Narrative Writing























































Formatting Dialogue (2)

One Person, One Paragraph


A conversation is like a ping-pong match—and each time a new person hits the ball, that person gets their own paragraph.

Deanna stared at the bruise on Laura's cheek. "Did he hit you?"

This is a Deanna paragraph, because Deanna is talking.

"No," Laura replied. "I just fell, that's all."

This is a Laura paragraph.

"Don't lie to me. I know he did it." Deanna clenched her fist in anger. "That bastard!"

Again, a Deanna paragraph. It includes Deanna's words as well as her actions.

"You don’t understand. It was my fault."

Laura's turn. Notice that I've left out the tag. You're allowed to do this, as long as it's crystal clear who is talking.

Deanna shook her head. "Don't make excuses for him," she said. She went to the refrigerator to get some ice. "Please, Laura, come stay with me. I don't think you should be here when he gets back."

Deanna Paragraph.


Notice how Laura and Deanna are hitting the ball, back and forth, each responding to what the other says, the ball bouncing down the page from paragraph to paragraph.


When writing dialogue, you should try very hard to avoid sentences like this:

Why? Because where are you going to put it? Does it belong in a Lula paragraph or an Earl paragraph?



Lula said, "I'm going to kill you," and Earl took a step back.

Lula pulled out her gun. "I'm going to kill you," she said coldly.


Earl stumbled backward. "Please don't shoot."


In the "better" example, each paragraph is devoted to one—and only one—person.

Note: Professional writers sometimes break this rule, and they may write sentences like the one in the "bad" column. That's because they are professional writers and they know what they are doing. You, however, should master the rules of formatting dialogue before you start to break them.


Instructions for the Quiz

Write a dialogue (conversation) between two people. Each time someone hits the ball, start a new paragraph. Insert a blank line between your paragraphs!

Sample Answer:

Jake froze. "Did you hear that?"

Kayla nodded. "It sounded like a baby crying."

"A ghost baby," said Jake. "Come on, let's get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."

"But what if it's real? Kayla asked. "We can't just leave a baby here. What if it needs our help?"

Jake's flashlight went out, and he banged it against the palm of his hand until it flickered back to life. "Are you kidding? No one has lived here for more than one hundred years. What would a baby be doing here? There's nothing here but ghosts. Come on, Kayla, let's leave while we still can."

Kayla took a cautious step forward. "Don't be a chicken. Let's investigate just a bit more."