Using Dialogue

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10403

"This lesson is fun!" you exclaimed to your teacher. You'll complete online activities to learn more about dialogue before creating a journal entry full of dialogue detailing a big event in your life.



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Which version of this story is more interesting? 

Version 1: It felt like we were driving in a giant circle and that we would never get there. Finally we arrived.  

Version 2:  "Are you sure your GPS works?" I asked looking at the surroundings. "I feel like we've been driving in a huge circle for hours."
"Yes, it works," mom said, annoyed. "In fact, that's it right there."

curvy road

Spot the difference?

Your opinion is extremely important here. Aside from Version 2 being a bit longer, what is the one major difference between the two pieces of writing?

Take a moment to look at them both one more time, and discuss your thoughts with your teacher/parent.

Hopefully you noticed why the second version is longer. It contains dialogue which is actual verbal interaction between characters.

The question still remains, however; does the dialogue make it better, worse, or just different? Let's take a look at what we can see.

In the first version, everything is in the voice of the narrator; so we aren't really sure how the mother is responding to the same events. In the second version, each character has an individual and unique voice. Using adverbs to describe how they say certain things, gives a better feel for the personalities of the characters and how they interact with and feel about one another.

Dialogue is a great way to add depth to your characters and to help your readers better understand who they are and what personality traits they possess.

Another Quick Look

In the first version, it is difficult to assign character traits to the narrator or the mother. Can you see character traits begining to develop in the second version? Can you think of one or two words to describe each of the main characters?

We Know Why, We Need to Learn How

Now you understand that writers use dialogue to really build the personalities of their characters. It shows you who they are as people because you learn a great deal from what people say and how they say it. Next, you need to learn how to punctuate dialogue correctly.

Let's Start with the Basics

Quotation Marks

  1. Use quotation marks when you are showing what someone else said:
    "I remember playing here as a young girl," the woman remarked as her eyes scanned the overgrown yard.
  2. Use a comma before the quotation marks unless the quote is ending the sentence:
    As we waded through the cobwebs, mom asked, "Is it just me, or is there something a bit off about this?"
    As much as I hated to agree with my mother, I turned to her and whispered, "I have a feeling we should leave," and I meant it.
  3. The first letter of the very first word of quoted text must be capitalized unless followed by a comma break and continuation of the same sentence:
    "As much as I love a good deal," mom took a quick look around at all of the obviously valuable antiques, "we should probably go now."
  4. At the end of the quoted sentence, keep the punctuation mark inside the end quotation mark:
    Suddenly, the front door slammed shut. It could have been the wind or another visitor, but at that point, my goosebumps' goosebumps had enough. "Let us out!" I screamed.

Begin a New Paragraph When a New Person Begins Speaking

Know Your Four Types of Sentences and Punctuate Accordingly

  1. Declarative: "That was the most dust I had ever seen in one place."
  2. Interrogative: "Who's idea was it to come all the way out here in the first place?"
  3. Exclamatory: "Spider!"
  4. Imperative: "Calm down." I paused and took a deep breath, trying to get her to do the same. "Calm down!"

Quote Tags and Descriptive Set-up

Your mechanics will get there with practice. Just follow the rules above, and you'll be fine. The more important aspect of using quotes is to build personality traits. While what the character says portrays much of their personality, even more meaning can be inferred by the way a person says something.

The way in which a person speaks also tells a great deal about their character: are they sarcastic, are they sensitive, are they funny...

For example, take the statement: "Have a nice day."

It's innocent enough. You can't tell much about a person from the statement:
"Have a nice day," the clerk said after I paid for the coffee.

Now, let's have a very friendly store clerk say it to a customer:
Her eyes sparkled as she smiled warmly, "Have a nice day," she nearly sang the words.

Next, let's have an angry, cranky clerk say it to a customer simply because he has to say it:
After ringing up the order, he held tightly to the receipt and looked the customer in the eye. Slowly and sarcastically, he spoke the words in a mocking tone, "You have a nice day."

Finally, let's have a student who was asked to stay after class by the teacher because he is not doing well in class. Although he is not in trouble, he is still upset and feels a little angry. The teacher explains that she is available after class for extra help which might improve his grade. She ends the conversation by saying, "Try to have a nice day." His reply:
With his back turned to Mrs. Jones and his hand already reaching for the door, he turned his head slightly and in a low voice mumbled, "Yeah, have a nice day."

Quote tags such as said, says, told, yelled, and whispered used alone are not at all descriptive and do not give any insight into the character's personality. This is where adverbs and a good set-up before dialogue can really bring your character to life.

Think about books you have read and the people around you. How do they act when they are in different moods? Do they make facial expressions or use body language? Does the tone of their voice change? Do you know a person who giggles when he or she is scared or nervous?

The best characters in literature are based on real people or based on a combination of traits from various people merged into one person.

Getting Ready to Use Dialogue in Your Writing

Using dialogue effectively is a skill that builds strong characters. It takes time and practice, but try to include dialogue when you can. Study the rules, and learn new and interesting dialogue tags to help your reader get to know your characters.

Image - Button Next