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Dialogue

“Today,” Mrs. Ulleseit told her class, “we will be discussing how to write and punctuate dialogue.  Pay attention so you can make your stories more interesting and your dialogue more relevant.”

The sixth graders looked at each other blankly.  Jing raised his hand.  “Are you saying that our stories aren’t interesting?” he queried.

“Some of them are very interesting,” Mrs. Ulleseit assured them.  “Others, well, just pay attention, okay?  What do we already know about dialogue, class?”  She called on the first student who raised a hand.

“I know that every time a different person talks, you need to start a new paragraph,” Thi offered.

“And only put quotation marks around the actual words that actually come out of the speaker’s mouth,” insisted Edmundo.  His teacher smiled at the emphatic speech.

“One important thing to do while writing dialogue is to make sure the dialogue is important to the story.”  Mrs. Ulleseit showed an example of student writing that went on for almost a page exchanging exclamations and pointless discussion about shopping.  “This is actually a story about an alien invasion,” she told the class.  “See how off-track the shopping discussion is?”

Annie stated, “I think it’s boring to read only dialogue.”

“It can be,” Mrs. Ulleseit agreed.  “In order to make it interesting, show the reader how the character feels during the conversation.  Also, add details about what the characters are doing while they are talking.”  As she spoke, she wrote an example on the board with three girls talking while eating hamburgers and drinking diet Cokes.  By the time she was done, the whole class was laughing at the antics of one of the characters.  “The best part is,” the teacher concluded, “that all this detail adds length to your overall project.”

“I’m excited now about writing dialogue!” exclaimed Susie.

“But what if I don’t have that much to say?” protested John.

“That would be news to me,” muttered Jing.  The students sitting near him snickered, and the teacher glared at them.

Mrs. Ulleseit told John that sometimes he could use indirect quotations, where no one actually says anything.  She pointed out that people did it all the time in conversation when they quoted someone else.  Hadn’t they all mentioned to their friends something that had been said by someone else?  No quotation marks.

“Hmmm,” Annie mumbled thoughtfully, “maybe I can write good dialogue.”

“Of course you can!  It’s a lot to learn, but once you practice you will improve quickly.”

“I know that practice makes perfect,” Thi commented, “but writing is hard.”

“Anything that you aren’t good at is hard,” Jing objected.  “Practice and you will get better.  Then it will seem easy.”

“Nicely said, Jing.” Mrs. Ulleseit smiled approvingly at him.

She shifted the lesson to punctuation of dialogue and pointed out that all punctuation belonged inside the quotation marks.  Mrs. Ulleseit told them to make sure the sentence had punctuation.  It was easy to leave the periods or commas out completely when you were focusing on writing good dialogue.

The final point to be made about dialogue was regarding the dreaded SAID.  “No one should ever use SAID,” Mrs. Ulleseit cautioned.  “There are thousands of more interesting, more specific verbs out there.  Don’t be lazy!”

SO, can you find examples of the following in this post?  Respond with your answers…

1.  direct quotation

2.   indirect quotation

3.  good verbs that mean said

4.  narrative interspersed with the dialogue to add interest and length

5.  new paragraph for a new speaker

6.  no new paragraph because it is NOT a new speaker

7.  punctuation inside quotation marks

8.  dialogue that is relevant to the topic

9.  speaker identified at the beginning of the quotation

10.  speaker identified at the end of the quotation

11. speaker identified in the middle of the quotation

12.  speaker is not identified, but you know who is talking.

13.  speaker says more than one sentence

On my Kindle: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

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