How To Format Dialogue In A Story [Tips & Examples]

Formatting dialogue is essential to writing a story that can impact readability and reader engagement. A properly formatted dialogue allows readers to follow characters’ conversations easily. This creates a smooth and enjoyable reading experience.

In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to format dialogue in a story. We will also explore practical examples so you can get a clear understanding.

👉See our overview guide to writing dialogue for authors

how to format dialogue in a story

Let’s Talk

Are you a writer aspiring to pen a masterpiece that never fails to captivate? Look no further. Reach out to us and uncover how we can help you to take your writing to unprecedented heights!

How to Format Dialogue in a Story with Examples

There are several ways to format dialogue in story writing. But these are based on certain punctuation rules. If you haven’t already, check out our guide on dialogue writing rules.

Use the steps below to format dialogue in your writing properly:

1. Use Quotation Marks:

Enclose spoken words within double quotation marks to indicate that a character is speaking. In American English, use double quotation marks (” “), while in British English, single quotation marks (‘ ‘) are used. Place the spoken words within the quotation marks.

American English: “I can’t believe it’s raining again,” she said.
British English: ‘I can’t believe it’s raining again,’ she said.

2. Use Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags, such as “said,” “asked,” or “whispered,” help the reader identify the speaker.

“I’m not sure,” he said.
She whispered, “I think we’re being followed.”

👉See our list of 700 dialogue tags

3. Add Punctuations Before Dialogue Tags

When using a dialogue tag, place a comma, question mark, or exclamation mark within the quotation marks, followed by the tag. If the dialogue ends with a period, replace it with a comma.

“I love this song,” she said.
“Is that your final answer?” he asked.
“Watch out!” she exclaimed.

4. Punctuate Dialogue Tags Correctly.

When using dialogue tags, punctuate them correctly by placing a comma inside the quotation marks, followed by the dialogue tag and a period.

Incorrect: “I’m hungry.” She said.
Correct: “I’m hungry,” she said.

👉See our list of dialogue punctuation rules

5. Add Punctuations Before Dialogue Tags

When using a dialogue tag, place a comma, question mark, or exclamation mark within the quotation marks, followed by the tag. If the dialogue ends with a period, replace it with a comma.

“I love this song,” she said.
“Is that your final answer?” he asked.
“Watch out!” she exclaimed.

6. Vary Structure Of dialogue tags

Place dialogue tags close to the spoken words, either before, or after the quotation marks.

“I can’t believe it’s raining again,” he grumbled. [After]
She sighed, “Me neither.” [Before]

7. Use Dialogue Tags Sparingly.

Use dialogue tags, such as ‘said’ or ‘asked,’ to attribute dialogue to a specific character. However, use them sparingly to avoid redundancy and maintain a natural flow.

Character A: “I can’t find my keys,” she said.
Character B: “Did you check your coat pocket?”

👉To learn more, read our post on how to use dialogue tags correctly

8. Indicate New Speakers with New Paragraphs.

Start a new paragraph each time a different character speaks. This makes it clear when the speaker changes and helps maintain the flow of the conversation.


Incorrect: “I’m so tired,” Jane said. “You should take a break,” John replied.

Correct: “I’m so tired,” Jane said.
“You should take a break,” John replied.

9. Capitalize The First Word.

Capitalize the first word of a complete sentence within quotation marks. If the dialogue tag comes before the spoken words, the first word in the quotation marks should still be capitalized.

I’ll meet you at the park,” she said.
She said, “I’ll meet you at the park.”

10. Use Action Beats for Clarity and Variety.

Action beats are brief descriptions of a character’s actions or emotions that provide context and break up long sections of dialogue. They can also serve as an alternative to dialogue tags.

Use action beats, or descriptions of a character’s actions, to indicate the speaker and convey emotions or reactions.


“I don’t know if I can go through with this.” Lisa wrung her hands nervously.

“You’ll do great,” Mark reassured her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

👉See our guide on how to write actions beats

11. Punctuate Questions and Exclamations.

Use question marks and exclamation points within the quotation marks to indicate questions or exclamations. Do not use a comma in these cases.


Incorrect: “Are you coming?”, she asked.

Correct: “Are you coming?” she asked.

12. Interruptions and Trailing Thoughts

To indicate an interruption or a character’s thoughts trailing off, use an em dash (—) or ellipsis (…), respectively.

“I thought you said—” “Just drop it,” she snapped.
“I was going to call, but then I got distracted and…”

How to Format Dialogue Between Three Or More Characters

In addition to the above, here are some tips for formatting dialogue between three characters:

1. Give each character a unique voice:

Distinct character voices make it easier for readers to distinguish between multiple characters in a conversation. Develop unique speech patterns, vocabulary, and sentence structures for each character.

2. Limit the number of characters in a conversation:

Including too many characters in a single conversation can be confusing for readers. Generally, limit conversations to three or four characters at most. If a scene requires more characters to be involved, consider breaking the conversation into smaller, more manageable groups or using other techniques, like narration or monologues.

3. Use character names sparingly:

While identifying speakers is important, overusing character names can make dialogue sound unnatural. People rarely use each other’s names in everyday conversation, so your characters shouldn’t either. Use names only when necessary for clarity or emphasis.

For example:

“Bob, are you coming to the party?” Alice asked.
“Alice, I don’t know,” Bob replied. “What about you, Carol?”
“Bob, I’ll be there,” Carol said.

“Are you coming to the party?” Alice asked.
“I don’t know,” Bob replied.
“What about you, Carol?” “I’ll be there,” Carol said.

How to Format Phone Conversations and Other Indirect Dialogue

Indirect dialogue, such as phone calls, text messages, or letters, also play an important role in a story. These forms of communication add depth and realism to your story. Here are some tips on formatting indirect dialogue:

1. Formatting phone conversations:

Phone conversations in fiction can be formatted similarly to face-to-face dialogue, with a few adjustments. Here are some guidelines:

  • Begin a new paragraph each time the speaker changes.
  • Use dialogue tags to clarify who is speaking.
  • Consider incorporating action beats to describe a character’s actions or emotions while on the phone.


“Hello?” Alice asked, picking up the phone.
“Hey, Alice. It’s Bob,” the voice on the other end replied.
“What’s up, Bob? Is everything okay?” Alice’s voice trembled with concern.
“Yeah, just wanted to let you know I won’t make it to the party tonight.”

2. Differentiate phone conversations visually:

To make it clear that a conversation is happening over the phone, you can use italics, bold text, or a different font. You might also include a brief narrative statement before the conversation begins to set the context.


Alice picked up the phone and dialed Bob’s number. The following conversation took place:

Hello? Alice asked. Hey, Alice. It’s Bob, the voice on the other end replied.
What’s up, Bob? Is everything okay? Alice’s voice trembled with concern.
Yeah, just wanted to let you know I won’t make it to the party tonight.

3. Formatting text messages:

Text messages can be a fun and modern way to convey dialogue in your story. Here are some tips for formatting text messages:

  • Use italics, bold text, or a different font to differentiate text messages from the main narrative.
  • Indicate who is sending the text.
  • Use a new line for each message.
  • Include timestamps if relevant.


Alice checked her phone and saw a text from Bob:

Bob (4:32 PM): Hey, Alice. Sorry, I won’t make it to the party tonight.
Alice (4:33 PM): Oh no! What happened?

4. Formatting letters:

Letters can add a historical or nostalgic touch to your story. Here’s how to format a letter in your narrative:

  • Use italics, bold text, or a different font (I like handwritten fonts) to differentiate the letter from the main narrative.
  • Start the letter on a new line or a new paragraph.
  • Include a brief narrative statement to introduce the letter and its sender or recipient.
  • Maintain the letter format, such as the date, salutation, body, and closing.


Alice opened the letter she received from Bob and began to read:

Dear Alice, I hope this letter finds you well. I wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to attend the party tonight. I’m terribly sorry for the short notice…

5. Maintain character voice:

Regardless of the format, it’s essential to maintain each character’s unique voice in indirect dialogue. This adds authenticity and depth to your characters and helps readers easily identify the speaker.

Note that the medium of communication might influence a character’s voice. For instance, a character might use formal language in a letter but casual language in a text message.

How To Format Dialogue in Different Genres

Effective dialogue formatting can enhance the atmosphere and tone of your story, ensuring a memorable and engaging reading experience.

This section discusses how formatting dialogue may differ across genres, such as mystery, romance, and science fiction, as well as writing styles like screenplay, graphic novel, and prose.


In mystery novels, dialogue often plays a crucial role in revealing clues and red herrings, building suspense, and developing intricate relationships between characters. Formatting dialogue in this genre should:

  • Convey tension and intrigue through pacing and word choice.
  • Allow for the gradual release of information to keep readers guessing.
  • Use subtext and indirect speech to hint at underlying motives and secrets.


“You seem to know a lot about the victim,” Detective Brown said, narrowing his eyes.
“Well, Detective, we all have our secrets,” Mr. Black replied with a sly smile.


Dialogue in romance novels helps establish emotional connections between characters and allows readers to experience their chemistry and passion. Formatting dialogue in this genre should:

  • Reflect the emotional depth and vulnerability of the characters.
  • Use word choice and sentence structure to convey the intensity of the characters’ feelings.
  • Incorporate sensory details to create a vivid, immersive experience for the reader.


“Your touch is like a thousand stars igniting my skin,” whispered Isabella, her eyes filled with longing.
“I could get lost in the depths of your gaze, Isabella,” murmured Ethan, his voice husky with desire.

Science Fiction:

Science fiction often explores complex ideas and futuristic concepts, which can be conveyed through dialogue. Formatting dialogue in this genre should:

  • Use technical jargon and specialized vocabulary to immerse readers in the futuristic setting.
  • Balance exposition with character-driven dialogue to maintain reader engagement.
  • Reflect the social, political, or cultural context of the imagined world.


“Initiate the hyperdrive sequence, Captain,” ordered Lieutenant Jones, fingers flying over the control panel.
“Affirmative, Lieutenant. Engaging FTL in 3…2…1,” responded Captain Smith.


Formatting dialogue for a screenplay differs significantly from prose, as the focus is on the spoken word and visual storytelling. Here’s what to consider when writing dialogue in a screenplay:

  • Keep dialogue concise and to the point, as screen time is limited.
  • Use action and visual cues to complement the dialogue and convey emotions.
  • Format dialogue with character names capitalized and centered, followed by their dialogue lines in a separate paragraph.


Are you coming to the party tonight?

I don’t know. I’m not feeling well.

5. Graphic Novel:

In graphic novels, dialogue is presented in speech bubbles, which convey character interactions alongside the visual narrative. When formatting dialogue in a graphic novel:

  • Keep dialogue brief and focused, as space within speech bubbles is limited.
  • Use font styles and sizes to convey tone, emotion, or emphasis.
  • Consider how the placement of speech bubbles affects the flow of the visual narrative.


[Speech bubble 1: Alice] “Are you coming to the party?”
[Speech bubble 2: Bob] “I don’t know. I’m not feeling well.”


Prose allows for more flexibility and depth in dialogue, as it can incorporate narrative descriptions, internal thoughts, and complex character interactions. When formatting dialogue in prose:

  • Use quotation marks to enclose spoken words.
  • Begin a new paragraph for each new speaker.
  • Vary dialogue tags and action beats to keep the narrative engaging.
  • Pay attention to pacing, sentence structure, and word choice to reflect the genre and tone of your story.


“Are you coming to the party?” Alice asked, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “I don’t know,” Bob replied, rubbing his forehead. “I’m not feeling well.”

Why Is it Important to Format Dialogue in a Story?

Dialogue plays a vital role in storytelling. It brings characters to life, reveals their emotions, and moves the plot forward.

However, to achieve the purpose of dialogue in your story, it must be written in a clear, concise, and easy-to-read manner. To do this, you must use proper punctuation and formatting.

Below are several reasons to use dialogue in a story:

  1. Readability: Properly formatted dialogue makes your readers to easily follow and understand the conversations between characters. This enhances the overall reading experience.
  2. Clarity: Formatting dialogue correctly helps distinguish between speakers. It limits confusion and ensures the reader knows who is speaking.
  3. Pacing and Flow: How you format dialogue can impact the pacing and flow of your narrative. Consistent and clear dialogue formatting makes it easier for readers to navigate your story and stay engaged with the plot.
  4. Professionalism: Properly formatting dialogue demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism as a writer and editor. This can impact your credibility and the perception of your work.

Video Recommendation: How To Format Dialogue

FAQs On How To Format Dialogue In A Story

What Are The Main Types Of Dialogue?

Outer dialogue- Refers to the direct communication between characters in the story, where they speak out loud to each other.
Inner dialogue– Also known as inner dialogue or inner monologue, it refers to the thoughts and feelings a character expresses internally. This type of dialogue occurs within the character’s mind and is not spoken out loud.

What Are The Common Dialogue Tags Used In Writing?

Commonly used words in dialogue writing include “said,” “replied,” “asked,” “exclaimed,” “whispered,” “laughed,” and “answered,” among others.

Final Notes On How To Format Dialogue In A Story

Formatting dialogue is a crucial story aspect that impacts readability, clarity, and reader engagement. You can ensure your dialogue is properly formatted with the tips and techniques discussed in this article. This will make it easier for readers to follow the conversations between characters and create a smooth, enjoyable reading experience.

Pay close attention to quotation marks, paragraph breaks, dialogue tags, and punctuation to create clarity, engaging, and professionalism. Remember that practice makes perfect, so keep writing and refining your dialogue skills to bring your stories to life.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *