• Jabe Stafford

Write Good Dialogue

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog


“The Diction Fairy charges a hell of a lot to auto-correct your words mid-speech.”

Y put a hand on her hip. “Why isn’t she the Rip Off Fairy then?”

Z gasped. “You take that back.”

“Why should I?” Y asked. “I don’t pay the Diction Fairy to make words YOU want to hear come out of MY lips.”

“Wait, she’d do that if I payed her to?”

“Why’d you assume it’s a she?”

Character dialogue can be more nuts than a squirrel’s apocalypse stash. If writing dialogue frustrates you or you just wanna learn cool tricks to make writing dialogue better, feed these little baby stories to your brain and sip on the dialogue guidelines after each one.

I’m making an ass out of myself and assuming you all know some basic terms like the difference between writing past tense and present tense. This blog here’s all about dialogue itself, so I ain’t goin’ off on tangents this time. No seriously. Okay maybe a tangent or two. Don’t tell that mad white-haired time scientist I skewed off on any tangents though. Might get me or you paradoxed.


“How the frick do I handle questions in dialogue?” Reader asked.

Writer Guy grinned. “It’s all about where you stick the question mark.”

“So like, in that last sentence of mine,” Reader said, “the question mark was in the right place?”

“Yeah, question marks ALWAYS go at the end of the character’s spoken sentence.”

“That a rule?” Reader asked.

“Take a look at what you just said.”

“Oh, so when I stopped asking the question, the question mark went there.”

“That’s a true statement.”

“And it wouldn’t go here, would it,” Reader asked?

“Nope, that’s just craziness. The end of your spoken sentence gets the question mark even if the whole sentence in the writing isn’t over. The dialogue tag, ‘Reader asked’ needs a period because dadgumit, you DID ask that thing. Right?”

“I did, I did. You’re funny. I see what you did right there.”

“After ‘Right?’ Right?”

“Ow, my brain hurts,” Reader said, wincing.

Writer Guy tilted his head. “What about sentences with the dialogue tag in the middle?”

“I don’t know,” Reader breathed, “after the spoken words too?”

“Why didn’t you put the question mark after the word ‘know’ back there?”

“Because I wasn’t done talking,” Reader said. “When YOU’RE talking, do you twist the pitch of your words up halfway through your question?”

“Nope, that’s just craziness.”

“Now you’re repeating yourself.”

“Good eye.”

“You mean ear.”

“Did I?”

[See the locations of each question mark in that story? Those are your guide. Question marks go at the end of the character’s spoken sentence, or the end of their italicized thoughts. IF that sentence isn’t over because you need to include a dialogue tag to end the sentence, then the words outside the quotes get a period. Ain’t the English language entertaining?]


“Here, have this dialogue,” I say, passing several words to the woman across from me at the table.

“I don’t have any to give back,” she says.

“You just did. You gave me a dialogue tag too.”

“Well, that was my last dialogue tag. I can’t seem to find any more of my own.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t need any more right now. You and I are having a conversation, and the person reading us already knows whose dialogue is yours and whose is mine.”

“That’s a lot to take in,” I say. “Here, have some more dialogue and a tag of mine.”

“Why’d you give me another dialogue tag? Aren’t you out of them now?”

“For now, yes. I tend to only give dialogue tags out when it’s been too long and the person reading us might be starting to get confused as to who’s talking.”

“Like right now,” she says. “Oh, I found another one right when the reader needed it.”

I smile. “You got it. In most dialogue, a speaking character gets one dialogue tag and one or more spoken sentences in their paragraph. Then the next speaking character gets a new paragraph with the same general rules of one dialogue tag and one or more spoken sentences.”

“So why couldn’t I find a dialogue tag to give you right after you said that just now?”

“Because it’s up to the writer to space dialogue tags out so they don’t clutter up conversation. Those last couple bits of dialogue we exchanged had tags, so it was obvious who was who, especially since the writer was using end quotes right and not separating one of our spoken paragraphs into two separate ones.”

“Remember what my name is?” she asks.

“You don’t remember mine either, do you?” I say.

[A good general guideline for two characters speaking is:

Speaker A dialogue tag. “Speaker A spoken words.”

Speaker B dialogue tag. “Speaker B has either more spoken words than A, or fewer than A. Either way, a new paragraph begins each time the speaker switches.”

“Speaker A can speak first in a new paragraph too,” Speaker A dialogue tag.

“Speaker B can speak first in a new paragraph too. This is easy for the reader to keep track of because of the location of the end quotes and the back-and-forth of dialogue tags.”

“After a little conversation, Speakers A and B won’t need dialogue tags for a few paragraphs because the reader follows the flow of dialogue the SAME way a person talking to another person does: conversation is a back-and-forth.”

“It’s even acceptable,” Speaker B dialogue tag, “to put the tag in the middle of the spoken sentence if it makes the dialogue read in a more flowing way.”]

You never know who your writing will help. I hope these tricks were helpful to you. Trust me, publishers and editors WANT your writing to be as clean as possible and to flow as well as possible. Those books you had the most fun reading? TONS of effort went into them to make the dialogue flow naturally and to make sure it was easy for readers to get into.

If you ever wonder why some books take longer to read than others, look at the dialogue and have fun picking it apart.