Dialogue Spacing

I’ve been doing some critiques recently and wanted to remind writers about a few basic dialogue pointers. The most important note that I’ve been giving is that you need to put every piece of dialogue and/or action that belong to the same character in the same paragraph. If a character is speaking only, that’s one paragraph. If the character is acting and not speaking, that’s one paragraph. If a character is both speaking and talking in one moment, that’s one paragraph.

You break for narration, if there is a narrator, and description, or to switch characters.

This seems like a no-brainer to some of you, but I just gave this note about five times in a row and it seems like there are people out there for whom this isn’t second nature.

Also, to go along with this note: You don’t need a tag for every piece of dialogue if there are only two people in a scene. If you follow the above tip, your readers will be able to follow who’s talking. You should only go heavy on the dialogue tags if there are three or more people in a scene, because things could get hairy there.

To learn more about dialogue tags, click here. Finally, another dialogue post. You can never be too careful or judicious with your dialogue tags. This is one thing that could either support your scenes beautiful or be completely distracting.

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  1. Shanda McCloskey’s avatar

    Thanks for this reminder! I’m sure you will be putting notes like that on my critique if you haven’t already :)

  2. Adele Richards’s avatar

    Excellent as always you clever lady.

    And I see a book I need to add to my Christmas list is nearly out.

    How exciting – congrats to you.

  3. Annie McMahon’s avatar

    Good things to keep in mind. I learned that in my critique group, but you explain it very well.

  4. Nancy Lorenz-Vega’s avatar

    Ms. Kole,

    I remembered your advice on this after your Webinar on Middle Grade and YA last October (2011) and I have been doing it ever since. I think that many writers, like myself did not understand this. It was really great to receive this advice in the critique, and I have not forgotten it. Writing tips (or reminders) no matter how small can make a really big difference.

    Thanks.

  5. Fiona Paul’s avatar

    I mention this to a lot of people I crit for. Sometimes I feel like writers think there’s a charge per paragraph so they let everyone talk in the same paragraph.

    So then in your opinion the best way to handle Person A talks, Person B responds internally but doesn’t talk, Person A talks again is three separate paras, not just one with clear tagging? (Pretty sure I’ve seen both in pub’d books and I always kind of glitch when I have to make this decision myself).

    Ex: “It’s your mom.” Nolan produced a worn videotape from his bag. Emily reached out to grip the edge of the sofa. Her blood pounded in her ears. “She’s still alive,” he said.

    or:

    “It’s your mom.” Nolan produced a worn videotape from his bag.
    Emily reached out to grip the edge of the sofa. Her blood pounded in her ears.
    “She’s still alive,” he said.

  6. Evalynn Rose’s avatar

    I’ve wondered the same as Fiona. As a reader, I tend to have to read over the section twice when there is a new paragraph for the same speaker after some amount of action (my inner dialogue… “wait, who is speaking here again?”), so as a writer I tend to put it all in one paragraph. I have done it the other way with a new paragraph break but only because I’ve seen that more.

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