Formatting Dialogue

 

Adding Thoughts and Feelings

You can add thoughts and feelings to a paragraph of dialogue (as long as you only add the thoughts and feelings of the person who is talking).

"I'm home," John said, hanging up his coat. From the kitchen he could hear the sounds of his wife cooking dinner. He wondered where his dog was; his dog usually greeted him at the door. He felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Where's Rover?"

John's paragraph:

In this paragraph we get John's words, actions, thoughts, and feelings.

"I took him to the vet," his wife called out. A moment later, she walked out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "The vet said it's serious. He's keeping Rover overnight." Her face was pinched with worry.

His wife's paragraph:

In this paragraph we get his wife's words and actions (and possibly her thoughts and feelings).

Notice the last sentence. Instead of saying, "Her face was pinched with worry," we could have said, "She felt worried." But since this scene is being told from John's point of view, that would be weird. Instead, John (and the reader) must infer her feelings from the look on her face.

The important thing is this: One person, one paragraph. You would never want to put the words, actions, thoughts, or feelings of two people into the same paragraph.

This, for example, would be a clear mistake:

John felt anxious. "Where's Rover?" he asked. His wife shook her head sadly. "He's dead," she replied. She felt sad.

This next example, however, might be acceptable:

John studied his wife's face. She looked like she had been crying. "Where's Rover?" he asked, dreading the answer she might give him.

In this last example, we can infer his wife's feelings by the look on her face—but it's still a "John paragraph" because what we are really getting is John's thoughts about the way his wife looks.

Below, in the Lesson Steps, I'm going to ask you to fix the formatting of some badly-written paragraphs.

Consider, for example, this paragraph.

"Would you like to play spades?" he asked nonchalantly, while hovering over my breakup. I couldn't believe that he wanted to play cards at a time like this. "No, I don't want to play cards, you twit. My world has been destroyed," I replied in seething rage. He shrugged and continued shuffling the deck.

To fix this paragraph, we need to break it up into shorter paragraphs, in accordance with this rule: One person, one paragraph.

In this case, we need to separate the "I" paragraphs from the "he " paragraphs, like this:

"Would you like to play spades?" he asked nonchalantly, while hovering over my breakup.

I couldn't believe that he wanted to play cards at a time like this. "No, I don't want to play cards, you twit. My world has been destroyed," I replied in seething rage.

He shrugged and continued shuffling the deck.

Lesson Steps

  1. Open your writing portfolio. Go to
    • Level 4
      • Adding Thoughts and Feelings
  2. Fix the formatting of each block of text by inserting paragraph breaks.
  1. When you are finished, return to this page to take the quiz.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

 

Quiz