When a character is referring back to dialogue (telling the story to the reader) and using the exact words, would you write...

And then she said, "I saw the body on the driveway."

And I said to her, "So why'd you step on it then?"


And then she said, I saw the body on the driveway.

And I said to her, So why'd you step on it then?

I can't find the answer anywhere, but think that since the dialogue isn't happening at the moment, it should be italicized for clarity.

I realize it could be written without the exact words, but that's not what I'm looking to do. Also, this dialogue does not go on for any length.

2 Answers 2


It is a quotation so it goes in quotation marks. It is not the function of punctuation to indicate when a speech was uttered. If you need to make that clear, then you must do so in the text.

  • Thanks Mark. I had it that way but questioned my reasoning.
    – Austin
    Feb 13, 2017 at 0:25
  • I forgot to click the check mark :)
    – Austin
    Feb 15, 2017 at 7:00

This is not a natural way of speaking. Think about when people tell a story about a conversation. Most people don't do direct quotes like that. Instead of

And then she said, "I saw the body on the driveway." And I said to her, "So why'd you step on it then?"

Most people would actually say "She said she saw the body on the driveway, so I asked her why she stepped on it then?"

Now, you say that you do want exact wording, people quoting others, word for word, but folks don't do that unless a) what they are saying and the verbiage is very interesting b) they've been asked by someone else exactly what was was said. c) or they are pretty banal. d) It's a specific important memory.

But if you're talking about a narrator, narrating a story in the past, or thinking back to it, it would be more like this:

"I saw the body on the driveway," she had said to me, her eyes blank. The shoeprint on his head was still visible, so I asked, "Why'd you step on it then?"

Here's an example of something like it, if this is indeed the type of thing you are going for, in my own writing. It's long, to give it context. Basically, I've bolded anything that is a past rememberance. Notice that that I use "had said" and that I do use quote marks for what was said in the past. Hopefully that's clear to the reader. Different POV than what you're working with but I think the same applies.

“What story? What happened?” Belia asked.

“A troll died, a paladin got a light, isn’t that enough?” Tremine cut in.

“Because of the best lie I’ve ever seen,” Mina said, launching into the tale. “The troll had thrown me, good thing the wall it threw me through was pretty soft---crumbled like bad pastry.”

Tremine had glanced over the top of the pack he’d been hiding behind in time to see Mina being thrown through one of the little ruined half walls, where she lie, still. He’d seen too that Aelia’s armor had been crumpled on one side, blood sprinkling the sand as she moved. One of Lek’s arms hung useless, no longer holding the extra axe. Now, Tremine had thought, now’s the time to run, before they fall. He ducked behind again, planning his route--the fastest way, with the most cover. He’d looked over again, to find that the fighter and the paladin were down. The troll meandered towards him, moving to block the entrance out. The wind was at Tremine’s back, and he’d wondered with a chill how good a sense of smell a troll had.

“Everyone else was hurtin’ bad,” Mina continued, “so I played the frost lizard, so’s I could sneak potions to the rest. ‘Fore I even knew, everyone was down, and the troll was walkin’ toward me, cut off our one way out, laughin’, like he knew I was fakin’.” Tremine had put the throaty, muscousy sound of the troll’s chuckle on his list of things he’d not like to hear twice, but he didn’t say so.

“And then I heard Tremine,” Mina said.

“You want to kill me?” he had shouted, “Then I drop this! What would I lose?” The savvy troll had encountered many an adventurer, and had recognized the object that the Tremine was holding aloft. An entire necklace of fireballs, with only a few balls missing. Fire hurt. Trolls were rarely indecisive, but this gave him pause.

  • If your troll can be indecisive, my character can talk unnaturally :). I think it's more YA talk. I just needed to confirm quotes or italics, and you did. Thanks Erin.
    – Austin
    Feb 15, 2017 at 7:15

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