This question is regarding the formation of dialogue in a short story. Can dialogue in a short story be formed the way they are formed in a play?


Teacher (sternly): What are you doing, Sam? Sam (looking down): Nothing, Sir.


  • Welcome to SE. Take some time to look around and check previous questions. Your question is very generic and the only answer is "it depends". Depends on your story, depends on what the publisher wants, depends on the story length. Can you refine your question to include what, if any restrictions you have? May 30, 2017 at 16:05
  • Thanks for your reply! What I want to ask is: Let's have a look at an example: Teacher ( sternly): What are you doing, Sam? Sam: (looking down): Nothing, Sir. Is it fine to develop a dialogue this way in a short story as this style is usually followed in plays/dramas? May 30, 2017 at 16:46
  • Edit your question with that information, not your comment. After that, I will gladly provide an answer May 30, 2017 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


You can format dialog any way you like. Keep in mind that non-standard forms require you to make extra efforts to make sure readers understand (1) this is dialog and (b) who's speaking now. Playwriting conventions are clear about both those things.

However, you don't want the form of the work (including the form of the dialog) to get in the way of the story. Some forms distract too much, and your idea might be one of those.

Proceed with caution.

  • Yes, definitely! You really got what I wanted to ask. Thanks for your reply! May 30, 2017 at 17:01
  • 2
    It should also be pointed out that if you submit the story for publication there is a very good chance a) that it will be rejected out of hand for being non-standard. b) that if it is accepted, the editor will make you change it to standard format for publication.
    – user16226
    May 30, 2017 at 17:10
  • Can't we experiment a bit with short-story genre the way we keep doing with poetry? May 30, 2017 at 17:14
  • 2
    You can do anything you want. But journal editors can do whatever they want too, and that includes rejecting your story because of its form. Some journals specialize in experimental form. One of those might be your best bet for publication. May 30, 2017 at 17:17
  • @AkshatShukla As Ken says, you can experiment all you like. But everyone who pays money for fiction is trying to meet a sales goal. So that makes it a commercial question. Is there a market for experimental short stories? Maybe a very small one. Is reformatting dialogue a vivid and daring experiment designed to delight that market? Probably not. But in writing all "Can I" questions are commercial questions. If you don't care if your work sells, you can do as you like. If you do, you are a slave to the marketplace. We can only offer opinions on what we think might sell. And we may be wrong.
    – user16226
    May 30, 2017 at 17:47

Dialogue is dialogue. There are established conventions which readers know for defining dialogue within test.

Why you want to challenge these conventions - only God knows. There is no point in changing convention for stylistic reasons.

  • I don't seen what your issue is with this. As long as it makes the story coherent and his editor/publisher agrees, then what's the issue? May 30, 2017 at 16:49
  • Yeah, I think it totally depends on the publisher. I wrote the dialogue this way because most of my story was about dialogues. And I didn't want to write this way: 'Teacher asked sternly and Sam replied looking down.' May 30, 2017 at 16:57
  • @AkshatShukla I side with Surtsey on this (and upvoting the downvoted answer because I see nothing wrong with his opinion). There are indeed, established conventions for formatting prose, which, if broken, will affect your reader's immersion in your work. Having said that, I see nothing wrong with your sample of formatting (just as you said, play style)--it is easy enough to understand and recognize--and if I am allowed to guess, it looks like you are trying to get rid of the dialog tags while retaining the guilty pleasure of using adverbs :-)
    – Lew
    May 30, 2017 at 17:42
  • Yeah, I just wanted to get rid of using words like 'told', 'replied', 'asked', ' enquired' and whatnot time and again while conveying emotions (adverbs) at the same time. May 30, 2017 at 18:38
  • @AkshatShukla Well, there is a reason for the existing conventions. The playwright's notes in the play (looking aside, biting her lips, turns 30deg counter-clockwise, etc.) are NOT a part of the literary narrative. The play is an internal document, designed to be delivered to the spectator by a professional (actor), and is not to be read as is. All the spectators are to experience are the words and actions the actors play. The story/novella/novel/ etc. are literary works, and supposed to be consumed by direct reading, and dialog tags are a part of it, no matter how you format them... TBC
    – Lew
    May 30, 2017 at 19:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.