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I am writing my novel in first person singular in the past tense as narrated by the protagonist. So obviously the narrative is in past tense, but I am confused about how to write dialogue, whether it is as was said or it will also be in the past tense.

For e.g. I have written;

“You don’t understand, Ella is my girlfriend. She knows everything about me, it's almost 2 years that we are together. We are in a relationship.”

Or

Should it be written like;

“You don’t understand, Ella was my girlfriend. She knew everything about me, it's almost 2 years that we were together. We were in a relationship.”

Thanks

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First of all, dialog is a bit looser than narrative language because people do not use perfect grammar when speaking, so there's no real "right way" to say it.

That said, all dialog in a story is a quote from someone, be they real or imagining. The one rule with quotes is that it must be transcribed directly rather than parsed into your own words. Thus, any grammar errors on the speaker's part are permissible because you are writing what someone who isn't you said. Dialog should also be timely to the moment of speech, not the moment of writing which presumably your narrative voice is doing after the fact.

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Too many newbies seem to be overthinking the grammar aspects of novel-writing way to soon. As intimated by hszmv, anything within quote-marks is gospel - write what was said.

To write a novel in the English Language comprehension is the primary consideration.

Forget about writing tense. Read what you have written, understand it.

  • The first example says: Ella is currently my girlfriend.
  • The second example says: Ella is no longer my girlfriend.

Write whatever the speaker meant.

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As the others have already said, there is no right way to write dialogue. The narrative voice is in past tense like you say, but with the dialogue, it comes down to how you want the character to say it. So if you want your character to say:

“You don’t understand, Ella is my girlfriend. She knows everything about me, it's almost 2 years that we are together. We are in a relationship.”

Then make them say that. It's entirely up to you how your character says their sentences. I say you should write out the dialogue, the same one, a few times until you find the one that sounds right to you. Hope this helped in some way.

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