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Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing

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Basics on the topic Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing

Dialogue in Narrative Writing

What is a dialogue in a story? Let’s find out with a definition:

A dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters or speech that is written as a part of a narrative. Dialogue is important in a story for two reasons – it helps develop characters and move the story forwards.

How and when to use dialogue in a story? We can add dialogue to the story in the following situations:

  • when there is more than one character in a scene
  • when a character enters and leaves the scene
  • when a character talks or thinks aloud to himself
  • when we want to add to the action of the story

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Writing Dialogue in a Story – Examples

Let’s read the text and see how to add dialogue in a story.

Little Fox was walking through the woods when he suddenly realised that he had got lost. Little Fox thought out loud, “There is no one around whom I can ask for directions! And it is getting darker!”

This dialogue shows what Little Fox is thinking out loud.

Suddenly, Little Fox heard some movement in the grass.

In this situation, a new character is about to enter the scene, so it is natural the two characters would speak to each other. We show their conversation by adding dialogue.

“I am here! You can ask me for directions!” said somebody from behind the bush. “Oh no! What if it’s a dangerous animal?” whispered Little Fox to himself, getting really scared.

We add dialogue here to show that Little Fox is scared. It helps to develop a character and set up a problem.

Suddenly, a small glowing insect flew from behind the bush. ”Don’t worry, I am not dangerous!” said somebody. “I am Firefly.” “A firefly?” asked surprised Little Fox. “I don’t think fireflies are good with directions. You are too small! You can’t know the forest well.”

We add dialogue to develop the problem and the characters further. Dialogue shows that Little Fox is disrespectful towards Firefly, even though he needs help.

“You are very rude!” said Firefly. “But, okay. If you think I can’t show you the correct way, you can try to find it yourself.” After these words Firefly flew away leaving Little Fox all alone.

In this part of the story, we add to the action by creating dialogue that shows how Firefly feels about Little Fox. Let’s finish the story:

Little Fox kept walking alone in the dark, but soon realszed that he couldn't figure out the way by himself. He shouted, “Dear Firefly, are you still here? I am very sorry, I was wrong. I need your help because it’s dark, and I don’t know how to get home!” Little Fox waited and waited. Finally, he heard a familiar voice. “Okay, Little Fox, I can show you the way. But next time you are in trouble and someone offers you help, don’t be rude and don’t judge them by their size!” said Firefly. “You are right, Firefly,” said Little Fox. “I made a big mistake.” Firefly showed Little Fox the way home, and they became good friends. Little Fox felt very sorry for being rude to Firefly, and he was never rude to any animal ever again.

In the final part of the story dialogue is used to develop a relationship between characters and move the story forwards.

Using Proper Punctuation for Dialogue in a Story

Now let’s find out how to punctuate dialogue in a short story. We need to punctuate it properly, so the readers can identify the dialogue easily.

We punctuate dialogue by using direct quotations and reporting clauses. For example:

Direct quotation Reporting clause
“You are very rude!” said Firefly.

Direct quotations show the exact words that are spoken by the character, and the reporting clause demonstrates who is talking. In the example above, the direct words said are ”You are very rude!” and the speaker is Firefly.

We can use dialogue at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence.

When using dialogue at the beginning of a sentence, we begin the direct quote with opening inverted commas or speech marks. We capitalise the first letter, put a question mark, an exclamation mark or a comma at the end of the quote, and add the closing inverted commas after the last word spoken by the character. Finish the sentence with a reporting clause and a full stop.

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When the sentence spoken by a character has a full stop at the end, we change it into a comma when we write dialogue with a reporting clause. For example: ”You can take it from the cabinet,” Bill replied.

When using dialogue in the middle of a sentence, we put opening and closing inverted commas around the first part of the dialogue, the reporting clause in the middle, and another set of inverted commas around the next statement the character said. For example:

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When we use dialogue at the end of a sentence, we start the dialogue with the reporting clause, add a comma and then a direct quote in inverted commas.

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How to space dialogue in a story? You need to begin a new line or paragraph every time a different character speaks.

Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing – Summary

Let’s review what we learnt about using dialogue in narrative writing.

A dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters that is written as a part of a narrative. In stories, we use dialogue to develop characters and move the story forwards. We can add dialogue at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. We punctuate dialogue using direct quotations and reporting clauses. We begin a new line when a different character starts speaking.

Now you know how to write a good dialogue in a story and how to organise dialogue in a story. To practise more, check out our video, activities and worksheets!

Frequently Asked Questions about Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing

Why do authors use dialogue in a story?
What is the purpose of dialogue in a story?
Why is dialogue important in a story?
How to start dialogue in a story?
How to format dialogue in a story?
How to separate dialogue in a story?

Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing exercise

Would you like to apply the knowledge you’ve learnt? You can review and practice it with the tasks for the video Using Dialogue in Narrative Writing.
  • When can dialogue be added to narrative writing?

    Hints

    A dialogue occurs between more than one person.

    A dialogue can also happen when a character thinks to themselves.

    This is not a correct answer.

    Solution

    Dialogue can be added when:

    • characters are talking to each other
    • a character enters or leaves a room
    • a character thinks aloud or talks to themselves
    • you want to add to the action of the story
    Dialogue could be added to picture 2 and picture 4 above.

  • Explain what dialogue does for a story.

    Hints

    Based on the dialogue above, what might happen next in the story?

    What do you learn from the dialogue below?

    Solution

    Dialogue helps advance the story.

    When characters speak, you learn about them.

  • Identify the different elements of dialogue.

    Hints

    Inverted commas go around the speaker's dialogue.

    The reporting clause always closes with punctuation.

    Here is an example of one sentence highlighted correctly.

    Solution

    Inverted commas go around a speaker's direct quotation. The direct quotation always begins with a capital letter.

    The reporting clause tells you who is speaking.

    End punctuation always comes after the reporting clause.

  • Edit each sentence to create proper dialogue.

    Hints

    The picture below is an example of properly punctuated dialogue.

    Questions end with a question mark.

    Solution

    Inverted commas always surround the speaker's direct quotation. Punctuation such as a comma, question mark or exclamation mark go inside the inverted commas to separate the direct quotation from the reporting clause.

  • Which reporting clauses belongs with each direct quotation?

    Hints

    Here is an example of direct quotations with reporting clauses.

    When someone says "okay," they are agreeing.

    This is the ending of the story:

    "Okay, I guess I will try," Derek agreed. "Yum, this is delicious!"

    Solution

    When the direct quotation is a question, the reporting clause is likely to contain words like asked, questioned or wondered.

    When the direct quotation ends with an exclamation mark, the reporting clause is likely to contain words like exclaimed, shouted or yelled.

  • Complete the missing parts of the story.

    Hints

    Dialogue is punctuated with two inverted commas around the speaker's direct quotation.

    Remember: Dialogue can be at the beginning, middle or end of a paragraph.

    Solution

    It was a Christmas tradition in the Garcia household to break open a piñata.

    "Come on Mariseli, you can do it!" Diego cheered. His sister was blindfolded. She took a big swing at the piñata and missed. Their parents giggled in the background.

    "I can't see where it is!" Mariseli said. She tried to take off the blindfold.

    "No!" their parents shouted. "Being blindfolded is part of the game."

    Mariseli felt discouraged.

    "Move just a little to the left," suggested Diego. " Then swing! "

    Marieli listened to her brother's instructions. Bam! She hit the piñata and all of the Christmas treats exploded into the air.

    "I did it!" she exclaimed, happily. She gathered the delicious chocolates and sweets and ate them with her family. It was the best part of Christmas.