A character is speaking to another and calling out a number of items listed in their notes. How can that dialogue be formatted to reflect a steady stream of speech? Not a bullet list or assigning a letter or number to each item. Just saying the items as they are listed.

"Opening and closing quotes and commas separating each item in the string of items? Such as:

"What we've got so far is, admits together that morning, not seen after 8:30, fresh carved W at the scene and on barrel, lying in wait, blood on porch, bullet in post, and no gun.”

  • 1
    A distinction between the speaker's extraneous comments and the list: a colon or ellipsis (if prose: maybe a mid-sentence break from the dialog to a description), but a comma there forces me to re-read. Seems to be sending my brain the wrong signal. I think technically 'no punctuation' there is correct, but for clarity some separator might help.
    – wetcircuit
    Jun 13, 2023 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


Yeah. This is called "The Oxford Comma" and is used to list off rapid fire lists with a formate that the the firs thing is said, and each subsequent listed thing is seperated by a comma until you come to the last item, which includes the correct conjunction (and/or/nor) and the final item as you did in your OP.

There is a debate of whether you need to seperate the and with a comma, but you also demonstrated the pro-side by having a list within a list:

fresh carved W at the scene and on barrel

Which are two items with a freshly carved letter "W" but the brand is a single connecting factor between the two unlike items. Here, the lack of a comma informs that the barrel is part of the W branded items, not a final item in the list of "things we've got so far."

I would also recommend changing your opening part to:

What we've got so far: [the witness] admits that [they] were together that morning, our vic was not see...

The use of "is" is correct grammatically, but awkward and few people would speak like that (When writing dialog, grammar does not need to be perfect, because people do not speak with perfect grammar in real life (unless they are devils looking for your soul or lawyers... but I repeat myself. Lawyers often use precise language to aid their side of the case.). You are quoting someone exactly as they said it... not how they should have correctly said it.

  • Thanks... Found your comments helpful.
    – Drew
    Jun 13, 2023 at 23:51
  • Just found out edits here are only viable for 5 minutes, so here's more. Thanks... Found your comments helpful. I see your point regarding adding a colon and will be dropping the 'is'. I'm thinking perhaps ellipses in its place as less of a hard stop in the speaker's cadence. The dialogue is between a Sheriff and his deputy, and both know exactly how each of the items on the list ties to the investigation at hand. Thus, the 'shorthand' delivery is a quick summary recap. Again, thanks for taking the time to help.
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2023 at 0:30

This question is a good example for when you need to (a) observe how people speak in the real world and (b) act out your dialogue yourself and see what you would do.

I think there are about three ways to read a list:

  1. If the list items are short, some people will just read what is written:


    John read: "Oranges. Apples. Plums."   [if John makes longer pauses]
    John read: "Oranges, apples, plums."   [if he reads quickly]

  2. Some people will comment the list:

    John read: "Alright. First there's oranges. Then apples. And finally plums."

  3. Sometimes people will paraphrase what is on the list:


    John read: "Pete said he was going to get some paper streamers and balloons. Heather wanted to bake apple crumble. So that's done. All we need to do now is write some funny lyrics that we can sing instead of happy birthday."

Which option you choose, and how you shape it, will depend on the scene in which the list is read and the personality of the character reading it.

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