BlogGrammar RulesHow to Write Dialogue in a Narrative Paragraph

How to Write Dialogue in a Narrative Paragraph

How to Work With Multiple Points of View

Contents:
  1. What is Dialogue?
  2. How to Write Dialogue
  3. How to Punctuate Your Dialogue
  4. Periods and Commas
  5. Question Marks and Exclamation Points
  6. Final Thoughts

What is 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. “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.”

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

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.

“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.

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

How to Punctuate Your 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.

Periods and Commas

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.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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Hayley Milliman
Content Lead

Hayley is thrilled to be ProWritingAid's Content Lead, as it gives her an excuse to think deeply about words every single day. Prior to joining ProWritingAid, Hayley spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher, which was a crash course in learning how to entertain an indifferent audience. These days, she puts her storytelling skills to use writing blog articles and working on her first novel.

When Hayley isn't hunched over her keyboard, you can find her figure skating at the ice rink or hiking with her dog.

She is the co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females (which was an Amazon bestseller) and How to Build Your Author Platform on a Shoestring.

By Mahek1 on 18 October 2018, 10:22 AM
great info
By roytom on 08 February 2019, 03:27 PM
Still Confuzzled
By qwertyuiop on 06 March 2019, 04:51 PM
Would it be acceptable in this case to use speech to start a paragraph? To continue use this example; "Let's get out of here before this gets ugly," Mary said to John. Following which, John promptly pulled here away as a fellow who clearly worked out started throwing people out of his way. Or in that case would the paragraph containing the character's actions be in the next paragraph? i.e.: Let's get out of here before this gets ugly," Mary said to John. Following which, John promptly pulled here away as a fellow who clearly worked out started throwing people out of his way.
By james.gouweloos on 26 September 2019, 01:42 PM
Rather unfortunate that comments can't contain line breaks it seems.
By james.gouweloos on 26 September 2019, 01:43 PM
I'm still confused about an element of dialogue punctuation and capitalisation not fully covered here. What are the rules where the dialogue continues after a dialogue page? Thank You Martin
By mphcoach on 12 January 2020, 02:14 PM
Is is still appropriate to drop the trailing quotation mark at the end of a paragraph if the next paragraph starts with a quotation mark and is a continuation of the same speaker? (A long piece of dialog that would logically be multiple paragraphs.)
By jack.bowie on 16 January 2020, 11:33 PM
If they are speaking in one paragraph and then continue to the next without stopping, there is no closing speech mark, however there is an open one. Closed speech marks are only at the end of speech, not necessarily at the end of every paragraph of speech.
By c.jones89623 on 28 February 2020, 11:06 PM
I have question of how to use quotation marks in a story where you have a storyteller telling the story. Does every paragraph need quotation marks since it is something the storyteller is speaking about? If the storyteller quotes someone else how do you use the quotation marks? Thank you for your assistance. Regards Dr. Barry Nadel
By agecotec711 on 17 January 2020, 07:16 AM

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