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Formatting Dialogue Options · View
Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 3:13:51 PM

Rank: Clumeleon

Joined: 5/13/2011
Posts: 3,722
Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
One of the most common issues Story Verifiers encounter here on Lush Stories, even among the most talented and experienced writers, is improper formatting of dialogue. All too often, good pieces of writing are ruined by the lack of this basic skill. We, as moderators, have decided to produce this simple resource for the authors of Lush so that they may produce better work, benefiting both themselves and us.

It is almost impossible, given the numerous complex cases, to give comprehensive coverage of this topic but we hope that this illustrative guide will prove helpful for the majority of the amateur writers here.

Speech/Quotation Marks

All direct speech and quotations should be enclosed by speech/quotation marks. Double quotes (" ") are the norm but single quotes (' ') are also acceptable; the most important thing is that you are consistent using the same ones throughout your story.

If you quote within a quote, for whatever reason, use the other speech marks in order to set it apart, i.e., if you ordinarily use double quotes then use single quotes and vice-versa. This is not something I would recommend doing too often in fictional prose as the extra (though necessary) punctuation can be messy and distracting. It is usually better to use indirect speech in these instances.


"I can't tell you how much I want that big, black cock," sighed Susan.

"Well," Pat replied, "It's too bad that 'big, black cock' is attached to your best friend's husband."

"Yeah, I know. Linda once said, 'If anyone goes near my husband, I'll claw her eyes out,' and I have no doubt she would."

Pat doubted that she would "claw her eyes out" but was well aware of Linda's mean streak.

This short dialogue is rich with examples of how to use speech marks in a variety of contexts. Pay close attention to the punctuation used (or not used) in each case. I will go into more detail about this as we go on. In the last line, although nothing is actually being said, we use speech marks to indicate a direct quote.

You may notice that the third line doesn't read very naturally; I would be more inclined to write something like:

"Linda once said that if anyone went near her husband, she'd claw her eyes out."

Use your own judgment on this matter and go with what you think the character would actually say.


No discussion on formatting dialogue would be complete without mentioning one of the most hard and fast rules in the book: you must take a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. This is a rule that cannot be compromised under any circumstances. I can't emphasise this enough - it's a pet hate of many moderators (and rightly so). Failure to do this only causes confusion, lack of clarity and break in flow as the reader tries to figure out what the frick is going on.


He smiled and asked, "How do you want it?"

She leaned back onto the pillows and looked directly at him, grinning.

"Rough!" she responded.

"You got it."

Even though these sentences are very short, a new line is absolutely necessary every time the speaker changes. A second line of narrative can go between the dialogue in a separate paragraph or could have been combined with the third line.

No matter what effect you think you're attempting to create in your writing, you can never bend on this rule. Got it?

Punctuation & Upper/Lower Case Letters

The two examples above already show how you should punctuate dialogue but, lest we have been too subtle, let's go over the rules that so many writers either don't know or have forgotten. Properly punctuating your dialogue not only improves readability but also makes your story look slicker and more professional.

Direct speech should always begin with an upper-case letter and end-of-speech punctuation is always contained within the speech marks, like this:

"Don't stop, Stuart!" she yelled. As he picked up the pace, she barely managed to gasp, "Fuck me until I come, baby."

Note the exclamation mark after "Stuart" but before the closing speech marks. I should point out that, even though an exclamation mark is used, "she" is not capitalised; in this type of sentence, the word following the speech should not (unless it is a proper noun) be capitalised. The same applies for questions:

"Who's your daddy?" he cried out, smacking the insatiable slut's ass.

Back to our first example. Notice the capitalisation of "fuck", even though it is technically mid-sentence; it is necessary every time. From one writer to another, I would advise that you mix up your dialogue in this way to prevent it from becoming stale and repetitive. However, it's just as important to be correct as to be exciting, so don't forget these rules.

This is really the bread and butter of writing dialogue and something everyone should have learned in school. Don't let your story down by messing up something so simple.

As a slight aside, I want to draw your attention to the comma after "stop". This is an important comma which is often omitted; without it, the sentence takes on a completely different meaning (and, indeed, is quite confusing). The comma is still necessary if you flip the sentence: "Stuart, don't stop."

If it were "Stuart, don't, stop," the meaning would be the exact opposite. This is why punctuation is important.

It is important to remember that when someone (Stuart) is addressed, there is a comma either before or after
their name. The same applies to phrases like "good morning" or words like "well".

"Good morning, Stuart. How did you know that I was here?"

"Well, it was Lisa who told me."

In-Line Quotes

I already gave an example of this above but this tricky technique probably needs a little more attention. Sometimes it's necessary to quote someone without having them say it explicitly and this is when you should use what I have dubbed an "in-line quote" . These should run fluidly into the sentence and they don't require the stringent punctuation rules of direct quotes (but you still have to learn how to do them right).


Upon reading John's text message, he was feeling a bit "hot, hard and horny" himself. What he wouldn't give to be taken "hard up the arse".

It's clear from the way these sentences are constructed that the text in quotes is taken directly from the aforementioned text message. Notice how the quotes integrate seamlessly with the rest of the sentence. The most important point is the final period - it falls outside the speech marks. This is not in contradiction with my earlier remarks; different rules apply to this kind of dialogue.

Don't over-think this technique; simply enclose the text which is directly quoted with speech marks and you can't go far wrong. If you're unsure, avoid it or ask a friend who knows.

This stuff is not difficult - learn it! If you can get this right, you're halfway there and your story is much less likely to be rejected. With the ever-increasing number of submissions, verifiers are taking a harder line with stories and not taking the time to fix what you, as writers, should already know. If you want to write good prose, it has to be technically accurate.

Read this, absorb it and implement it. Come back to refresh your memory whenever you are in doubt.

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Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 6:31:56 PM

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Excellent guide Clum and Principessa, thank you.
Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 11:48:35 PM

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Oh wow, this is just brilliant!! Thank you! X Big Hugs

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 5:06:21 AM

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We really appreciate this! Thank you very much Hugs
Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 6:07:00 AM

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Fantastic guide :) Thank you :)

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Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 6:08:00 AM

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This ROCKS! Thank you so much. Hugs Big Hugs

I have bookmarked it for myself, and I suggest everybody else does, too. Please!

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Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 2:04:34 PM

Rank: Sophisticate

Joined: 8/23/2011
Posts: 3,896
Location: Canada
Here is some further information in response to a question about using italics for dialogue.

I think you can use italics for emphasis, but not as a substitute for properly formatted dialogue. So, it is okay for a word or phrase or sentence, but to use italics consistently is like putting an exclamation point at the end of every sentence. It loses its power and is wrong.

I have seen it and think it would work to differentiate something like the text of a letter from the rest of the narrative and dialogue. That would be the exception that would, I think, be okay.

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 2:06:30 PM

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actually, yeah, this is brilliant - plan on using it for cleaning up my own stories too! thank you!
Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 3:18:53 PM

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Joined: 9/30/2009
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Location: Cakeland, United States
nicola wrote:
Excellent guide Clum and Principessa, thank you.

"Where were you two, three years ago?" inquired WellMadeMale.

Thank you both very much, this has been needed for years.

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Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2013 10:38:17 AM

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Posted: Saturday, May 25, 2013 4:37:26 AM

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Such a great guide. I've read it again to refresh my memory :-)

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Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 7:24:49 AM

Rank: Internet Philosopher

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I feel like I need to read this about once a month. Really good stuff here. I still make some of these mistakes when I'm writing.

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― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013 10:31:10 PM

Rank: Story Verifier

Joined: 3/27/2013
Posts: 181
Thank you for this!! It can be easy to forget this reading so many stories. Embarassed

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Posted: Saturday, October 19, 2013 4:46:44 AM

Rank: Forum Guru

Joined: 6/8/2011
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Location: London, United Kingdom
This is especially useful, especially as the Lush mods seems to be cracking down on this at the moment. I really ought to read it every day, until it becomes second nature. There are things here I know I get wrong, and will try harder in future.

Btw, there is a small typo in the section on In-line Quotes. In "the text in quotes in taken directly...", the second "in" should be "is".

Just to show how carefully I have actually read this. ;)

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Posted: Saturday, October 19, 2013 5:03:23 AM

Rank: Matriarch

Joined: 12/6/2006
Posts: 24,877
Location: Sydney, Australia
Thanks Annie. Corrected.

None of us are immune from the odd typo or mishap.
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