How to format an online chat in a novel

I do not know if this is the correct place for this, so I apologize in advance. If it’s wrong, please advise as to where is the best place to put it.

I am translating a book with a friend and he has included an online chat. We are unsure of the format.
He has it like a conversation:
“Where are you?” typed Frank
“Upstate New York” replied Stewart
“Is it cold?”

Now I would lke to know if it is better as a chat log:

Frank007: Where are you?
StewartTheGreat: Upstate NY

Any suggestions?

I doubt there is a good “right answer” to this one. I’ve only seen chat conversations done in a few sci-fi style books, and those used handles instead of verbose dialogue markings. I’ve also seen italics employed for chat, but I found that confusing as such is usually reserved for meta-narrative and thought processes.

My own choice would be to stick with handles as it conveys the pure-text method of conversation better, to my mind. When I read the first example you posted, I automatically inject inner-dialogue with fake voices and everything, but in reading the chatlog format I just “see” the type in a chat window. This may be entirely due to being a tech-brain though.

option 2.

Anyone who doesn’t “know” about chats will still get the idea.

If you have control of the final layout set it like a block quote for further distinction.

I think the feel is more important than the look.
By all means, imitate the typing conventions of chat.
Having done a lot of it at one time, what I remember is the odd psychology of it.
You make a statement A, while the recipient is typing B, and they cross in the ether,
neither listening to or hearing the other.
Or you type something and nervously wait for a response…
And when nothing comes, you change the topic or repeat, or apologize.
The better you know the recipient, the more acute these tensions can be.
Of course, a lot depends on the characters who are chatting
And how deep, superficial, or formal their relationship is, or is becoming.
But on the whole it’s a very odd way to communicate
And I haven’t seen anyone yet who’s fully exploited its possibilities for fiction.
Not serious, literary, social fiction, that is. If that still exists!

Bayamo, as the others have said, there is no ‘technically correct’ answer. As with all dialogue, any technique that makes it obvious (if you want it to be obvious, and most of the time you do) who is ‘speaking’ will be fine.

I use online chats in my current novel, and I use your second option, name (well, nickname, actually) followed by colon. I imagine if it’s important to show a stylistic difference, and if it gets published, your publisher could also use typography to reinforce that it isn’t speech.

I’ve just listened to an audiobook (Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost) which has the narrator say the speaking character’s name each time there’s a non-verbal conversation (in this case between the heroine and her partner-in-detection Mickey, a toy monkey). I haven’t got a physical copy of the book, but it sounded like she’d written ‘name colon’ from the way it was said.


There’s no correct answer. However, I have seen online chats reproduced in books before. A good example to look at is Iain Banks’ The Business. You’ll note that he doesn’t just use screen names but also deliberately changes font to courier (typewriter), which defines the text as separate.

Good luck - it’ll be good to see how you work this one out!

Joely xx

Ever read Red Shift, by Alan Garner? It’s a novel written, successfully, entirely in dialogue, largely without (if I remember correctly) attribution tags. I’d be inclined to keep it a simple as possible.

The young adult novel “Sweetblood” by Peter Hautman makes extensive use of online chat and is a good reference for a widely published book. It is in print in the US, not sure about other countries.