I realise as I write more of my book that I have never actually written dialogue on a page. Does it need new lines?… Indents?…How is it punctuated?
Well it seems I am not the only one who has these questions. I trawled the internet and found lots of other people asking just the same things. I have been looking at how good writers do it too.
I apologise in advance that WordPress html doesn’t allow me to format exactly as I would like. It puts in a space between each new line and doesn’t allow me to indent properly left or right. Also note that I am British and therefore champion where I can the British rather than the American way of doing things.
So what are my ‘Rules’ after all this research:
- Punctuation and formatting are there to make our texts easy to read and understand. Use the minimum amount of both to make yourself understood. Also be conventional where possible so your readers know what to do.
- Start a new line for each speaker – this lets the reader know the speaker has changed.
From Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus (p256-8):
‘Well, Tedward,’ said Michael to his friend Wallace, ‘God bless Mr. Maugham.’
‘Don’t you think,’ said Wallace, ‘that others might have tried it first?’
‘What you have to understand, Tedward, is that “others” don’t try anything. They leave it to people like us.’
‘New Insights is older than God and just as dead.’
‘So tell me, who should I employ to nurse it back to life? They say Mark Onions is a coming talent.’
He has uses a new line for each speaker. Once the speakers are identified, he even leaves out the tags (eg. said Wallace). The new line identifying the swapping from one speaker to another.
- Obviously – Put what is spoken in quotation marks.
Fry uses a single quotation mark for speech in the above quotation and double quotation marks for emphasis. This is the opposite to my natural inclinations but apparently is the British rather than American English way of doing things (I needed to check that – its a surprise – I do it the other way round. Not that I am a grammar queen. Sure enough, it is done in exactly the same way in Pride and Prejudice and Animal Farm.) He also puts book titles in Italics, not in quotes.
- Punctuation – If the tag is related to the speech, use a comma, if not a full stop or other appropriate ending punctuation. Let the reader know what goes with what.
From Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice:
…Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said,
‘I did not know before that you ever walked this way.’
‘I have been making a tour of the Park,’ he replied, ‘as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?’
It seems Austin agrees with Fry on the single quotation mark front; at least her publisher does. She even starts a new line for Elizabeth’s dialogue even though the whole paragraph preceding it is about her and it follows a comma. My immediate reaction is that this is an unnecessary step. You know Elizabeth is talking without it and a new line after a comma seems just odd. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s tag (he replied) is separated by commas and the continuation of the dialogue uses a small starting letter a in “as”: no capitalizing.
From George Orwell’s Animal Farm (p70):
…Even Boxer, who seldom asked questions, was puzzled. He lay down, tucked his forehoofs beneath him, shut his eyes, and with a hard effort managed to formulate his thoughts.
‘I do not believe that,’ he said. ‘Snowball fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed. I saw him myself. Did we not give him “Animal Hero, First Class”, immediately afterwards?’
‘That was our mistake, comrade. For we know now – it is all written down in secret documents that we have found – that in reality he was trying to lure us to to our doom.’
‘Our leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ announced Squealer, speaking very slowly and firmly, ‘has stated categorically…’
Having been critical of the Austin use of a new line for the dialogue after a related paragraph and a separating comma, I then found the above in Animal Farm. Boxer formulates his thoughts then his dialogue starts a new line. There is no comma though in the Orwell quote, so I am still undecided as to correct modern usage in such a situation. I feel happy I can now make a decision in my own writing so “onwards and upwards”.
How to format dialogue in a novel… – http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100817054350AAdsmJE
Punctuating Dialogue – http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/punctuate-dialogue.html
Punctuating Dialogue – http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/writingexercises/qt/punctuation.htm
How to Use Proper Punctuation when Writing Dialogue – http://teacherwriter.net/2009/02/25/how-to-use-proper-punctuation-when-writing-dialogue/