Texting Conversations in Writing: What’s the best format?

I was reading a great post on Dan Alatorre’s blog today, 3 Ways to Show a Text Conversation . . . that was talking about how to write text messaging in our manuscripts. He presented several ways of accomplishing it, but after some research and feedback he felt only one was a truly worthwhile way.

The problem with it, as Dan mentioned, is that there is no standard format for writing a text message conversation into a story. He suggested the best format possible be made the standard. Check out his post for more details and an acceptable method.

I had a thought about what I would assume texting talk should look like when reading a story. Here’s my spin:

What about offset like in the box without the box? You know? I’m going to write a quick story piece and insert a section of text talk to try to illustrate what I mean.

In advance, I’m sorry for the screen shot. I wanted to make sure the formatting would show and make sense.


Gretchen looked at her watch and flopped down on the couch with an exasperated huff. She’d gotten home from work expecting to spend the afternoon with her boyfriend, but his text was nothing short of a downer. Dating a firefighter definitely had its annoying moments, but she couldn’t deny he sure looked good in suspenders.

texting in ms


With this it’s like a double tab (and by tab I don’t mean really tab! Use the ruler/indent features to properly format) for one person and a triple tab for the POV person (I’m being lazy and using this term for the character from whose perspective we are seeing).

For consistency, the POV person would always be the triple tabbed one (farther to the right) like in a text box on your phone. The person texting you is always on your left and you are always on the right (or at least that’s how it is on my phone and computer).

Keeping the lines shorter and having double space between speakers also gives the appearance of texting. The POV is not in italics while the other person is. I’ve never thought of trying to write text conversations in a book, so it’s an interesting concept to consider.

Something like this hearkens back to how long quotes, songs, and other added elements are offset within a story. It relieves the need for beats (unless you want to add in what the POV character is doing or thinking while texting, which I think is a good thing) and dialogue tags for the texts.

I’ve never read texting within a story before, so this is a new concept for me, but I’m curious to know what you think of this possible method. It would be great to make sure we as writers have a consistent way of writing text message conversations in our manuscripts that are both easy for us to format and easy for our readers to follow.

I’m not sure how this element would be rendered with some software when auto formatting into epub and mobi formats, but I’d be curious to know.

But if I were to put texting into my manuscript, this is probably–and I’m way far away from 100% on it–how I would accomplish text message dialogue in a manuscript. Am I way off base or on to something? 🙂


36 thoughts on “Texting Conversations in Writing: What’s the best format?

  1. An interesting topic. I recently had a story published with a text conversation by a trade publisher, and he offset it, but he didn’t use the shorter lines. I think I like it better that way, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. 🙂

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    1. That’s exactly the main issue with formatting that we are essentially discussing. I’m hoping we can find a consistent and easy way. It’s frustrating when the formatting won’t stick.

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  2. I just read Dan’s post. I like your idea, Rachael. It feels and looks more text-like. My only concern would be the interruption of sentences that describe movement and other things going on, so I might add the persons name before each text piece to lessen confusion. But then again, adding text messages to a story is something I haven’t tried yet, so I can’t say for sure what I’d like best yet. 🙂 I do like the “tabs” idea of yours though! And like you said, it’d be interesting to find a way to make it work for ebooks. It’s a mystery for you to solve, Detective Rachael! I look forward to what solutions you come up with! 😀

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    1. haha I’ll keep mulling it over. No matter how you look at it, texting-talk in a story just looks out of place. I like to imagine some really cool formatting feature in the future that is basically a box that looks like a standard phone screen with all the little icons and time and stuff at the top and then the text bubbles below that…it would be this cool thing the author would just input the text of the conversation into to make it look like a phone screen on paper for those bits. Would be so cool…

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      1. In the worst case scenario you can do like this:
        5:03 JACK: whatsup
        5:05 SALLY: chillin
        5:06 JACK: I’d warm you up now 🙂

        Five minutes. No answer. Ten, fifteen minutes. Jack nervously devoured his fingernails and kicked himself for a blunter, as if saying ‘Too much, you idiot’. Finally the coveted ‘ping’ came through.

        5:28 SALLY: ummmm
        5:29 JACK: just kidding! Seriously! When is the com201 paper due?

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    1. TESS! You’ve NEVER texted, ever?! Not in the history of the world? hahaha You might have the right idea. Really, if you’ve ever had an instant conversation on Facebook messaging, Google Hangouts, or some other online real time messenger then you’ve texted because it’s basically the same thing. 🙂

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  3. I saw Dan’s post too, and thought it was so interesting. I like what you have done here, and I was thinking the same thing with having text show up like it does on your phone. I did a short conversation of text in one of my Blogbattle stories, but I indented the POV person, and then used the right justification button for the second person, so that one was on the left and the other on the right.

    I am all about the formatting, and also like to format things so that they are appealing to the eye, and think of the flow for the reader. With that said, the way I did it probably would not be a good solution, because the eyes would be darting from left to right, and might be frustrating for a reader. I do like this solution you came up with, but…as far as flow goes, since we read from left to right, maybe reverse it, where the POV person should be the double tab, and the second person the triple tab. But my thought had always been, have it as close to the real thing as possible, within the limits of book formatting.

    What I have actually seen in books are text messages that are formatted like an email. These were very lengthy text messages, so it worked. There was a bold header with the two and from names, and the message was in italics. That would not work for short text messages, or how text messages really are in real life. It’s a great topic to explore, because text messaging isn’t going anywhere, and is just another element for writers to use to draw their readers in 🙂

    Just a humble opinion from a novice writer, but an expert reader 😉

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    1. I lovehearing your thoughtful opinion, Carrie Ann. It’s great to get a broader understanding of the topic. I have no idea why I’m feeling so driven to figure this out except I enjoy puzzles and I agree that texting is not going anywhere any time soon. I’m sure we’ll see more and mite of it in books as time goes on.

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  4. I included a text stream in my first novel and did it by alternating the text alignment so that it was consistent with how a text box would show on a phone. However, this proved to be an absolute pain in the tuckus when it came time to format my book for an e-reader.

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    1. That’s my concern with it, too. I love solving puzzles and problems, so I think that’s probably why this is bugging me. There has got to be a way to format texting conversation that reads well and is not a headache to format. Haha

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  5. I have sometimes made use of texts in my short stories, but never thought of formatting.
    I don’t like texts packet with only letters but no words, for some reason even as a teen I did write out most words except when I’m a rush.

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    1. Haha I go back and forth when using texting abbreviations. It is related to the timev when texting was not unlimited and you were only allowed a certain amount of characters per text. Shorthand became economical! 🙂

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