The amount of stress writing conversation can cause is unreal. People are never 100% sure what grammar to use, whether they should use the word ‘said’ or not, how to make conversation personal to each individual speaking. Here I am putting the answer down in words once and for all complete with writing conversation examples.
As you read down this article you will find;
- Whether you should use ” or ‘ in conversation.
- The use of commas and other punctuation.
- The pros and cons of said.
- The voices in conversation.
” Or ‘
I have come across books that use onw or the other. I have come across books that use ” for conversation and ‘ for thoughts. I have come across books that use ‘ for conversation and ” for quotes. All these books are published books which begs the question what are we meant to use?
First and foremost, it needs to be said, there are no real rules for creativity. Can you imagine Shakespeare stuck to the rules? He even invented his own words!
On the other hand, if you are approaching an agent, or a publisher, your manuscript would do much better if it adheres to their rules.
“How do you prefer your conversation, Mr Agent?”
“With these quotation marks, my lady.”
How Good Dialogue Should Look
Now we have that down, we need to confirm important aspects such as the use of commas. how to write a long conversation. How to write a short conversation. For the purpose of this I shall draw examples from other published works.
What we are NOT looking at in this section is the use of the word said, that’s the next section. Then we shall look at voice. In these examples focus your energy on how the conversation looks.
First look at this conversation from Nightlord by Garon Whited:
“Eric?” she asked.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
I smiled at her. “Your privilege. What about?”
“Loving you. I don’t. Don’t come around any more, okay?”
Notes to take to heart here.
- After the conversation piece “Eric?” we have a lower case letter for she.
- I smiled at her. Full stop before the conversational response.
- It doesn’t always say who is speaking, sometimes it’s obvious and you don’t need it.
Now look at this example from Prince of Hazel and Oak by John Lenahan:
‘Hold on,’ I said, putting my hand in his shoulder. ‘That won’t be necessary.’
‘Are you sure you want to go in there alone?’ the Imp asked.
‘I’m sure.’ Just then a thunderous crash shook the door from the inside. ‘Well, maybe you could lend me your stick.’
The Imp stared at me with an it’s your funeral look and handed me his banta stick. ‘Brendan,’ I called through the door, ‘I’m coming in, don’t attack me. OK?’
The first thing you may have noticed is the lack of ” and the use of ‘. John Lenahan is a writer and a comedian, I don’t know if that is why he chose to write the way he did, but I must say, I am a BIG fan of his work.
Other points to notice here.
- ‘Hold on’, (comma) I said, (comma) an action to finish the sentence. ‘That won’t be necessary.’ Full stop.
- Then the next bit, lower case ‘the Imp’.
- Here’s a point of interest. ‘I’m sure.’ This part ends in a full stop, and instead of an I said we have an event.
- Final point in this would be the conversation with an action in between. ‘Brendan,’ (comma) I called through the door, (comma again then continue).’I’m coming in,’.
In the above good examples we do have instances of said. We also have instances of other useful words like “I called,” or “She asked.”
I remember in the early days of my writing I ha an argument with my editor of the time. They said to me that I need to fix all my conversations and make sure they all have said after them. She claimed that said was an invisible word that people gloss over. I disagreed and changed editing companies.
Let me be clear, however. Said can work. Child of Ghosts by Jonathan Moeller uses said predominantly and I never noticed until today. It was a really well-written novel. What made it different? Check this out.
“I don’t think she will,” said Caina. “I made her stop. I got angry and pushed her out of my head.”
“You did?” said Sebastian, surprised. “That takes great mental strength.”
“She said bad things about you,” said Caina. “I got angry.”
“You defended me more than I deserve,” said Sebastian.
Said is used throughout this, yet it still reads rather well.
Some publishers or agents prefer you to use said. the invisible word, but I find this highly irritating. Every time the word said appears one time after another after another, after another, I see a lack of creativity. To me there is no invisibility at all, it has always stood out like a sore thumb to me as a reader which is why I strive to mix things up.
Which of these two conversations do you prefer? (Source Outlaws.)
“Right, Miss Zalet.” Towhool said.
“Kaz!” Kaz said.
“Sorry?” Towhool said.
“It’s Kaz, Towhool. Not Kierra, not Zalet. Kaz.” Kaz said.
“Are you denying you are Kierra Anne Zalet.” he said.
“No!” Kaz said.
“Right, Miss Zalet.” Towhool started, crisply.
“It’s Kaz, Towhool. Not Kierra, not Zalet, Kaz.”
“Are you denying you are Kierra Anne Zalet?” he asked, quietly.
“No!” Kaz snapped.
What you do is actually up to you. You can use the word said throughout your work and be i the good graces of some publishers and some readers. Or, you can mix things up and only use said on occasion and be in the good graces of some publishers and some readers. There is no clear and decisive win here, it is what you prefer.
Of course, you don’t always need to say who is speaking. Sometimes it is obvious, (like in the example from Nightlord above) other times it is obvious through voice, (as you will find out in the next section).
Now this is essential to creating beloved, unique characters, So essential in fact I am going to create a whole post in how to do this. When it is complete you will find it linked here.
To give the main idea of this, therefore, I am going to share some unique voices through video. Listen to what they are saying, look at how unique each persons dialogue is, keep in mind the way of ‘speaking’ is continued throughout the narrative. Uri anger, especially, will not need a ‘said’ tag as his voce would be obvious.
Urianger, I’m sure you can tell, has a really unique way of speaking. The key, once your character has a voice, is to be consistent. This doesn’t mean all your characters need to be this wild or obvious with there voice. One girl I know loves to say “I know, right.” She says it quite a lot. That is a clear identifying voice to give any character if they say this a lot.
If the likes of Shakespeare and J R R Tolkien focussed on the rules of the written word they would not be as timeless or great as we see them today. Rules are important if you are trying to get published with an agent or publisher, but it’s not these rules that make your work shine.
By all means, follow basic rules of spelling and grammar and speech to make your story, if you break a rule do so creatively, outstandingly, or beautifully, make it count.
Read your speech out loud to yourself. If it jarrs, it needs work.
If you want a more in-depth look at making your writing great I highly recommend this lesson from the Self Publishing Writing School.