Sample The Doís and Doníts of Dialogue Worksheet
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The Doís and Doníts of Dialogue
By Brenda B. Covert
  

1     Written dialogue represents the spoken words of two or more people involved in a conversation. Dialogue is special for a number of reasons. It captures the reader's attention. It breaks up blocks of prose. It adds more white space to a page, which pleases the eye. Dialogue is the first thing many fiction editors look for in stories. If the dialogue doesn't work, the whole manuscript is rejected.
 
2     In dialogue, each person gets his own paragraph each time he speaks, no matter how briefly. Even a simply spoken, "No," gets a paragraph all to itself. Study the following passage.
 
3     
    "We've got a new recruit, Rosh," [Daniel] said.

Heavy legs braced, Rosh measured the newcomer. "Speak up, boy," he barked. "Who are you?"

Rosh was used to seeing men cringe. Joel did not cringe....

"Joel bar Hezron, sir," he managed finally.

"Your father know you're here?"

"N-no, sir."

"In trouble in the town, are you?"

"Oh, no."

"Then what do you want with me?"

Joel stood his ground. "I wanted to see you," he said, "because they say that someday you will drive the Romans out of Israel. When you do, I want to be with you."

    The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare; 1962 Newbery Medal winner

 
4     Beginning with the first line of dialogue, count all the lines; count the space between the lines as blank lines. Stop on Joel's last line. How many lines were there in all? ______________ Did it seem like that much as you were reading it? Yet it took up nearly half of the page!
 
5     Look at the punctuation in relation to the quotation marks. Where do the ending commas, periods, and question marks fall? ______________
 
6     Are there any punctuation marks outside the quotation marks? Look at the speaker's tags (he said/she said). When the speaker's tag is set in the middle of dialogue, it's followed by a comma or period. Where does that punctuation fall: on the inside or the outside of the quotation marks? ________________
 
7     What have you just learned? When it pertains to dialogue, sentence punctuation goes within the quotation marks. When the speaker's tag (not part of the actual dialogue) comes first, the comma is outside the quotation mark. Leah glanced up and said, "Are you still here?" When the speaker's tag comes last, the appropriate punctuation (comma, question mark, or exclamation point) comes before the closing quotation marks. "I'm not leaving until you talk to me!" Scott responded angrily. When the speaker's tag is placed in the middle of dialogue, follow the previous rules; the comma goes inside the quotation mark before the tag line, and it's outside the quotation mark after the tag line. "Fine. Have it your way," she said with a shrug, "but don't blame me if you don't like what you hear."
 
8     Look back at the passage of dialogue. How many lines have no speaker tags? ________ When you have established which characters are talking, you may leave off the tags now and then. It makes the dialogue flow quickly. However, tags do help to keep the characters straight in the reader's mind. If the dialogue were to flow for pages without speaker tags, somewhere along the way the reader would forget which character was which. It's annoying to have to go back a page and sort the lines out.

Paragraphs 9 to 19:
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