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How would you write do the dialogues of two characters talking in a chat room? I am seriously wondering about the format. Should it look like regular dialogues, what about emoticons like OWO and ;) and XD?

For example:

"Kyle, you're so funny! XD" she wrote. "I can't believe you did that!"

"Yeah, I am the funniest clown on earth! ;)" he replied. "Oh, crap, time to sleep!"

"Bye!"

"Cya!"

  • This story is in a forum, not a chat room. Still, might be useful as example. – celtschk Jul 14 '19 at 9:53
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Write it as it is.

When you write dialogue, you don't write it up as formal English (or another language). You write what the characters say. If someone squeals or rolls their eyes or starts choking, you'd narrate that as well.

Written communication is similar to speech in that what's said is said and that's how you report it (after having created it of course). Emoticons are part of the communication. They aren't descriptions.

The difference is that written communication is often set apart in a book. A shaded box or indented italics are both common. This is in lieu of using the usual tags one uses in spoken dialogue.

For a back and forth chat, it's common to add the names. I'm making up the name of your female character for this example.

Julia: Kyle, you're so funny! XD I can't believe you did that!

Kyle: Yeah, I am the funniest clown on earth! ;). Oh, crap, time to sleep!

Julia: Bye!

Kyle: Cya!

If you'd like to intersperse action (which I'd recommend if it gets longer than this example), go back to the regular text to do it, then start a new box (or whatever you're using).

If it's text messaging, you can also create a box that looks like a phone screen. Something like this.

enter image description here

For short exchanges, you can add them in like spoken dialogue, only noting that it's from the chat or it's a text message.

Just before turning out the light, she glanced at her phone and found a message from Kyle. A photo of a black and white cat with a clown nose and a note saying "if you can loan me your math notes tomorrow, that would be purrfect."

Julia giggled. What a doofus. Then she turned out the light.

  • 2
    One risk of creating boxes that look like phone screens is that you're almost certainly dating your writing if you aren't intentionally going for a period piece. I've seen TV shows that are supposedly present day, but use text message balloons like iPhones had a few years ago. And reading books with conversations that look like they're on AOL Instance Messenger are really distracting to read. – Thunderforge Jul 15 '19 at 2:03
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Although +1 to Cyn, I would write it as prose, with italics for the words and the commonly used descriptions or character representations of any emoticons (since more than a handful of graphics is quite frowned upon in novels; publishers don't like them).

In other words, describe it as the character reading it, sees it. If there is a laughing face instead of XD, tell us what she saw, don't translate it to characters. Same with a crying face, wink, or wide-eyed happy face; if you didn't see OwO don't translate the wide-eyed happy face to OwO.

Do not make the mistake of thinking the shorthand of emoticons has to translate to a similarly brief message in a novel: Readers don't mind reading. The novel is not to be read in "real time", or the same amount of time it took the characters to experience the scene. It is okay to write several words (or even sentences) to describe what in reality would be a momentary sensation or feeling. We do this all the time when describing sights and sensations, we can spend a page on describing what a character saw in a half second.

I would go ahead and write it out.

Alex's phone dinged, and switched to George's thread. "L8" then two cars and a shruggie.

Stuck in traffic. Alex responded, "10m?"

George responded, thumbs up.

  • Yeah, for convoluted iconography like your example, changing it up to prose makes more sense. I was thinking more of unicode emoticons and longer exchanges. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 14 '19 at 14:54
  • It might be better, but it's hard to convert the original dialogues into that format. – blackbird Jul 14 '19 at 14:55
  • @blackbird Well, as I said, +1 Cyn, though I would avoid including any graphics. So if there is an image of an emoji, describe it in prose as I did in my example, perhaps with italicized thoughts that explain it. If it is a text emoji (using only characters on a standard keyboard) use the text emoji. If there is written out text messages, I'd adopt a convention (as Cyn did) that does not look the same as regular dialogue. Reserve "regular" dialogue for spoken interactions with people that can hear each other. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 14 '19 at 17:19
  • @Cyn: Unicode enoticons? Do you think of emojis? Emoticons are character sequences like “:-)”. Emojis are special characters like “😊”. – celtschk Aug 10 '19 at 17:51
  • @celtschk I'm old, what can I say? Back in my day, we expressed everything in ascii. None of this new fangled stuff like pictures, sounds, or screens with color. And everything linear damnit. Going back and editing is for people who lack confidence. And menus? No way. We memorized all our commands. And when websites came out, we handcoded everything in HTML. And...excuse me, I have to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 10 '19 at 18:20

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