The Dos and Don'ts of Dialogue
By Brenda B. Covert
1 Written dialogue represents the spoken words of two or more people having a conversation. Dialogue is special for a number of reasons. It captures the reader's attention. It breaks up blocks of prose. It adds more white space to a page, which pleases the eye. Dialogue is the first thing many fiction editors look for in stories. If the dialogue doesn't work, the whole manuscript is rejected.
2 In dialogue, each person gets his own paragraph each time he speaks, no matter how briefly. Even a simply spoken, "No," gets a paragraph all to itself. Study the following passage.
"We've got a new recruit, Rosh," he [Daniel] said.
4 Heavy legs braced, Rosh measured the newcomer. "Speak up, boy," he barked. "Who are you?"
5 Rosh was used to seeing men cringe. Joel did not cringe....
6 "Joel bar Hezron, sir," he managed finally.
7 "Your father know you're here?"
8 "N-no, sir."
9 "In trouble in the town, are you?"
10 "Oh, no."
11 "Then what do you want with me?"
12 Joel stood his ground. "I wanted to see you," he said, "because they say that someday you will drive the Romans out of Israel. When you do, I want to be with you."The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare; 1962 Newbery Medal winner
13 Beginning with the first line of dialogue, count all the lines; count the space between the lines as blank lines. Stop on Joel's last line. How many lines were there in all? ______________ Did it seem like that much as you were reading it? Yet it took up nearly half of the page!
14 Look at the punctuation in relation to the quotation marks. Where do the ending commas, periods, and question marks fall? ______________