Your Copy Sucks: how to write dialog (or dialogue)

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You will never write dialog in business writing, except when you do. In press releases, you often have to quote someone. In e-mail exchanges, you might have to recount a verbal conversation accurately. Guys, it just helps to know how to write and punctuate dialog without looking like a jerk.

Here’s how to do it:

“Blah blah blah,” he said.

OR

“Blah blah blah.” He then did an action.

Notice the difference between using a comma and a full stop (period) after the line of dialog. Commas are used when the sentence has an addition of “s/he said.” Periods are used when the dialog sentence stops and then a new sentence continues with an action and not an addition to the dialog’s sentence.

In action now:

“I am so excited right now,” Keith said.

“That’s because you’re always excited.” Sherri sipped her cocktail.

“I know, right?” Christina exclaimed.

Notice there’s no comma in what Christina said. With a question mark or an exclamation point, none is needed.

You can also insert the action bit or the s/he said bit within a line of dialog. Either way, there’s a comma on either side. Like this:

“So now that you’re here,” said Heather, “can we start blogging like a real adult?”

“I suppose, although,” Chris shrugged, “it’s probably not going to work out like we think.”

Now here’s a tricky gambit. How do you quote something within a line of dialog? Example:

“Was the client angry? Well, I recall him saying, ‘I’ll have your head on a platter,'” Cog said.

See how it works?

“Blah blah, ‘Quoted blah,'” he said.

Notice how quote marks are just like HTML tags. You have to close them in sets of two. There are two double quotes and two single quotes. Each set surrounds the phrase it is quoting as dialog. Does that help you? No? Then you should probably learn some HTML so you can better understand my similes.

So that’s it for dialog. It may not happen often, but when it does, you should be ready for it.

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  • Jederus

    Found this extremely helpful. Thanks for the clear and succinct tips.

  • heatherdueitt

    Thanks TJ! My boss will appreciate this lesson.

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    “No problem,” I said, pretty pleased with myself but hiding it well.

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Can I go grammar-geek for a second here? Another thing that I learned at my job (and now drives me nuts) is the order of the name of the person quoted and the word said. For example, you wrote: “I am so excited right now,” Keith said. We say Keith said, because we say “he said.” Were we to say “said Keith,” like so many do, we would be saying “said he,” and that doesn’t work. Ok, I’m done. Thank you for allowing me to geek-out.

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    It would work . . . if you want to sound like Yoda. Which some might!

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    Where's CT with “May the force be with you”

  • http://twitter.com/PRCog PRCog

    So is it dialog or dialogue? I've always used the latter but spellcheck hates it.

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Can I go grammar-geek for a second here? Another thing that I learned at my job (and now drives me nuts) is the order of the name of the person quoted and the word said. For example, you wrote: “I am so excited right now,” Keith said. We say Keith said, because we say “he said.” Were we to say “said Keith,” like so many do, we would be saying “said he,” and that doesn’t work. Ok, I’m done. Thank you for allowing me to geek-out.

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    It would work . . . if you want to sound like Yoda. Which some might!

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    Where's CT with “May the force be with you”

  • http://prbreakfastclub.com PR Cog

    So is it dialog or dialogue? I've always used the latter but spellcheck hates it.