I often second-guess myself in one particular scenario when writing dialogue. Convention says I should break different characters' lines in different lines or paragraphs (I've seen both), but what if one particular line of dialogue is longer than usual? Should I break that line in different paragraphs, even though it's said by the same person and therefore risking making it look like another person is speaking? Or is it expected that the line, along with some actions in between, are all in one big block of text.

I'm asking mainly because the resulting block of text doesn't visually look, as a whole, as part of the dialogue, because it breaks the usual visual pattern of smaller lines going back-and-forth between different characters.


5 Answers 5


In English, a new paragraph begins, when the topic changes. The turn of each speaker in a dialog is perceived to be one topic, even if that turn is broken by pauses (and the description of the speaker's behavior during these pauses).

A paragraph can have any length and span many pages. For better readability, long paragraphs can be broken into smaller paragraphs, but this may break arguments, description or actions and confuse the reader.

If a speaker's turn spans many topics, it is broken into paragraphs like any other part of writing.


The risk of misidentifying the speaker of subsequent paragraph parts is avoided by omiting the closing quotation mark from preceding parts to signify continuation, as demonstrated by the following answer:



As long as you can make the dialogues flow smoothly, I don't see any problem with dividing it into paragraphs. With that said, I would like to point out that it isn't always the best way to build up suspense, tension or drama in a piece of fiction.

To make it easy to the eye and a lot less intimidating for the reader, make sure that the change in paragraphs only comes when the narrative sees a major change in subject.

Not a lot of contemporary writers use this in their work. However, if used sparingly, this can definitely make for a tight yarn.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used an awful lot of this tack in his works. You can find the complete Sherlock Holmes collection here. This should suffice in giving you a fair idea of the intricacies of this technique.

Hope this helped!


Long pieces of dialogue should be broken into paragraphs. This may happen, for example, when someone is giving a detailed account of an event.

It is traditional to leave the inverted commas off the end if the same speaker continues (but still have them at the start to show it is speech).


The first thing you should remember is that it is the strength of your writing that determines it. There's a saying: "First thought, best thought." What that means is to write the way you saw it in your mind the first time---word for word. Do not edit, do not pause and rethink it, especially for a rule about 'readability' or dialogue exchange. Get it out. You could have one character speak for pages and pages if it feels right (Sherlock Holmes was a great example; another is "Youth" by Joseph Conrad, or if you're really dedicated, Heart of Darkness), and never worry about who will know who is speaking. Intelligent readers come to intelligent writers, and will thank you for it.

That being said, when you go back to rewrite it--because writing is rewriting--you will see and understand more clearly what is or isn't right with it, but you cannot see this unless you had previously wrote what you thought, untrammeled. You have to fail forward. It's insane, I know, but just let it all out, and by making mistakes you will uncover truth. Writing is like an old faucet: it's rusted, it's hard to turn on, it creaks and seems like it's going to break. When you do finally get it on, what comes out? Orange gunk. Rust water.

But let it flow. Soon it will be crystal clear.

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