He said, she said: Learning dialogue basics

Inserting dialogue into a writing piece is a great way to move a story along, or to reveal something about a character. Today, we are going to learn some of the basic structural issues of conventional dialogue, saving the punctuation rules of dialogue for next time.

- Structures for dialogues

   * Dialogue is identified with quotation marks as the words being spoken by a person or character. For example: "Please clean your room," mom requested.

   * Dialogue refers to the words spoken by a character in a written story, or the written words of dialogue in a conversation between people who do not always use complete sentences or proper grammar. For example,

"What's with Daeng?" Lek asked.

"Who knows? I think he's angry," replied Benz.

   * Notice that you should use dialogue tags to make it obvious to the reader who is doing the speaking. Some examples of dialogue tags might include I/he/she said, Nok commented, Nut yelled, whispered Som, said Pim, asked Poom. If it is unclear who is speaking, you need to add who expressed the words with a dialogue tag before, in the middle of, or after each bit of dialogue.

   * It is not necessary to use a dialogue tag if it is obvious or reasonable for the reader to recognise who is speaking. For example:

"Amporn, tell me again, when is your birthday?"

"Pornthip! You know it is in two days."

   * It is important to use tag descriptors with caution (cried out, screamed angrily, said harshly). The written context of the situation and character personality should actually allow the reader to interpret how something is being said. Sometimes the word "said" is almost invisible in dialogue text, but too many descriptors can be distracting and take away from the movement of the story. Try to find a healthy balance!

Stop by next time for the punctuation rules of dialogue.


Heather Vlach is an English-language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Email her at heatherv@isb.ac.th .

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Writer: Heather Vlach
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