I am working on a novel in which the characters talk to the protagonist and explain lot of backstory. It can run into tens of pages - essentially the entire story is told by the character to the protagonist and the reader is a third person learning about it in parallel.

My question is: what are the rules for quotes in these kind of conversations.

For instance (H: hero, C: a local character)

Page 1: H: So, how did you end up here?

Page 1 - 15: C: tells a 15-page long story ......

Page 16: H: "But, didn't you realize that what you were going after had these issues early on?"

Page 6-30: C: gives a long explanation with a couple more backstories involved.

In this case, I'd quote all the "H"'s statements. But what about the "C"s dialogue? How should it be written.


  • 1
    Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind is almost exactly this. He separates third-person narration from first-person flashback with chapter breaks. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 10:05
  • 1
    Read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Finest example of story within story within story.
    – user16226
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


Consider writing the local character's story as a separate scene (and perhaps a separate chapter), with clear transitions between the two timeframes:

"So, how did you end up here?" Hero said.

"Make yourself comfortable, youngster," Local Character said. "This is going to take a while."

# <scene break>

It was 1953, and my mother had just shot the sherrif...

... tells the story in first person ...

# <scene break>

Local Character looked at his hands for a long moment. Then he said, "I know you don't believe a word of that. Nobody ever does. But swear every word is true."

... continue with "present-day" story ...

  • 1
    Definitely this. Such a story grants a * * * scene break.
    – SF.
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 8:42
  • Wow, thanks! Didn't think of this, but looks like this would fit my set up perfectly. Love your example btw. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 15:50

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