Quotation Rules: Dialogue

The first article discussed the basics of what quotation marks mean and when to use single versus double marks. The second article explained some special formatting tricks to help you make quotations fit your specific work of writing. This one will help you iron out how to represent spoken lines, or dialogue, in text.

Who said what?

In the first article, we used this example:

Joey said, “The ranger’s motto is, ‘I’m here to get the job done.’ ”

With the attribution (the part that tells you who is doing the speaking, Joey above) on the left, a comma precedes the quotation and end punctuation comes at the end of the quote. Notice what happens if we move the attribution to the other side:

“This is going to be a great trip,” announced Kim.

Even though the quote is an independent clause, it is part of a longer sentence that includes the attribution to Kim, so the end punctuation goes after her name. However, there are a couple of exceptions.

“That bounced pretty well!” the little boy cried out.
 “Did you see where it went?” he wondered next.

If the end punctuation of the quotation is an exclamation point ! or a question mark ? then include it within the quotation marks, in addition to the final end punctuation after the attribution.

Finally, you can also break the quotation to place the attribution in the middle.

“I really don’t know,” Micky admitted, “how to bring everyone back together.”

Change of Speaker

Anytime a new person speaks, you should begin on a new line, even if the statements are short.

“Hi!” Anne quipped merrily.
 “Nice to meet you…” Gilbert stared at his feet.
 “I really love this town,” she ran on enthusiastically, “it has such scope for the imagination!”
 Puzzled, Gil agreed halfheartedly, “Sure, if you say so.”

Once it becomes clear that the dialogue will take place between only two people, you can also drop the attributions altogether as long as the speaker is clear from the alternating order of quotations.

“I do!” she beamed. “Just look at the landscape!”
 “Pretty ordinary, isn’t it?”
 “Not at all! It’s magnificent!”

Even without the “he said, she said” parts, you can tell who is speaking, right? As long as the speaker remains clear without the attributions, you can write only spoken text to speed up the pace of the story.

Long Quotations (Creative Writing)

If you are writing dialogue and the text you wish to quote extends over several paragraphs, then place opening quotation marks at the beginning of each new paragraph, but place closing quotation marks only at the end of the whole speech.

“I really don’t know what that boy was thinking,” she remarked, “throwing things just to see them bounce. It’s so silly.

“I wish he’d think about consequences before he acts once in a while. We’re all traveling together after all.”

Notice how a set of opening quotation marks denotes the beginning of each quoted paragraph, and the attribution breaks the quote in the middle, but there is no need for closing marks until the very end if the same quotation continues in the next paragraph.

Writing that Packs a Punch

How to represent a quotation is a stylistic choice; it is up to the author to decide. However, using a mix of the options above will help your writing to seem more fresh and interesting. Notice also how meaning is revealed depending on where the attribution is placed. If the quote comes first, the spoken words might be presented with more impact.

“Look out! There’s a car!” Joey yelled as his friend stepped carelessly into the road.

Writing the attribution first, in this case, would seem to slow down the immediacy of the statement:

Joey yelled as his friend stepped carelessly into the road, “Look out! There’s a car!”

On the other hand, if you are describing someone who is shy or hesitating, then you might want to slow down the reveal of what they are actually thinking or saying. In such a case, placing the quoted material last will draw out the suspence or anxiety of the description.

Shuffling his feet uncertainly, Max drew in a shaky breath before sneaking a glance out over the audience and mumbling, “Hello….”

Unlike in academic or business writing, creative writing allows the means of expression to depend much more on the writer’s preference. The same meaning is contained in the first two sentences of this section above, but the effect they have on the development of the reader’s mental image of what is described differs. Use the quotation rules to your advantage to express what you are reporting in a dynamic way.

Practice Time

Add punctuation to the following sentences. Check your work at the end of the page.

  1. She wondered Where does this path end
  2. I try to always remember he noted sagely how far they’ve come
  3. Look back on our memories and by the time you finish we’ll be together again he implored
  4. Alice recited He told me Don’t forget these words
  5. My favorite song is Why Did I Fall In Love With You she remarked

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  1. She wondered, “Where does this path end?”
  2. “I try to always remember,” he noted sagely, “how far they’ve come.”
  3. “Look back on our memories, and by the time you finish, we’ll be together again,” he implored.
  4. Alice recited, “He told me, ‘Don’t forget these words.’ ”
  5. “My favorite song is ‘Why Did I Fall In Love With You’,” she remarked.

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