speakers
  • Learn Blog Grammar Guide Community Academy FAQ
  • Grammar Guide

How to Write Dialogue in a Narrative Paragraph

headshot-speaker-hayley_milliman

Hayley Milliman

How to Work With Multiple Points of View

What is Dialogue?

How to write dialogue, how to punctuate your dialogue, periods and commas, question marks and exclamation points, final thoughts.

Dialogue is the written conversational exchange between two or more characters.

Conventional English grammar rules tell us that you should always start a new paragraph when someone speaks in your writing.

“Let’s get the heck out of here right now,” Mary said, turning away from the mayhem.

John looked around the pub. “Maybe you’re right,” he said and followed her towards the door.

Sometimes, though, in the middle of a narrative paragraph, your main character needs to speak.

Mary ducked away from flying fists. The fight at the pub was getting out of control. One man was grabbing bar stools and throwing them at others, and while she watched, another one who you could tell worked out regularly grabbed men by their shirt collars and tossed them out of the way. Almost hit by one flying person, she turned to John and said, “Let’s get the heck out of here right now.”

In my research, I couldn’t find any hard and fast rules that govern how to use dialogue in the middle of a narrative paragraph. It all depends on what style manual your publisher or editorial staff follow.

For example, in the Chicago Manual of Style , putting dialogue in the middle of paragraphs depends on the context. As in the above example, if the dialogue is a natural continuation of the sentences that come before, it can be included in your paragraph. The major caveat is if someone new speaks after that, you start a new paragraph and indent it.

On the other hand, if the dialogue you’re writing departs from the sentences that come before it, you should start a new paragraph and indent the dialogue.

The fight at the pub was getting out of control. One man was grabbing bar stools and throwing them at others, and another one who you could tell worked out regularly grabbed men by their shirt collars and tossed them out of the way.

Punctuation for dialogue stays consistent whether it’s included in your paragraph or set apart as a separate paragraph. We have a great article on how to punctuate your dialogue here: Where Does Punctuation Go in Dialogue?

It’s often a stylistic choice whether to include your dialogue as part of the paragraph. If you want your dialogue to be part of the scene described in preceding sentences, you can include it.

But if you want your dialogue to stand out from the action, start it in the next paragraph.

Dialogue

Dialogue is a fantastic way to bring your readers into the midst of the action. They can picture the main character talking to someone in their mind’s eye, and it gives them a glimpse into how your character interacts with others.

That said, dialogue is hard to punctuate, especially since there are different rules for different punctuation marks—because nothing in English grammar is ever easy, right?

We’re going to try to make this as easy as possible. So we’ll start with the hardest punctuation marks to understand.

For American English, periods and commas always go inside your quotation marks, and commas are used to separate your dialogue tag from the actual dialogue when it comes at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle. Here are a few examples:

Nancy said, “Let’s go to the park today since the weather is so beautiful.”

“Let’s go to the park today since the weather is so beautiful,” she said.

“Let’s go to the park today,” she said, “since the weather is so beautiful.”

British English puts the periods and commas inside the quotation marks if they’re actually part of the quoted words or sentence. Consider the following example:

  • She sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the theme song from The Wizard of Oz.

In the above example, the comma after “Rainbow” is not part of the quoted material and thus belongs outside the quotation marks.

But for most cases when you’re punctuating dialogue, the commas and periods belong inside the quotation marks.

Where these punctuation marks go depends on the meaning of your sentence. If your main character is asking someone a question or exclaiming about something, the punctuation marks belongs inside the quotation marks.

Nancy asked, “Does anyone want to go to the park today?”

Marija said, “That’s fantastic news!”

“Please say you’re still my friend!” Anna said.

“Can we just leave now?” asked Henry.

But if the question mark or exclamation point is for the sentence as a whole instead of just the words inside the quotation marks, they belong outside of the quotes.

Does your physical therapist always say to his patients, “You just need to try harder”?

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?

Single Quotation Marks

Only use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes, such as when a character is repeating something someone else has said. Single quotes are never used for any other purpose.

Avery said, “I saw a sign that read ‘Welcome to America’s Greatest City in the Midwest’ when I entered town this morning.”

“I heard Mona say to her mom, ‘You know nothing whatsoever about me,’ ” said Jennifer.

Some experts put a space after the single quote and before the main quotation mark like in the above example to make it easier for the reader to understand.

Here’s a trickier example of single quotation marks, question marks, and ending punctuation, just to mix things up a little.

  • Mark said, “I heard her ask her lawyer, ‘Am I free to go?’ after the verdict was read this morning.”

Perfectly clear, right? Let us know some of your trickiest dialogue punctuation situations in the comments below.

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

So you are ready to write your novel. excellent. but are you prepared the last thing you want when you sit down to write your first draft is to lose momentum., this guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world. .

dialogue in an essay

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Hayley is the Head of Education and Community at ProWritingAid. Prior to joining this team, Hayley spent several years as an elementary school teacher and curriculum developer in Memphis, TN. When Hayley isn't hunched over her keyboard, you can find her figure skating at the ice rink or hiking with her dog.

Get started with ProWritingAid

Drop us a line or let's stay in touch via :

How to Write Dialogue in an Essay: Perfect Writing Guide

Writing essays is a part of every student’s life. The tool that can be useful for all composition genres with no limitations is dialogue. Typically, article writing at school and college is related to informative or argumentative intentions.

Dialogues can be included in reflective or narrative texts and creative assignments, such as screenplays. Likewise, if your paper is more on the argumentative side, you may include a dialogue when transcribing an extract from an interview to reinforce your thesis.

To get the highest mark for your paper, it is crucial to know how to write a dialogue in an essay. Keep reading this article to find out how to add it to your paper, whether for academic, informative, or creative purposes.

Usage of Dialogues in Essays

Over our educational years at school and university, we are taught to compose argumentative, narrative, informative, creative, and expository essays. Writing becomes a skill we need to develop to be successful when composing a report.

Quote, text line, or dialogue represents two or more characters talking, and can turn a dull paper into an easy-going and fun learning experience.

And just like when watching a movie, dialogues will have us more engaged in discovering the ending of the tale. Moreover, you will have a strong thesis for persuasive essay texts by including dialogues in them. How is this accomplished?

Dialogue serves more than just fiction, as we stated earlier. They transform information into a fluid and rhythmic piece of writing, providing data on an actual scenario portrayed as a conversation. This results in a direct and captivating piece that will teach and entertain the reader. That sounds like a win-win situation, right?

How to Format Dialogue in an Essay?

Here you will encounter some of the essential rules in terms of punctuation and formatting that should be followed when writing effective dialogue in your article so that it is read naturally. If you are unsure of your profile essay writing skills, keep reading this page to get accurate and precise information for composing your best paper.

  • How to add dialogue in an essay: you can either use double quotation marks to indicate what someone said, or start in a new line using a Dash followed by the actually spoken phrase every time a new character speaks. This demonstrates that dialogue conversations have started.

“Elisa gave me this purse for my birthday.”

—Elisa gave me this purse for my birthday.

—It looks good on you.

—Thank you, I like it a lot.

  • If you are quoting already, use single quotation marks to add another quotation within. This is useful when you depict someone describing a certain circumstance that happened to them.

“He was eating lunch next to me when Tom came by and yelled, ‘let’s go outside,’ so we went.”

  • Make sure to use closing quotation marks when the character finishes talking. If dashes are used instead, end that person’s speech with a complete stop, showing that a dialogue has ended.

“I took my cat to the Vet last night to get a shot. He is alright now.”

  • When a character is quoted, exclamation and question marks should be placed inside the quotation marks. If the exclamation or quotation marks refer to the greater sentence, not the quotation itself, place them outside the quotation marks.

My niece screamed, “let’s play hide and seek!”. What was your reaction when your niece screamed, “let’s play hide and seek”?.

  • Do not add a period if the character pauses in the speech; in this case, write the speech, then use a comma to include a remark and add another comma before the last part of said speech.

“I couldn’t finish the presentation tonight,” he said with a tired voice, “I will tomorrow.”

  • If a quote is too long, for example, longer than a paragraph in the essay, you can break it into two sections to make it easier to read. Such a situation is frequent when you write a narrative text. This type of assignment is often given to college and high school students. And it’s one of the most difficult tasks. If you need more confidence in your composition writing skills but still want to get a great mark and impress your teacher, we recommend you to buy narrative essays from professional writers. They will definitely know how to deal with complicated quotes. Here you can see an example of how a big direct quote was shortened to create a new paragraph for the text:

“Christmastime at work is very intense, and we work long shifts. Last year, we launched fifteen new products so that they were sold out during Christmastime. Luckily, it was a success. Our most popular items were: a Christmas cookie-scented candle, a new edition of the traditional elf-pet costume, and a unique knife that cuts the turkey easily and evenly.

I tried the candle immediately and loved the scent; my sister dressed her dog and three cats as elves, poor things, but she looked amused, and my mom tried the turkey knife; she genuinely said it was the best she could use to cut the turkey.”

How to Write Dialogue in an Essay?

how to write dialogue in an essay

Knowing how to put dialogue in your essay will allow you to bring out your creative side while mastering the skill of showing rather than telling. If you want to know particular features of  writing a good process essay , read to master how to write a dialogue and search for relevant sentences. Also, you’ll need to craft coherent paragraphs, use speech tags and be aware of the format and punctuation rules when writing dialogue in your paper.

Common Dialogue Mistakes to Avoid

Mistakes are easy to make when we need to learn the rules of correct essay writing, so pay attention to the most common mistakes to avoid delivering an enjoyable and compelling text.

One of the most frequent mistakes students make when they need to learn how to put dialogue in an essay is confusing dialogue with citations. The latter is adequate when directly referencing, word-by-word, other authors to support statements previously made regarding a particular topic. At the same time, dialogues are supposed to deliver information by being creative and motivating the reader to relate to a life situation described in the dialogue.

Citation: also known as direct quotes, is information written by an author and referenced to support a claim.

Dialogue: a speech between two or more characters, often portrayed to captivate the reader, and what is used is only a part of a greater conversation.

Other mistakes to avoid in your text:

  • Providing too many details and unnecessary talk can be counterproductive. Keep it simple.
  • Repeating information from one word to another. Describe it in your own words or show it through dialogue formatting. This will make the topic more interesting as the teacher will use their imagination. If you need help with how to do it properly, we recommend asking for help from a specialized platform, such as Edusson.com . Here you will find professional writers who will write your article quickly, plagiarism-free papers with high quality, and at a reasonable price.
  • Using more dialogue tags than required can distort the readability of the conversation.
  • Mentioning the characters’ names often, which only happens in real talk, decreases credibility.
  • Incorrect use of opening quotation marks.

Some types of articles would benefit from dialogues to bring more dynamics into them. Check to avoid the mistakes we presented to you, compose creatively, and most importantly, just as dialogue tells a story. It describes a scenery that will make the reader learn through real-life association, so use dialogue when you think it will add value to the text.

Example of Dialogue in an Essay

Here we will give you examples of how to add dialogue to an essay:

Do thorough research on the topic by looking up reliable sources Use an online plagiarism checker to ensure that your paper is unique Explain the purpose of your study, providing supporting arguments, examples, and close by validating the thesis mentioned at the beginning. If the topic you are writing about is rather technical, define the meaning of its relevant vocabulary Teach the reader, do not assume they know everything. Otherwise, they wouldn’t come to read Verify that your composition is cohesive and informative Finally, read both your text and dialogue out loud to check they are coherent and eloquent.

Knowing these dialogue rules, you are ready to write with confidence! Whether you are writing for college, creating a dialogue for fun, or just eager to learn about this topic, you already know the essentials of how to write a dialogue in your essay with the correct format and punctuation rules. Additionally, if you are ever in need of professional help for your writing, you can always opt to pay to write an essay to ensure that you are submitting a well-written, high-quality paper.

Related posts:

  • 6 Step Process for Essay Writing
  • How to Write a Diagnostic Essay (Without Fail)
  • How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay
  • Footnotes 101: A Guide to Proper Formatting

Improve your writing with our guides

How to Write a Scholarship Essay

How to Write a Scholarship Essay

Definition Essay: The Complete Guide with Essay Topics and Examples

Definition Essay: The Complete Guide with Essay Topics and Examples

Critical Essay: The Complete Guide. Essay Topics, Examples and Outlines

Critical Essay: The Complete Guide. Essay Topics, Examples and Outlines

Get 15% off your first order with edusson.

Connect with a professional writer within minutes by placing your first order. No matter the subject, difficulty, academic level or document type, our writers have the skills to complete it.

100% privacy. No spam ever.

dialogue in an essay

Looking to publish? Meet your dream editor, designer and marketer on Reedsy.

Find the perfect editor for your next book

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them.

Guides • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Jul 24, 2023

15 Examples of Great Dialogue (And Why They Work So Well)

Great dialogue is hard to pin down, but you know it when you hear or see it. In the earlier parts of this guide, we showed you some well-known tips and rules for writing dialogue. In this section, we'll show you those rules in action with 15 examples of great dialogue, breaking down exactly why they work so well.

1. Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered 

In the opening of Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, we meet Willa Knox, a middle-aged and newly unemployed writer who has just inherited a ramshackle house. 

     “The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.”      She took this news as a blood-rush to the ears: a roar of peasant ancestors with rocks in their fists, facing the evictor. But this man was a contractor. Willa had called him here and she could send him away. She waited out her panic while he stood looking at her shambles, appearing to nurse some satisfaction from his diagnosis. She picked out words.      “It’s not a living thing. You can’t just pronounce it dead. Anything that goes wrong with a structure can be replaced with another structure. Am I right?”      “Correct. What I am saying is that the structure needing to be replaced is all of it. I’m sorry. Your foundation is nonexistent.”

Alfred Hitchcock once described drama as "life with the boring bits cut out." In this passage, Kingsolver cuts out the boring parts of Willa's conversation with her contractor and brings us right to the tensest, most interesting part of the conversation.

By entering their conversation late , the reader is spared every tedious detail of their interaction.

Instead of a blow-by-blow account of their negotiations (what she needs done, when he’s free, how she’ll be paying), we’re dropped right into the emotional heart of the discussion. The novel opens with the narrator learning that the home she cherishes can’t be salvaged. 

By starting off in the middle of (relatively obscure) dialogue, it takes a moment for the reader to orient themselves in the story and figure out who is speaking, and what they’re speaking about. This disorientation almost mirrors Willa’s own reaction to the bad news, as her expectations for a new life in her new home are swiftly undermined.

FREE COURSE

FREE COURSE

How to Write Believable Dialogue

Master the art of dialogue in 10 five-minute lessons.

2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice  

In the first piece of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice , we meet Mr and Mrs Bennet, as Mrs Bennet attempts to draw her husband into a conversation about neighborhood gossip.

     “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”      Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.      “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”      Mr. Bennet made no answer.      “Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.      “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”      This was invitation enough.      “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”

Austen’s dialogue is always witty, subtle, and packed with character. This extract from Pride and Prejudice is a great example of dialogue being used to develop character relationships . 

We instantly learn everything we need to know about the dynamic between Mr and Mrs Bennet’s from their first interaction: she’s chatty, and he’s the beleaguered listener who has learned to entertain her idle gossip, if only for his own sake (hence “you want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it”).

Dialogue examples - Mr and Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

There is even a clear difference between the two characters visually on the page: Mr Bennet responds in short sentences, in simple indirect speech, or not at all, but this is “invitation enough” for Mrs Bennet to launch into a rambling and extended response, dominating the conversation in text just as she does audibly.

The fact that Austen manages to imbue her dialogue with so much character-building realism means we hardly notice the amount of crucial plot exposition she has packed in here. This heavily expository dialogue could be a drag to get through, but Austen’s colorful characterization means she slips it under the radar with ease, forwarding both our understanding of these people and the world they live in simultaneously.

3. Naomi Alderman, The Power

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power , young women around the world suddenly find themselves capable of generating and controlling electricity. In this passage, between two boys and a girl who just used those powers to light her cigarette.

     Kyle gestures with his chin and says, “Heard a bunch of guys killed a girl in Nebraska last week for doing that.”      “For smoking? Harsh.”      Hunter says, “Half the kids in school know you can do it.”      “So what?”      Hunter says, “Your dad could use you in his factory. Save money on electricity.”      “He’s not my dad.”      She makes the silver flicker at the ends of her fingers again. The boys watch.

Alderman here uses a show, don’t tell approach to expositional dialogue. Within this short exchange, we discover a lot about Allie, her personal circumstances, and the developing situation elsewhere. We learn that women are being punished harshly for their powers; that Allie is expected to be ashamed of those powers and keep them a secret, but doesn’t seem to care to do so; that her father is successful in industry; and that she has a difficult relationship with him. Using dialogue in this way prevents info-dumping backstory all at once, and instead helps us learn about the novel’s world in a natural way.

FREE COURSE

Show, Don't Tell

Master the golden rule of writing in 10 five-minute lessons.

4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Here, friends Tommy and Kathy have a conversation after Tommy has had a meltdown. After being bullied by a group of boys, he has been stomping around in the mud, the precise reaction they were hoping to evoke from him.

     “Tommy,” I said, quite sternly. “There’s mud all over your shirt.”      “So what?” he mumbled. But even as he said this, he looked down and noticed the brown specks, and only just stopped himself crying out in alarm. Then I saw the surprise register on his face that I should know about his feelings for the polo shirt.      “It’s nothing to worry about.” I said, before the silence got humiliating for him. “It’ll come off. If you can’t get it off yourself, just take it to Miss Jody.”      He went on examining his shirt, then said grumpily, “It’s nothing to do with you anyway.”

This episode from Never Let Me Go highlights the power of interspersing action beats within dialogue. These action beats work in several ways to add depth to what would otherwise be a very simple and fairly nondescript exchange.  Firstly, they draw attention to the polo shirt, and highlight its potential significance in the plot. Secondly, they help to further define Kathy’s relationship with Tommy. 

We learn through Tommy’s surprised reaction that he didn’t think Kathy knew how much he loved his seemingly generic polo shirt. This moment of recognition allows us to see that she cares for him and understands him more deeply than even he realized. Kathy breaking the silence before it can “humiliate” Tommy further emphasizes her consideration for him. While the dialogue alone might make us think Kathy is downplaying his concerns with pragmatic advice, it is the action beats that tell the true story here.

Dialogue examples - Kathy and Tommy from Never Let Me Go

5. J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit  

The eponymous hobbit Bilbo is engaged in a game of riddles with the strange creature Gollum.

     "What have I got in my pocket?" he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.       "Not fair! not fair!" he hissed. "It isn't fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it's got in its nassty little pocketses?"      Bilbo seeing what had happened and having nothing better to ask stuck to his question. "What have I got in my pocket?" he said louder. "S-s-s-s-s," hissed Gollum. "It must give us three guesseses, my precious, three guesseses."      "Very well! Guess away!" said Bilbo.      "Handses!" said Gollum.      "Wrong," said Bilbo, who had luckily just taken his hand out again. "Guess again!"      "S-s-s-s-s," said Gollum, more upset than ever. 

Tolkein’s dialogue for Gollum is a masterclass in creating distinct character voices . By using a repeated catchphrase (“my precious”) and unconventional spelling and grammar to reflect his unusual speech pattern, Tolkien creates an idiosyncratic, unique (and iconic) speech for Gollum. This vivid approach to formatting dialogue, which is almost a transliteration of Gollum's sounds, allows readers to imagine his speech pattern and practically hear it aloud.

Dialogue examples - Gollum and Bilbo in the hobbit

We wouldn’t recommend using this extreme level of idiosyncrasy too often in your writing — it can get wearing for readers after a while, and Tolkien deploys it sparingly, as Gollum’s appearances are limited to a handful of scenes. However, you can use Tolkien’s approach as inspiration to create (slightly more subtle) quirks of speech for your own characters.

6. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of The Great Gatbsy by F Scott Fitzgerald

The narrator, Nick has just done his new neighbour Gatsby a favor by inviting his beloved Daisy over to tea. Perhaps in return, Gatsby then attempts to make a shady business proposition.

     “There’s another little thing,” he said uncertainly, and hesitated.      “Would you rather put it off for a few days?” I asked.      “Oh, it isn’t about that. At least —” He fumbled with a series of beginnings. “Why, I thought — why, look here, old sport, you don’t make much money, do you?”      “Not very much.”      This seemed to reassure him and he continued more confidently.       “I thought you didn’t, if you’ll pardon my — you see, I carry on a little business on the side, a little side line, if you understand. And I thought that if you don’t make very much — You’re selling bonds, aren’t you, old sport?”      “Trying to.” 

This dialogue from The Great Gatsby is a great example of how to make dialogue sound natural. Gatsby tripping over his own words (even interrupting himself , as marked by the em-dashes) not only makes his nerves and awkwardness palpable but also mimics real speech. Just as real people often falter and make false starts when they’re speaking off the cuff, Gatsby too flounders, giving us insight into his self-doubt; his speech isn’t polished and perfect, and neither is he despite all his efforts to appear so.

Fitzgerald also creates a distinctive voice for Gatsby by littering his speech with the character's signature term of endearment, “old sport”. We don’t even really need dialogue markers to know who’s speaking here — a sign of very strong characterization through dialogue.

qIWQCvZqkNw Video Thumb

7. Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet  

In this first meeting between the two heroes of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, John is introduced to Sherlock while the latter is hard at work in the lab.

      “How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”      “How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.      “Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself. “The question now is about hemoglobin. No doubt you see the significance of this discovery of mine?”     “It is interesting, chemically, no doubt,” I answered, “but practically— ”      “Why, man, it is the most practical medico-legal discovery for years. Don’t you see that it gives us an infallible test for blood stains. Come over here now!” He seized me by the coat-sleeve in his eagerness, and drew me over to the table at which he had been working. “Let us have some fresh blood,” he said, digging a long bodkin into his finger, and drawing off the resulting drop of blood in a chemical pipette. “Now, I add this small quantity of blood to a litre of water. You perceive that the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million. I have no doubt, however, that we shall be able to obtain the characteristic reaction.” As he spoke, he threw into the vessel a few white crystals, and then added some drops of a transparent fluid. In an instant the contents assumed a dull mahogany colour, and a brownish dust was precipitated to the bottom of the glass jar.      “Ha! ha!” he cried, clapping his hands, and looking as delighted as a child with a new toy. “What do you think of that?”

This passage uses a number of the key techniques for writing naturalistic and exciting dialogue, including characters speaking over one another and the interspersal of action beats. 

Sherlock cutting off Watson to launch into a monologue about his blood experiment shows immediately where Sherlock’s interest lies — not in small talk, or the person he is speaking to, but in his own pursuits, just like earlier in the conversation when he refuses to explain anything to John and is instead self-absorbedly “chuckling to himself”. This helps establish their initial rapport (or lack thereof) very quickly.

Breaking up that monologue with snippets of him undertaking the forensic tests allows us to experience the full force of his enthusiasm over it without having to read an uninterrupted speech about the ins and outs of a science experiment.

Dialogue examples - Sherlock Holmes

Starting to think you might like to read some Sherlock? Check out our guide to the Sherlock Holmes canon !

8. Brandon Taylor, Real Life

Here, our protagonist Wallace is questioned by Ramon, a friend-of-a-friend, over the fact that he is considering leaving his PhD program.

     Wallace hums. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that I want to leave, but I’ve thought about it, sure.”     “Why would you do that? I mean, the prospects for… black people, you know?”        “What are the prospects for black people?” Wallace asks, though he knows he will be considered the aggressor for this question.

Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is drawn from the author’s own experiences as a queer Black man, attempting to navigate the unwelcoming world of academia, navigating the world of academia, and so it’s no surprise that his dialogue rings so true to life — it’s one of the reasons the novel is one of our picks for must-read books by Black authors . 

This episode is part of a pattern where Wallace is casually cornered and questioned by people who never question for a moment whether they have the right to ambush him or criticize his choices. The use of indirect dialogue at the end shows us this is a well-trodden path for Wallace: he has had this same conversation several times, and can pre-empt the exact outcome.

This scene is also a great example of the dramatic significance of people choosing not to speak. The exchange happens in front of a big group, but — despite their apparent discomfort —  nobody speaks up to defend Wallace, or to criticize Ramon’s patronizing microaggressions. Their silence is deafening, and we get a glimpse of Ramon’s isolation due to the complacency of others, all due to what is not said in this dialogue example.

9. Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

In this short story, an unnamed man and a young woman discuss whether or not they should terminate a pregnancy while sitting on a train platform.

     “Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”      “And you really want to?”      “I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you really don’t want to.”      “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”      “I love you now. You know I love you.”      “I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?”      “I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.”      “If I do it you won’t ever worry?”      “I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”

This example of dialogue from Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants moves at quite a clip. The conversation quickly bounces back and forth between the speakers, and the call-and-response format of the woman asking and the man answering is effective because it establishes a clear dynamic between the two speakers: the woman is the one seeking reassurance and trying to understand the man’s feelings, while he is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation.

Note the sparing use of dialogue markers: this minimalist approach keeps the dialogue brisk, and we can still easily understand who is who due to the use of a new paragraph when the speaker changes .

Like this classic author’s style? Head over to our selection of the 11 best Ernest Hemingway books .

10. Madeline Miller, Circe

In Madeline Miller’s retelling of Greek myth, we witness a conversation between the mythical enchantress Circe and Telemachus (son of Odysseus).

     “You do not grieve for your father?”        “I do. I grieve that I never met the father everyone told me I had.”           I narrowed my eyes. “Explain.”      “I am no storyteller.”      “I am not asking for a story. You have come to my island. You owe me truth.”       A moment passed, and then he nodded. “You will have it.” 

This short and punchy exchange hits on a lot of the stylistic points we’ve covered so far. The conversation is a taut tennis match between the two speakers as they volley back and forth with short but impactful sentences, and unnecessary dialogue tags have been shaved off . It also highlights Circe’s imperious attitude, a result of her divine status. Her use of short, snappy declaratives and imperatives demonstrates that she’s used to getting her own way and feels no need to mince her words.

11. Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name

This is an early conversation between seventeen-year-old Elio and his family’s handsome new student lodger, Oliver.

     What did one do around here? Nothing. Wait for summer to end. What did one do in the winter, then?      I smiled at the answer I was about to give. He got the gist and said, “Don’t tell me: wait for summer to come, right?”      I liked having my mind read. He’d pick up on dinner drudgery sooner than those before him.      “Actually, in the winter the place gets very gray and dark. We come for Christmas. Otherwise it’s a ghost town.”      “And what else do you do here at Christmas besides roast chestnuts and drink eggnog?”      He was teasing. I offered the same smile as before. He understood, said nothing, we laughed.      He asked what I did. I played tennis. Swam. Went out at night. Jogged. Transcribed music. Read.      He said he jogged too. Early in the morning. Where did one jog around here? Along the promenade, mostly. I could show him if he wanted.      It hit me in the face just when I was starting to like him again: “Later, maybe.”

Dialogue is one of the most crucial aspects of writing romance — what’s a literary relationship without some flirty lines? Here, however, Aciman gives us a great example of efficient dialogue. By removing unnecessary dialogue and instead summarizing with narration, he’s able to confer the gist of the conversation without slowing down the pace unnecessarily. Instead, the emphasis is left on what’s unsaid, the developing romantic subtext. 

Dialogue examples - Elio and Oliver from Call Me By Your Name

Furthermore, the fact that we receive this scene in half-reported snippets rather than as an uninterrupted transcript emphasizes the fact that this is Elio’s own recollection of the story, as the manipulation of the dialogue in this way serves to mimic the nostalgic haziness of memory.

FREE COURSE

Understanding Point of View

Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.

12. George Eliot, Middlemarch

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Middlemarch by George Eliot

Two of Eliot’s characters, Mary and Rosamond, are out shopping,

     When she and Rosamond happened both to be reflected in the glass, she said laughingly —      “What a brown patch I am by the side of you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion.”      “Oh no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,” said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass.      “You mean my beauty,” said Mary, rather sardonically.       Rosamond thought, “Poor Mary, she takes the kindest things ill.” Aloud she said, “What have you been doing lately?”      “I? Oh, minding the house — pouring out syrup — pretending to be amiable and contented — learning to have a bad opinion of everybody.”

This excerpt, a conversation between the level-headed Mary and vain Rosamond, is an example of dialogue that develops character relationships naturally. Action descriptors allow us to understand what is really happening in the conversation. 

Whilst the speech alone might lead us to believe Rosamond is honestly (if clumsily) engaging with her friend, the description of her simultaneously gazing at herself in a mirror gives us insight not only into her vanity, but also into the fact that she is not really engaged in her conversation with Mary at all.

The use of internal dialogue cut into the conversation (here formatted with quotation marks rather than the usual italics ) lets us know what Rosamond is actually thinking, and the contrast between this and what she says aloud is telling. The fact that we know she privately realizes she has offended Mary, but quickly continues the conversation rather than apologizing, is emphatic of her character. We get to know Rosamond very well within this short passage, which is a hallmark of effective character-driven dialogue.

13. John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent

Here, Mary (speaking first) reacts to her husband Ethan’s attempts to discuss his previous experiences as a disciplined soldier, his struggles in subsequent life, and his feeling of impending change.

     “You’re trying to tell me something.”      “Sadly enough, I am. And it sounds in my ears like an apology. I hope it is not.”      “I’m going to set out lunch.”

Steinbeck’s Winter of our Discontent is an acute study of alienation and miscommunication, and this exchange exemplifies the ways in which characters can fail to communicate, even when they’re speaking. The pair speaking here are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage which leaves Ethan feeling isolated, and part of his loneliness comes from the accumulation of exchanges such as this one. Whenever he tries to communicate meaningfully with his wife, she shuts the conversation down with a complete non sequitur. 

_42vsHCjW0M Video Thumb

We expect Mary’s “you’re trying to tell me something” to be followed by a revelation, but Ethan is not forthcoming in his response, and Mary then exits the conversation entirely. Nothing is communicated, and the jarring and frustrating effect of having our expectations subverted goes a long way in mirroring Ethan’s own frustration.

Just like Ethan and Mary, we receive no emotional pay-off, and this passage of characters talking past one another doesn’t further the plot as we hope it might, but instead gives us insight into the extent of these characters’ estrangement.

14. Bret Easton Ellis , Less Than Zero

The disillusioned main character of Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel, Clay, here catches up with a college friend, Daniel, whom he hasn’t seen in a while. 

     He keeps rubbing his mouth and when I realize that he’s not going to answer me, I ask him what he’s been doing.      “Been doing?”      “Yeah.”      “Hanging out.”      “Hanging out where?”      “Where? Around.”

Less Than Zero is an elegy to conversation, and this dialogue is an example of the many vacuous exchanges the protagonist engages in, seemingly just to fill time. The whole book is deliberately unpoetic and flat, and depicts the lives of disaffected youths in 1980s LA. Their misguided attempts to fill the emptiness within them with drink and drugs are ultimately fruitless, and it shows in their conversations: in truth, they have nothing to say to one another at all.

This utterly meaningless exchange would elsewhere be considered dead weight to a story. Here, rather than being fat in need of trimming, the empty conversation is instead thematically resonant.

15. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The young narrator of du Maurier’s classic gothic novel here has a strained conversation with Robert, one of the young staff members at her new husband’s home, the unwelcoming Manderley.

     “Has Mr. de Winter been in?” I said.      “Yes, Madam,” said Robert; “he came in just after two, and had a quick lunch, and then went out again. He asked for you and Frith said he thought you must have gone down to see the ship.”      “Did he say when he would be back again?” I asked.      “No, Madam.”      “Perhaps he went to the beach another way,” I said; “I may have missed him.”      “Yes, Madam,” said Robert.      I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now. “Will you be taking lunch?” said Robert.      “No,” I said, “No, you might bring me some tea, Robert, in the library. Nothing like cakes or scones. Just tea and bread and butter.”      “Yes, Madam.”

We’re including this one in our dialogue examples list to show you the power of everything Du Maurier doesn’t do: rather than cycling through a ton of fancy synonyms for “said”, she opts for spare dialogue and tags. 

This interaction's cold, sparse tone complements the lack of warmth the protagonist feels in the moment depicted here. By keeping the dialogue tags simple , the author ratchets up the tension —  without any distracting flourishes taking the reader out of the scene. The subtext of the conversation is able to simmer under the surface, and we aren’t beaten over the head with any stage direction extras.

The inclusion of three sentences of internal dialogue in the middle of the dialogue (“I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now.”) is also a masterful touch. What could have been a single sentence is stretched into three, creating a massive pregnant pause before Robert continues speaking, without having to explicitly signpost one. Manipulating the pace of dialogue in this way and manufacturing meaningful silence is a great way of adding depth to a scene.

Phew! We've been through a lot of dialogue, from first meetings to idle chit-chat to confrontations, and we hope these dialogue examples have been helpful in illustrating some of the most common techniques.

If you’re looking for more pointers on creating believable and effective dialogue, be sure to check out our course on writing dialogue. Or, if you find you learn better through examples, you can look at our list of 100 books to read before you die — it’s packed full of expert storytellers who’ve honed the art of dialogue.

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

Bring your stories to life

Our free writing app lets you set writing goals and track your progress, so you can finally write that book!

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

  • Share full article

Advertisement

Supported by

Mentor Texts

Writing Dialogue: ‘The Missing Piece Son’

Considering the role of dialogue in a narrative, with an example from The Times’s Lives column to help.

dialogue in an essay

By Katherine Schulten

Our new Mentor Text series spotlights writing from The Times that students can learn from and emulate.

This entry, like several others we are publishing, focuses on an essay from The Times’s long-running Lives column to consider skills prized in narrative writing. We are starting with this genre to help support students participating in our 2020 Personal Narrative Essay Contest .

Please note: For this contest, students are not required to include dialogue, but we suspect many will. We hope that demystifying it a bit here might encourage more students to try.

When should you include actual dialogue in a piece, and when should you simply report what was said? How can dialogue reveal character? How does it affect the pacing of a story? Does every narrative essay require dialogue?

Take a look at this mentor text, alongside a related text by the same author, to think about these questions and to experiment with dialogue in your own work.

Before Reading

Have you ever written dialogue before? Try it!

To prepare for the mentor text you are about to read, you might make it a conversation between two family members. You can work with a partner, each of you claiming one of the characters and all of his or her lines, or you can do it alone. You can write down a conversation you have actually had, or you can make one up.

Here are some possible scenarios, in case you need help getting started:

One character wants something and the other doesn’t.

The characters are in a fight.

The characters are avoiding talking about something.

The characters have just met and are getting to know each other.

The characters are experiencing something together — maybe they’re on a trip, cooking together, playing a game or at a party.

When you’re done, ask yourself, what was difficult about this task? What was easy (or even fun)? What additional questions about writing dialogue did this exercise raise for you?

Mentor Text: “ The Missing-Piece Son ” by Randa Jarrar

This essay centers on a conversation, as the opening lines tell you right away:

I don’t think anything would rattle the mother of a preteen boy quite like the words my 12-year-old uttered this spring: “Mom, we need to talk,” he said. “It’s something serious.”

There is a great deal to notice about how this writer uses dialogue, starting from this first sentence. For instance, why do you think she writes, “Mom, we need to talk,” he said. “It’s something serious.” rather than “Mom, we need to talk. It’s something serious,” he said ?

Here is the first paragraph in its entirety. Notice how the narrator tells you what her son says, but then immediately parses what it might mean:

I don’t think anything would rattle the mother of a preteen boy quite like the words my 12-year-old uttered this spring: “Mom, we need to talk,” he said. “It’s something serious.” The reversal of roles; the need for him to address me . The “serious” part. These were enough, in the very short time it took to follow him to his bedroom, to completely freak me out. He’d just returned to Michigan after visiting his father in New York. Had something catastrophic happened while he was there? Had he done drugs or had sex? I hoped he’d just left his iPod on the plane.

Read the full piece, paying close attention to who talks, what they say, and how the narrator continues this strategy of varying the spoken dialogue with her own thoughts.

For instance:

“We should think about this,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about it, Mom,” he said. “And I really want to.” Don’t go ! I thought. “Well, then you should do it,” I said. “Really, Mom? I can?” Please don’t ! “Absolutely.”

What is the effect of varying spoken conversation with thoughts about the conversation?

How does the writer help the reader keep track of who is talking? Does every line need what’s known as a dialogue tag — like “he said” and “she shouted” — after a character has spoken? What dialogue tags does this writer use? How does she help the reader understand what she’s thinking versus what is being said?

What do you learn about the son solely through what he says and how he says it? Imagine that this piece was told from the son’s point of view instead, and we had access to his thoughts as he spoke. How might this piece change? What do you imagine some of those thoughts might be?

What else do you notice about how dialogue works in this story? Does it help address any of the questions you had after you tried writing your own?

Now, take your study a bit further, and contrast what you just read with the related Lives essay, “ I Was 18 and Pregnant ,” also by Randa Jarrar.

What do you notice about how dialogue is used here? Why do you think the writer might have made different choices about its use in this piece? (Hint: How is “talk” — or lack thereof — a theme?)

What can you take away from the two essays together about when and how to include dialogue in a piece and when not to? Why?

Now Try This:

Take a fresh look at a narrative you’re working on, and see what you might borrow from this writer.

Are there places where you could tell your story more effectively through dialogue? Why? What can dialogue do in your piece that narration alone might not?

Are there places where a conversation is best simply described, or where only a line or two is needed? Why? How can you make the dialogue you add have the most impact?

Are there places where it might be useful to borrow the technique in “The Missing-Piece Son” and vary dialogue with the thoughts of a narrator? What could that add to the story?

Other Mentor Texts for Writing Dialogue

Below each title is an excerpt from the piece.

“ The Other Talk ,” a 2019 essay from the Rites of Passage column , by Shaquille Heath

In an earnest voice, he looked at me and said, “You’re black.” He said it so sternly that I thought that this remark may have been the end of the talk. “I’m sure you’ve already had encounters in life that tell you what this means,” he said, “but I want to talk to you about it.”

“ Arguing With God ,” a 2006 essay from a Times Magazine column called True-Life Tales, by Samantha M. Shapiro

“Forget about going to Boston next month,” my mother called to report. “The rabbi canceled Michael’s bar mitzvah.” “How is that possible?” I asked. “You know Michael’s a wild kid,” my mother said.

“ We Found Our Son in the Subway ,” a 2013 essay from the Opinion section’s Townies column, by Peter Mercurio

Danny called me that day, frantic. “I found a baby!” he shouted. “I called 911, but I don’t think they believed me. No one’s coming. I don’t want to leave the baby alone. Get down here and flag down a police car or something.”

“ The Man on Death Row Who Changed Me ,” a 2014 essay from the Lives column, by Bryan Stevenson

“I’m very sorry,” I blurted out. “I’m really sorry, I’m really sorry, uh, O.K., I don’t really know, uh, I’m just a law student, I’m not a real lawyer.”

“ When a Dating Dare Leads to Months of Soul Searching ,” a 2019 essay from the Modern Love column, by Andrew Lee

“If things don’t work out,” she said, “would it hurt your confidence?” “Hey, don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ve got enough confidence for both of us. When my friends ask what happened, I’ll say, ‘She had everything going for her, but sometimes things get between people.’” I smiled. “‘Like racism.’”

Questions for Any Narrative Essay on Dialogue:

Where is dialogue used in this piece? Where is dialogue implied but not actually written out? (For example, “They talked about what happened in class that day and decided ...”) Who speaks and who doesn’t?

What do you notice about the places where the writer chooses to use dialogue? How does it advance the plot, deepen your understanding of a character, or emphasize a theme or idea? What do you learn through it? How would it be different if the writer did not use dialogue here, but just described a conversation instead?

Do the voices of each character sound distinct? How so? What do they tell you about those characters?

What else do you notice or admire about this essay? What lessons might it have for your own writing?

  • Essay Topics
  • Homework Help
  • Essay Types
  • Essay Examples
  • Become a Tutor

How to Write a Dialogue in an Essay with Example

dialogue in an essay

This article will reveal all you need to know about how to write a dialogue, types of dialogues in an essay, and formatting . In addition, in this article, you will find several examples of English essay dialogue and dialogue between two characters.

What Is a Dialogue?

The definition of a dialogue is as simple as it gets. Dialogue is a conversation or discussion between two or more people in a book, play, or film. If you are wondering where the surprise part is coming in, here it is: it is not just any conversation. If you include a dialogue in an essay, it has to convey some kind of conflict, emotional tension, a surprising fact, or an interesting turn of events.

Dialogues in essays are not focused on mundane things because mundane things are just not interesting to read about.

There is a range of things NOT to include in your dialogue, such as:

  • Throat-clearing sentences – parts of dialogue that do not add to the plot, but simply take space
  • Rambling – this is the least relevant and interesting type of dialogue, which your readers are most likely to skip
  • Words like “um”, “hm”, “like”, “sorta”, “kinda” – while it is important to speak the language of your readers to engage with them, avoid making them feel like they listen to a discussion between two people on the street.
  • Profanities and slang – keep it classy instead of crassy.

  It is surely rare to hear people in real life speaking like characters in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, but this doesn’t mean dialogues shouldn’t be refined to sound realistic.

Types of Dialogues

While choosing how to convey the words of characters in an essay for the readers, you have two options: active and passive dialogue . Active dialogue includes quotes and quotation marks, while passive dialogue implies paraphrasing of the quotes and telling them from the narrator.

Examples of these types of dialogue are below:

1 Active dialogue example

Peter asked, “Joanna, can you take kids to your mother tonight?”

“Sure, I will drive them there as soon as they get back home from school,” she replied.

2 Passive dialogue example

Peter asked Joanna whether she would be able to take kids to her mother tonight. Joanna was exhausted by a long ride, however, agreed anyway, taking the chance to avoid the serious talk she needed to have with her husband.

From these short dialogues, we can see that active dialogue allows readers to imagine the situation much better, while passive dialogue can provide more details just by adding extra facts to the narration.

How to Put a Dialogue in an Essay?

how to put dialogue in an essay

The purpose of a dialogue in an essay is to create a more vivid picture for the audience. The functions of a dialogue in an essay include:

  • Providing extra information about characters
  • Unravel interesting or surprising plot twists and details about the story
  • Attract readers’ attention

If your dialogue meets at least one of these criteria, it is a good dialogue to put in an essay. In fact, dialogues can help you tell a lot of information about the story and characters in a relatively short abstract. Adding descriptions of how people say something or why they say it is the key to describing their own behavior.

How to Format a Dialogue

Now let’s move on to the most intriguing part of writing a dialogue – punctuation and formatting . When you stumble upon a dialogue in any narrative essay or text, punctuation might seem to have a lot of different styles, which is confusing.

Of course, common errors in English are still relevant here, but dialogues have evolved their own punctuation rules.

There are three simple steps you need to follow in order to format your dialogue correctly in an essay:

1 In a dialogue, commas, exclamation marks, and question marks are inside the quotation marks:

“How could you do this? Moving a couch across the room isn’t a job for a fourteen-year-old girl!” Diane’s mom yelled in despair. “These macaroons are just exquisite! I would love it if you would give me a recipe,” my aunt asked me. “This movie was so scary that I could barely look at the screen!” her son complained after watching Jaws.

2 Use commas to set off dialogue tags, such as “he said” or “she exclaimed”:

“Enough of this,” he said, “I am absolutely tired of repairing this car! I will rather save up and buy a new one.” “Pepsi has too much sugar in it, this is diabetes in a can,” the grandmother said in a sad voice. “I have been reading The New York Times for years now,”the teacher said. “This newspaper has never disappointed me.”

3 If your quotation is at the end of the sentence, put a period inside the quotation marks as well:

Uncle Joe frowned, scratched his forehead, and finally replied, “I have no idea why my car keys are in the fridge.” He then told her the biggest lie he could ever tell, “I never left the wet towel on the bathroom floor.” Sarah pointed at zebra and asked her father, “Daddy, I have never seen a black and white horse.”

Pay attention to the following: if one person’s speech takes more than one paragraph, use opening quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, however, do not use closing marks till the end of the speech .

My new neighbor always seems to be the most enthusiastic to tell me about her perfumes. One day, I asked her, “How did you come to like and wear perfumes?” She replied, “I have always wondered about where perfumes came from. This huge industry has grown from our scent preferences, experience with different smells, and scent associations. Probably, this is connected to our evolution as species, where detecting specific smell would mean choosing safe food. “Until recently, I have never been wearing perfumes myself, but admired them from a distance. Now I have a small collection of fragrances. I have learned a lot about fragrance industry and notes used in perfumery.”

How to Write a Dialogue Between Two Characters

Now that you know all about the purpose of a dialogue in an essay as well as how to write it and use punctuation, learning how to write a dialogue between two characters will be a piece of cake.

The rules you should follow are:

  • Give your characters a setting . Just like in movies, mise-en-scene is often as important as the dialogue itself. Set the scene for the dialogue by briefly describing where and when the dialogue takes place. This will help your readers imagine the picture more vividly.
  • Keep it realistic . Unless it suits your essay style, there is no need to be smarty pants and write dialogues with words and scientific facts that are hard to understand for an average reader. While writing a dialogue, reread it several times and make sure it doesn’t make you think “nobody talks like that!”
  • Let the dialogue flow naturally . Put yourself into your characters’ shoes and imagine how you would react to something being said to you. This is how you will find the way for the dialogue to seem natural and flow seamlessly.
  • Don’t overuse it . While dialogue is a great tool for an essay, turning an essay into a play script with only quotes is another mistake you want to avoid.
  • Make your characters human . Add details about feelings and emotions into the dialogue, both from the narrator and from the dialogue itself. Let your audience understand the tone and mood of the dialogue.
  • Give the dialogue a purpose . By all means, discussion about whether a cake is tasty or not can be passionate, emotional, and tense altogether. However, this is not something to include in a dialogue. Your dialogue should have a purpose in the plot and affect the characters involved in it.
  • Make sure to indicate who is who . This might seem like a rookie mistake in writing a dialogue in an essay, however, it happens. Have you ever read a long dialogue where you couldn’t understand anymore who talks? If your dialogue in an essay is longer than 5-6 quotes, make sure to add narrator’s text that will clarify who says those lines.

In a dialogue between two characters, it is easy to do because the readers do not need to remember many names or attributes. To avoid repetitions, use “he” or “she”, or specific features and roles, such as family member name (aunt, uncle, grandmother, nephew, etc.), significant appearance characteristic (blonde girl, tall man, lady in red, etc.), and specific roles people have (student, cashier, sale associate, doctor, nurse, etc.). In case you use any of those, make sure that you mention these attributes earlier in the text to avoid confusion.

Following these tips will help you write a truly meaningful dialogue between two characters and help readers understand additional information about them, their mood, features, preferences, role in the story, and relationships between them.

English Essay Dialogue Example

John finally returned home after a long day at work. It was raining cats and dogs and his raincoat was soaked. He opened the door, entered his apartment, and put his bag on the floor. suddenly , his phone started ringing. John took it out of his pocket and picked up. “Dad, itl burned down… I am so sorry,” he heard his daughter’s sad voice. She was crying. “What are you talking about?! Jen, are you alright?” “Dad, your summer cottage, it burned down to the ground” she was clearly devastated. John asked, “How did this happen?” “Just an accident, dad. You must have left the fire in the fireplace,” Jen replied. At this moment, John sighed with relief, even though his daughter might have thought he was very upset by the loss. She had no clue that her father insured their summer cottage and now the word “accident” meant lining his pocket from insurance money for sure.

So, now you know everything you need to write a dialogue in your essay successfully! Still, I strongly recommend to consider whether you need it at all — even when tutors assign such a creative writing, they are very meticulous in its evaluation. Moreover, pay attention to editing — due to sophisticated punctuation, dialogues are a never-ending source of students’ errors.

Did you know that Homework Lab is a student task sharing platform? You can work on tasks on your own or ask professional Geeks for help. Join anytime, anywhere for free.

If you have any questions about dialogues unanswered, please share your comment — I will get back and resolve any issues you have 😎.

Related articles

writing 500 words essay

Popular articles

problem and solution essay topics

Banner

Writing A Narrative Essay

  • Library Resources
  • Books & EBooks
  • What is an Narrative Essay?
  • Choosing a Topic
  • MLA Formatting

Using Dialogue

  • Using Descriptive Writing
  • OER Resources
  • Copyright, Plagiarism, and Fair Use

dialogue in an essay

Examples of Dialogue Tags

Examples of Dialogue Tags:

interrupted

Ebooks in Galileo

Cover Art

Additional Links & Resources

  • Dialogue Cheat Sheet

Dialogue is an exchange of conversation between two or more people or characters in a story. As a literary style, dialogue helps to advance the plot, reveal a character's thoughts or emotions, or shows the character's reaction within the story. Dialogue gives life to the story and supports the story's atmosphere.

There are two types of dialogue that can be used in an narrative essay.

Direct dialogue  is written between inverted commas or quotes. These are the actual spoken words of a character 

Indirect dialogue  is basically telling someone about what another person said

Formatting Dialogue

Dialogue is an important part of a narrative essay, However formatting dialogue can be troublesome at times.

When formatting dialogue use these rules and examples to help with your formatting:

Place double quotation marks at the beginning an end of spoken words.  The quotations go on the  outside  of both the words and end-of-dialogue punctuation.

  • Example:  "What is going on here?" John asked.

Each speaker gets a new paragraph that is indented.

      “hi,” said John as he stretched out his hand.

           "Good Morning, how are you?" said Brad shaking John’s hand.

                      "Good. Thanks for asking," John said.

Each speaker’s actions are in the same paragraph as their dialogue.

              

 A  dialogue tag  is anything that indicates which character spoke and describes how they spoke.

If the tag comes before the dialogue,  use a comma straight after the tag. If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter. End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation (period, exclamation point, or question mark), but keep it INSIDE the quotation marks.

  • Examples Before: 

James said, “I’ll never go shopping with you again!”

John said, “It's a great day to be at the beach.”

She opened the door and yelled, “Go away! Leave me alone!”

If the dialogue tag comes after the dialogue , Punctuation still goes INSIDE quotation marks. Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is  not  capitalized. End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation. Use comma after the quote unless it ends with a question mark or exclamation mark.

  • Examples After: 

“Are you sure this is real life?” Lindsay asked.

“It’s so gloomy out,” he said.

“Are we done?” asked Brad . 

“This is not your concern!” Emma said.

If dialogue tag is in the middle of dialogue.  A comma should be used before the dialogue tag inside the closing quotation mark; Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is  not  capitalized. A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce the dialogue. End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation followed by the closing quotation marks. 

When it is two sentences, the first sentence will end with a punctuation mark and the second begins with a capital letter.

  • Examples middle: 

“Let’s run away,” she whispered, “we wont get another chance.”

“I thought you cared.” Sandy said, hoping for an explanation. “How could you walk away?”

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Jerry whispered. “I’ll miss him.”

Questions in dialogue.  

if there is a dialogue tag, the question mark will act as a comma and you will then lowercase the first word in the dialogue tag 

  • Example: What are you doing?" he asked.

if there is simply an action after the question, the question mark acts as a period and you will then capitalize the first word in the next sentence.

“Sarah, why didn't you text me back?” Jane asked.

“James, why didn’t you show up?” Carol stomped her feet in anger before slamming the door behind her.

If the question or exclamation ends the dialogue, do not use commas to separate the dialogue from dialogue tags.

  • Example:  “Sarah, why didn't you text me back?” Jane asked.

If the sentence containing the dialogue is a question, then the        question mark goes outside of the quotation marks.

Did the teacher say, “The Homework is due Tomorrow”?

If you have to quote something within the dialogue.  When a character quotes someone else, use double-quotes around what your character says, then single-quotes around the speech they’re quoting.

  • Example: 

"When doling out dessert, my grandmother always said, 'You may have a cookie for each hand.'"

Dashes & Ellipses:

Dashes ( — ) are used to indicate abruptly interrupted dialogue or when one character's dialogue is interrupted by another character.

Use an em dash  inside  the quotation marks to cut off the character mid-dialogue, usually with either (A) another character speaking or (B) an external action.

  • Including the em dash at the end of the line of dialogue signifies that your character wasn't finished speaking.
  • If the speaking character's action interrupts their own dialogue . 
  • Use em dashes  outside  the quotation marks to set off a bit of action without a speech verb. 

Examples: 

  • Heather ran towards Sarah with excitement. “You won’t believe what I found out—”
  • "Is everything—" she started to ask, but a sharp look cut her off.
  • "Look over there—" She snapped her mouth shut so she didn't give the secret away.
  • "Look over there"—she pointed towards the shadow—"by the stairway."

Use ellipses (...) when a character has lost their train of thought or can't figure out what to say

  • Example:  “You haven’t…” he trailed off in disbelief.

Action Beats

Action beats show what a character is doing before, during, or after their dialogue.

“This isn't right.” She squinted down at her burger. “Does this look like it is well done to you?”

She smiled. “I loved the center piece you chose.”

If you separate two complete sentences, you will simply place the action beat as its own sentence between two sets of quotes.

“I never said he could go to the concert.” Linda sighed and sat in her chair. “He lied to you again.”

  • << Previous: MLA Formatting
  • Next: Using Descriptive Writing >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 24, 2024 1:22 PM
  • URL: https://wiregrass.libguides.com/c.php?g=1188382

Guide to Writing a Dialogue in an Essay

Writing Dialogue in an Essay

Composing a dialogue is one of the most intricate parts of essay writing. Many students instantly realize that crafting a good dialogue within the context of a story takes a lot of time and requires more work that simply describing the events. And that’s not surprising as a dialogue should not simply present the direct quotations from different characters but bring the story to life.

If you are unsure about how to use dialogue in your essay, read on. Let’s figure out the main rules and standards together!

Moving the Story Forward

The main role of a dialogue is to help the story move forward by presenting conversations and thoughts. You can use a dialogue to speed up the pace of your essay if you feel that the narration slows it down or you can use it as a break between the long and overwhelming paragraphs. When writing conversations, you need to remember a few important things:

  • Dialogues move the action, set the scene, explain the descriptions and predict the reactions and activities. They can do all these things at once, so don’t use the conversations to just convey the information.
  • Remind yourself of the character’s voice to write a dialogue that sounds like a real speech . You may even use some grammatical mistakes to show the realistic conversation but make sure that you keep the balance between the actual talk and readability.
  • Always use the speech as a characterization tool. From your words, a reader should understand a lot about the character: morality, background, appearance, etc.

To advance the story, your dialogues should sound natural, not forced, and clear. At the same time, the conversations have to convey the characters’ emotions and show the reader how they interact with each other.

Using Thoughts in Dialogue

Using thoughts and memories in the conversation can also show the important details of your story. This indirect dialogue is another way to change ideas without the quotations. You may also use a combination of direct and indirect dialogue for emphasis. It looks like this:

Billy and I moved on to the next painting. “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” He curled his lip in disgust. Well, I thought he was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, and told him so. “And also, you stink. But most of all, your taste in art stinks.”

To reveal emotions and thoughts, you need to use the sensory details: tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing. Try to show what is going on, don’t tell. Thus, your essay will be more realistic and engaging for your reader.

Formatting Your Dialogue

The right format and style are key to the successful dialogue. Correct punctuation, tags and paragraphs are even more significant than the quotations themselves. Without following the main rules, it would be hopelessly confusing to understand who is speaking. Therefore, make sure that you format your dialogue accordingly.

Rule 1: Punctuation goes inside quotations.

“I’ll call you tomorrow!” Anna screamed.

Make sure to use two quotation marks for speech and one mark for speech within the speech. Even such a small thing as using the quotation marks can poorly reflect on your essay .

Rule 2: A new speaker – a new line.

If you have several characters in your essay, it’s important to know who is speaking. With the line break, your reader won’t be confused.

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

If there is the action connected with a character, describe it in the same paragraph, then start a new line.

Rule 3: Break up dialogue in two parts.

It’s annoying to wait until the end of a speech to put a dialogue tag because it is unclear for a long time who is speaking. That’s why is it better to write the first thought, place a comma and tag, and then continue the dialogue.

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

As you see, all dialogues follow a simple guideline. Keep the main rules in mind and start writing a dialogue to convey your message!

Stacey Wonder

Related Posts

student writing an essay title

WAIT! Do you need help with your essay?

Enter your email to get 15% off your first order.

gift

The discount is in your inbox.

logo WriteMyEssay4Me.org

  • Tips on How to Write Dialogue in an Essay with Ease
  • How to Format Dialogue: Examples and Writing Tips

dialogue in an essay

What Is a Dialogue and Its Types?

How to format dialogue in an essay, quotation marks and capitalization.

  • Punctuation

Reporting Verbs and Dialogue Tags

How to quote a dialogue in an essay correctly, effective tips on dialog writing, final thoughts.

Sometimes adding a dialogue to an essay is the right way to improve the paper and receive a higher grade. Dialogue is a great device to describe the situation, characters, or emotions. Yet often, wrong formatting may adversely impact your piece of writing. This is a tricky aspect of a dialogue writing process, as it has so many nuances. This guide  by Write My Essay 4 Me will help you learn how to format dialogue correctly and give a comprehensive list of writing, punctuation, and capitalization tips as well as perfect examples.

Dialogue is a written or spoken conversation between two or more people. It is widely incorporated in different written works, movies, and even computer games.

Writing dialogue in an essay will surely brighten up the story and captivate the reader. However, in terms of academic writing, it can be used in one essay type only; namely, the narrative essay. If you decide to add it to your essay, keep it realistic, clear, and to the point as well as format dialogue appropriately. If you are looking for a simple shortcut, you can pay to 'write my essay'. In case you want to find out useful tips, just keep on reading. 

There are two types of dialogues you should keep in mind:

  • Inner dialogues are used to convey what characters say to themselves or think.
  • Outer dialogues are even more wide-spread and happen between several characters in the story.

Quite often students receive assignments to analyze or reflect on stories or books. They might add quotations from these sources as evidence. At this point, it is important to understand the difference between a direct and indirect quote. Both use information from the original source, but the difference is in presentation.

Writing dialogue that is clear and informative requires the knowledge of a set of formatting rules. You should understand how to punctuate dialogue correctly to convey the meaning properly. Check the rules to learn how to write dialogue correctly to make your piece of writing flawless.

Punctuation 

  • Use a comma after the dialogue tags that precedes direct speech.
  • Use colon to introduce direct speech that expresses a finished idea or sentence.
  • Do not add a comma after the direct quote that precedes a dialogue tag if the direct speech ends with its specific punctuation (i.e. full stop, exclamation or question marks, etc.).
  • In case the quoted speech is too long, divide it into multiple paragraphs. Use quotation marks appropriately. Opening quotation marks should be placed at the beginning of the speech. Closing quotation marks go at the very end of the direct speech. Avoid adding them after every paragraph.
  • Do not add any punctuation marks after the closing quotation marks if the direct speech ends with ellipsis. Ellipses (three dots) are used when you omit some information from the quote.
  • Em dashes that indicate abrupt ending of a dialogue go inside the quotation marks. Do not mix up em dashes and hyphens.
  • Avoid using either double or single quotes when you are introducing an indirect quote. It will be a mistake.

Dialogue tags or speech tags are short phrases that refer to the direct quote. They provide additional information on what the character is speaking about, help explain the emotion, and understand the context better. They can be placed either before, in the middle, or after the direct quotation. These short phrases are also part of indirect speech.

When using indirect quotes, students tend to overuse word say and tell to present every. However, there exist multiple words that could help describe the dialogue better. Check the list of useful verbs to use in your dialogue tangs and indirect quotes.

Students are always required to cite the sources they have used in paper. These can either be long or short direct quotes, dialogues, or paraphrase. Dialogue punctuation depends on the formatting style. The most common are MLA and APA. Although, there are other styles such as Chicago and ASA format . Let's have a look at the rules to punctuate dialogue and direct quotes correctly.

When quoting a dialogue in MLA format, you should pay attention to the following requirements.

  • When adding a direct quote, always mention the author and page number it is taken from.
  • If you add words to a quotation, add brackets around them to show they are not part of the original text. 
  • If the quotation is too long or contains irrelevant information for you add ellipsis to indicate some information was omitted.
  • When adding indirect quotes, do not add either double or single quotation marks.

Mind the following dialogue rules when formatting quotations in APA format.

  • If a character’s quote is short, put both the quote and the dialogue tags in the same line.
  • When adding a quote that is longer than 40 words, first, introduce the source and the author. Put a colon and add a quote as a new paragraph. The whole quote should be indented, and no quotation marks are needed. Mention the page quote is taken from in brackets just at the end of the quotation.
  • If a character’s words span more than one paragraph, put quotation marks at the beginning of paragraphs as well as at the end of the quote.
  • Indirect quote in APA does not require the use of quotation marks. The dialogue tags initiate the character’s part.
  • Use quotation marks at the beginning and end of each quotation.
  • Every quote starts from a new line of dialogue.
  • Separate direct speech from dialogue tags using corresponding punctuation marks.
  • Use different placing of dialogue tags (before, in the middle, after a quote) to avoid repetitive structures.
  • Original direct speech punctuation goes within quotation marks.
  • Use different verbs in a dialogue tag.
  • Formatting dialogue in APA and MLA is different.
  • Differentiate between direct and indirect quotes.
  • Don’t add quotation marks if you paraphrase.
  • Use single quotation marks to add one direct quote within another.

We have a lot of useful blogs for our users. Read how to write an essay quickly  and follow all these tips. Use our examples for writing different kinds of tasks.

Writing dialogue is a time consuming process. It has numerous tricky rules. Now that you know all the peculiarities of dialogue writing, such as dialogue tags, em dashes, quotation marks, it will not be a challenge for you to write dialogue. However, if you are not sure you can do it the right way, you may try writing assistance. Professional writers will help you save time and receive high grades.

Before you start writing an essay, it is essential to know your goal and what thoughts you want to deliver to your reader. An essay outline serves as a skeleton of the paper you are going to write. It can be a bit more complicated to develop a well-written essay if you have no structure to follow. Y...

Students face the necessity to write lots of essays. Balanced paragraph and topic sentences are an inevitable part of any good paper. They express the main idea of a paragraph, informing the reader what it is about, and help make the paper coherent. Good topic sentences have some compulsory elements...

Writing a thesis statement may seem to be an impossible task at first. There’s a good reason for that! It may not be simple to convey the idea of the whole essay in one or a couple of sentences. But no worries! With the right guidance, it can be done easily. With practice, it will become as easy as ...

How To Format Dialogue (includes examples)

dialogue in an essay

Beta Reader Instructions

After you type those magic words (THE END) into your manuscript, you will want to have a few beta readers review it. Here are the instructions I give my beta readers.

Terri Giuliano Long

Interview: Terri Giuliano Long

Terri Giuliano Long, author of In Leah’s Wake, shares her experiences in writing and self-publishing her debut novel. She offers insight and recommendations for other authors considering self-publishing.

Image of cat hanging by claws on fence

How to Create Suspense: Leave ‘Em Hanging

In order to compose a page-turner, you’ve got to leave the reader hanging. Here are some tips for doing it well.

Man with Plan

Plot Planning for Novels

After abandoning my third rewrite of my novel, I decided the time had come for some serious plot planning. Here’s what worked for me.

Join Our Newsletter

Join our newletter to receive the latest writing and storytelling tips and techniques.

Thank you for joining!

Join our list.

Get notified by email when new information is published.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin it on pinterest.

  • How It Works
  • Essay Examples

How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

how to write dialogue in an essay

Knowing how to insert source materials into an essay is a central theme of academic writing. Sources can be cited to support your argument, expand it or even to be used to dissect a counter-argument and examine its validity.

This skill is so essential the rules of using quotation marks of when quoting texts are pounded into the student’s head. So much so you know when to quote a textual source and the reason to do so.

One of the areas many students struggle with is when or how they should use dialogue in an essay. A high number of essay writers don’t even know the difference between dialogue and quotes, let alone the correct punctuation surrounding it. The main reason it happens is because a large number of academic subjects focus solely on claim-based essays where dialogue is not used. This article will look at why dialogue can be so effective within a narrative essay and why. The topics discussed will be:

What is dialogue?

When do you use dialogue?

Why use dialogue?

How to write dialogue?

And Where you can find more information on this subject.

Dialogue: A definition

Dialogue is defined as a literary technique that writers use to depict a conversation between two or more people. Dialogue is a device that is employed in all kinds of fiction – movie, plays, books and can even be used in essays. It's important not to confuse dialogue with quotations from an outside source. Dialogue is largely made up to create a more visual, dramatic effect. Whereas direct quotes can be verified through citations.

Quotation marks are used with quoting from source as well as to mark dialogue in an essay but the conventions around the two change. As such, it is important to know the difference between the two.

Here is a small table that documents the main differences.

One of the biggest mistakes an essay writer makes is when they use dialogue as a direct quote. This mistake occurs as we are trained to use speech as direct quotes in claim-based essays. As we are trained to do this in the majority of our subjects, we don't know that we can use crafted narration and create dialogue in narrative essays to give them more weight. Due to this, we do not understand the conventions around its use or why to use it.

Dialogue: When to Use it.

Dialogue is a big part of the movies, television, novels, and plays. It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to essay writing, a dialogue only really appears in one type of essay – the narrative essay.

A narrative essay differs from most kinds of essay writing. Other types of essays often aim to make a claim about something. If we look at an argumentative essay , for example, it makes a claim that one point of view is right. And an expository essay will make claims about how a model or idea works. A narrative essay doesn't make claims like this. It is an essay that is used to relate stories and experience to the reader, and as such, it is much more story like in nature. These experiences include conversations the writer has had with other people.

Presenting conversations you had with friends as dialogue in an argumentative essay or expository piece wouldn’t do much to strengthen your argument and would undermine your creditability. It is better to use direct quotes from the source – even if it is spoken material. Direct quotes will be seen as the conventional norm as these types of essay expect the writer to be objective and scientific in their discussion.

Dialogue: Why do you use dialogue

Narrative essays use dialogue as a device – much like written fiction. They add depth, tension and character development to nonfiction writing. It also helps move the story along. As it is reported speech, you would be unlikely to remember all the details; so, you will have to recreate them from memory – remember to use the words, tones, and emotions that report it in the correct flavor. Readers will trust realistic dialogue that captures the situation.

Dialogue: How to format

This section will demonstrate the correct formatting conventions to use when inserting your dialogue into a narrative essay. This section will look at the correct usage of the quotation marks, and where to put other punctuation marks. This will be looking at the U.S rules of grammar – the formations and convention in other variants of English might differ.

Quotations Marks

There are three main rules that surround the usage of quotation marks:

Double quotation marks are used to signify that a person is using speech.

Example: - When I was young, my father warned me, “Look in both direction before you cross the road.”

Single quotation marks are used to mark quotes in quotes.

Example: - “I remember read Oscar Wilde’s quote ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ and feeling so inspired,” the creative writer coach said.

When dialogue extends across several paragraphs, use quotation marks at the start of each paragraph, but only use the closing quotation make when the speech ends.

Example: - Rupert nodded and said, "Yeah I think you're correct. If we lay the carpet before painting the ceiling, we'll need dust sheets.

But if we do the ceiling before laying the new carpet it should be fine.”

If the quote is at the end of a sentence, always put the full stop inside the quotation marks.

Incorrect: - The bus driver said, “This is your stop”.

Correct: - The bus driver said, “This is your stop.”

Question marks and exclamation should be placed inside the quotation mark if they apply to the person's speech.

Incorrect: - The boy screamed, “Watched out the ceiling is falling”!

Correct: - The boy screamed, “Watched out the ceiling is falling!”

When the quote is simply embedded in a larger sentence that is a question or exclamation the punctuation should be placed outside the speech marks.

Incorrect : -How did you feel when the newscaster said, “JFK had been shot?”

Correct: - How did you feel when the newscaster said, “JFK had been shot”?

If a speech tags fall before the quote use a comma before the quotation marks to separate them.

Incorrect: - My brother said “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the jar.”

Correct: - My brother said, “I’m telling mom that you stole the cookies from the jar.”

If the speech tag comes after the quotation marks, then the coma should be placed in the speech marks

Incorrect: - “Just be back in time for tea” My mum warned me before I went to play.

Correct: - “Just be back in time for tea,” My mum warned me before I went to play.

When a sentence is interrupted with a speech tag, a comma should be placed after the first segment of speech and at the end of the speech tag.

Incorrect: - “No” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust “That’s just all kinds of wrong.”

Correct: - “No,” Karen said wrinkling her nose in disgust, “That’s just all kinds of wrong.”

It is important to learn how to use quotation marks and punctuation correctly. These rules act as a convention between reader and writer, and as such, using them will make your work easier to read and understand. Without following these rules, your dialogue might be confusing and messy to the reader, which means it will not convey the message you want it to.

Dialogue: Where to find more resources

Here is a collection of some great links that will aid you in crafting the perfect narrative essay , and making sure you get your dialogue quotation spot on. You’ll be writing an amazing narrative essay in no time at all.

How To Write A Thematic Essay

  • How To Write a Communication Essay
  • How to Write an Abstract For an Academic Paper
  • Writing a Psychology Essay that Gets you an A+
  • How to write an engaging introduction for an essay
  • How to Write a Compare and Contrast Thesis Statement

dialogue in an essay

How to Have More Meaningful Conversations

Communication heads

T hink, for a moment, about who you would call if you were having a bad day. If you’d screwed up a deal at work, or gotten into an argument with your spouse, or were feeling frustrated and sick of it all: Who would you want to talk to? There’s probably someone you know will make you feel better, who can help you think through a thorny question, or share a moment of heartbreak or joy.

That person, for you, is what I like to call a “supercommunicator” (and odds are, for them, you are a supercommunicator, too.) All of us, at times, achieve moments of supercommunication. But there are some people who are supercommunicators much more consistently—they know how to connect with nearly anyone, to make conversations easier, to make us feel like we’ve really been heard. We all know supercommunicators: They’re the people everyone seems to know, the ones likely to be elected to positions of authority, the folks others turn to when they need to discuss something serious or ask for advice.

Over the past three years, I’ve explored the research behind supercommunication, and encountered important lessons. Most notably, we’re not born knowing how to communicate effectively. Rather, communication is a set of skills that nearly anyone can learn. Supercommunicators aren’t inherently more charismatic or extroverted. Rather, they just think about communication a little bit harder, and have mastered the tools that allow them to connect.

Read More: Charles Duhigg on Changing Your Habits

So what, exactly, are those supercommunicators doing that makes you feel so good?

There’s a number of skills they’ve mastered. Research shows that supercommunicators ask 10 to 20 times as many questions as the average person—but many of those questions ( “What did you think about that?” “What did you say next?” ) hardly register, except to make us feel like someone is listening. Other questions—what are known as “deep questions”—ask people to describe their beliefs, values, and experiences in ways that reveal something about themselves beyond the simple facts of their lives. (“How’d you decide to become a lawyer?” “What was it like growing up in a small town?”)

Supercommunicators are also good at reading the room: When a conversation gets stuck, they make it easy for everyone to take a quick break by bringing up a new topic or interrupting an awkward silence with a small joke.

What’s more, supercommunicators often engage in a process known as looping for understanding , which encourages everyone, including themselves, to listen more closely. Looping has three steps: Ask a question; repeat back what you heard in your own words; and then ask if you got it right. This is powerful because one of the strongest human impulses is social mimicry . If someone starts asking questions and looping their companions, everyone else becomes more likely to ask questions, listen closely, and loop in return.

All these skills have something important in common: they allow supercommunicators to show their companions they want to connect.

Take, for instance, laughter. Studies show that roughly 80% of the time, when we laugh, it is not in reaction to anything funny. Rather, we laugh in response to something banal—“Are we finally going to dinner?” — in order to show that we want to connect with someone. And when they laugh back—the most natural reaction—they are showing us they want to connect with us, as well.

The same thing happens with other forms of non-linguistic communication. When someone frowns, or their voice goes quiet and intimate, we have an instinct to mimic them, to apply what is known within psychology as the Matching Principle of Communication. Supercommunicators listen to those instincts and nurture those urges, because they know that when we match someone, we show them we want to listen—and they, in return, become more willing to listen to, and trust, us.

The truth is, anyone can become a supercommunicator. We can all learn to hear more clearly, to speak so we’re easier to understand, to connect on a deeper level. And, today, learning to have meaningful conversations is, in some ways, more urgent than ever before. It’s no secret the world has become increasingly polarized, that we struggle to hear and be heard. If we know how to sit down together and listen, then, even if we can’t resolve every disagreement, we can find ways to coexist and thrive.

When we show each other that we want to connect—by asking questions, looping for understanding, and matching people when they become emotional, practical, or when the discussion goes in an unexpected direction—we usually find something we have in common, something we can build on to form a real relationship.

Every meaningful conversation is made up of countless small choices. There are fleeting moments when the right deep question, or a vulnerable admission, or a kind word can completely change a dialogue. A silent laugh, a barely audible sigh, a friendly expression during a tense moment: Some people have learned to spot these opportunities, to detect what kind of discussion is occurring, to understand what others really want. They have learned how to hear what’s unsaid and speak so others want to listen. And that’s important, because the right conversation, at the right moment, can change everything.

More Must-Reads From TIME

  • Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
  • Greta Gerwig's Next Big Swing 
  • East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
  • In the Belly of MrBeast
  • The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
  • How Long Should You Isolate With COVID-19?
  • The Best Romantic Comedies to Watch on Netflix
  • Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time

Contact us at [email protected]

IMAGES

  1. Dialogue writing essay

    dialogue in an essay

  2. Demonstration for how to format dialogue in a narrative essay

    dialogue in an essay

  3. How to Write Dialogue In An Essay : r/EduHub

    dialogue in an essay

  4. Guide to Writing a Dialogue in an Essay

    dialogue in an essay

  5. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

    dialogue in an essay

  6. Dialogue Writing

    dialogue in an essay

VIDEO

  1. Video Essay for English

  2. Essay Writing Tips #english

  3. dialogue writing between two friends about exam

  4. Speech Writing Explanation With Examples :Writing Skill: #EnglishForLearners

  5. 2nd PUC English Grammar :- Complete the Following Dialogue Write

  6. Dialogue between you and your father about the sadhguru words #sadhguru #dialogue @sadhguru

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Dialogue in an Essay: The Ultimate Guide

    Dialogue in an essay can be implemented when writing fiction or nonfiction narrative work. As an example, working with (or citing) movies, plays, books or reports, its usage may even become obligatory for greater effect.

  2. A Guide to Writing Dialogue, With Examples

    Learn what dialogue is, its purpose, types, and formatting in creative writing. See how to use dialogue to characterize, exposit, and immerse your characters in your story. Avoid common pitfalls and mistakes when writing dialogue.

  3. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

    Learn the difference between dialogue and quotation marks, when to use dialogue in your essay, and how to format it correctly. Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people, while quotation marks are direct quotes from outside sources. Follow the rules for using quotation marks and punctuation in your narrative essay.

  4. How to Properly Format Dialogue (With Examples)

    Also, we'll share examples of dialogue in essays for you to see the details. What is a Dialogue Format? Dialogue format is a writing form authors use to present characters' communication. It's common for play scripts, literature works, and other forms of storytelling. A good format helps the audience understand who is speaking and what they say.

  5. How to Write Dialogue

    Dialogue is the written conversational exchange between two or more characters. How to Write Dialogue Conventional English grammar rules tell us that you should always start a new paragraph when someone speaks in your writing. "Let's get the heck out of here right now," Mary said, turning away from the mayhem. John looked around the pub.

  6. 8 Strategies for Improving Dialogue in Your Writing

    8 Strategies for Improving Dialogue in Your Writing. One of the best ways to help a reader connect with your writing is by crafting excellent dialogue. Use these tips to learn how to write dialogue that showcases character development, defines your characters' voices, and hooks readers. One of the best ways to help a reader connect with your ...

  7. PDF Direct and Indirect Dialogue

    The answer is dialogue. What is dialogue? Dialogue records people's verbal exchanges. It allows writers to let people speak for themselves in a text. In other words, dialogue is a way of showing people's opinions rather than telling them.

  8. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay: Perfect Writing Guide

    How to add dialogue in an essay: you can either use double quotation marks to indicate what someone said, or start in a new line using a Dash followed by the actually spoken phrase every time a new character speaks. This demonstrates that dialogue conversations have started. "Elisa gave me this purse for my birthday."

  9. How to Write Dialogue: A Guide for Beginners

    Start Using Dialogue Tags. Anytime someone says something, use quotation marks around what they say, and usually, you need to use dialogue tags. The tag indicates who said what. Here are some examples. Wrong: "Good morning.". Right: "Good morning," my boss said. There's no need to fear dialogue tags.

  10. Dialogue Examples (With Writing and Format Tips)

    Dialogue examples from famous authors can help discover how to understand it and create your own. Get tips for writing dialogue and proper formatting, too.

  11. 15 Examples of Great Dialogue (And Why They Work So Well)

    1. Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered In the opening of Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered, we meet Willa Knox, a middle-aged and newly unemployed writer who has just inherited a ramshackle house. "The simplest thing would be to tear it down," the man said. "The house is a shambles."

  12. Writing Dialogue: 'The Missing Piece Son'

    Mentor Text: " The Missing-Piece Son " by Randa Jarrar. This essay centers on a conversation, as the opening lines tell you right away: I don't think anything would rattle the mother of a ...

  13. How to Write a Dialogue in an Essay with Example

    10 min. This article will reveal all you need to know about how to write a dialogue, types of dialogues in an essay, and formatting. In addition, in this article, you will find several examples of English essay dialogue and dialogue between two characters. What Is a Dialogue? The definition of a dialogue is as simple as it gets.

  14. LibGuides: Writing A Narrative Essay: Using Dialogue

    Dialogue gives life to the story and supports the story's atmosphere. There are two types of dialogue that can be used in an narrative essay. Direct dialogue is written between inverted commas or quotes. These are the actual spoken words of a character . Indirect dialogue is basically telling someone about what another person said

  15. 6 Tips for Dialogue in Personal Essays

    Tip #1: Write Dialogue Sparingly and Concisely Dialogue is a major component of fiction. But in personal essays and other creative nonfiction, dialogue should be used sparingly and only when it adds value. Scenes tend to be much shorter in essays, and there are fewer of them.

  16. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

    Dialogue is an essential technique that helps writers demonstrate relationships between 2 and more characters in books, articles, or other types of texts. This literature device is useful for different genres of content and has no limitations. If you need to depict a direct speech of people you can use dialogue in your academic papers too.

  17. Guide to Writing a Dialogue in an Essay

    The main role of a dialogue is to help the story move forward by presenting conversations and thoughts. You can use a dialogue to speed up the pace of your essay if you feel that the narration slows it down or you can use it as a break between the long and overwhelming paragraphs.

  18. How to Format Dialogue in an Essay

    Mind the following dialogue rules when formatting quotations in APA format. If a character's quote is short, put both the quote and the dialogue tags in the same line. When adding a quote that is longer than 40 words, first, introduce the source and the author. Put a colon and add a quote as a new paragraph.

  19. How To Format Dialogue (includes examples) • First Manuscript

    Dialogue Format Rules. If you are writing dialogue in a manuscript, then the first line of each paragraph is indented. (The same as every other paragraph in the manuscript.) See our article on Proper Manuscript Format for full details on manuscript formatting. 1. Enclose the spoken words with double quotation marks. "I love it when that ...

  20. How to Write Dialogue: Formatting, Examples, & Tips

    Say the dialogue out loud. Cut small talk when writing dialogue. Keep your dialogue brief and impactful. Give each character a unique voice. Add world-appropriate slang. Be consistent with the characters' voices. Remember who they're speaking to. Avoid long dialogue paragraphs. Cut out greetings.

  21. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

    Learn the difference between dialogue and quotes, when and how to use dialogue in a narrative essay, and how to format it correctly. Dialogue is a literary technique that depicts a conversation between two or more people and adds depth, tension and character development to nonfiction writing.

  22. How to Write Dialogue in an Essay

    A dialogue can be defined as a literal technique used by writers to describe a conversation involving two or more people. The use of dialogue is utilized in different areas such as books, plays, movies, and it could also be used in writing essays. People should be careful not to mistaken a dialogue with quotations.

  23. How to Format Dialogue in Your Novel or Short Story

    1. Use Quotation Marks to Indicate Spoken Word. Whenever someone is speaking, their words should be enclosed in double quotation marks. Example: "Let's go to the beach.". 2. Dialogue Tags Stay Outside the Quotation Marks. Dialogue tags attribute a line of dialogue to one of the characters so that the reader knows who is speaking.

  24. How to Have More Meaningful Conversations

    Every meaningful conversation is made up of countless small choices. There are fleeting moments when the right deep question, or a vulnerable admission, or a kind word can completely change a ...

  25. Dialogue Between Socrates and Meno Free Essay Example

    This section is a dialogue between Socrates and Meno. Meno asks Socrates if virtue can be Free essays. My List(0) About us; Our services. Essay topics and ideas; Custom essay writing; Flashcards and Quizzes ... Students looking for free, top-notch essay and term paper samples on various topics. Additional materials, such as the best quotations ...