1. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Dialog: Does it deserve it's own paragraph?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by bluebell80, Aug 10, 2009.

    So, I'm reading The Time Travelers Wife right now and have noticed something that seems a bit odd to me.

    Many times dialog between two characters are not separated into their own paragraphs, but are just continued as through it were narrative with quotes in the same paragraph.

    I know through schooling it was pounded into my head that each piece of dialog deserves it's own paragraph. But is this rule something writers can break, if it works? Or is it better to just stick to the rule and always give your dialog it's own paragraph per speaker?
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're going to break a rule, you need to have a pretty darn good reason for breaking it, but only after you've mastered it.
     
  3. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I suppose there are differing styles, but I find unseparated dialogue to be mightily confusing, and life is confusing enough as it is, so give me separate every time. It cuts out ambiguity, and promotes specificity, strengthening the relationship between writer and reader, whichi is what we all endeavour to accomplish.
     
  4. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I almost refuse to read anything that doesn't follow this simple rule(some exceptions do exist but mostly in the realm of fanfiction). Its so annoying trying to read a conversation between 2 people thats all in the same paragraph. It makes things easier to follow and understand.
     
  5. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    If thoughts do not need to be italicized, dialogues do not need a new paragraph. It's not standard, truth be told.
     
  6. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    It's kind of frustrating for me. It seems like I spend all this time learning the rules and trying to master them in the hopes that is what publishers and agents want. But then I see books like this that are clearly in a strange format first person format of the two main characters separated by their names in each chapter, and then dialog that isn't separated by it's own paragraphs.

    While I don't find the book confusing to read, as she clearly defines who is speaking, the strangeness of having dialog between two and three different characters in a single long paragraph got me to wondering about why her book was even looked at.

    It kind of goes with the ideas vs writing skills. Her idea for this book was novel, different, so the strange methods to her writing style must have been overlooked by publishers because of the story lines.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure I see your logic here. I've never heard grammar rules say that thoughts need to be in italics. Grammar rules do say that you need to start a new paragraph when you change speakers.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In most cases, every switch from one speaker to the other requires a new paragraph. An exception may be made for a rapid exchange of a word or two per speaker, but that is about it.

    The standard is to start each speaker's dialogue in a new paragraph, except as noted.
     
  9. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I hate when writers break conventions for the sake of breaking conventions.

    That goes for all art - some avant garde wannabes think that breaking conventions is somehow risque and "awesome". They are trying to emulate what great artists have done before them but what they fail to realize is that those great artists broke conventions as a result of their learning and personal growth - not as a fanciful experiment with being different.
     
  10. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    When in doubt, KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). Stick to the rules until you get published, and have a rave following. Then go eccentric just to tweak the noses of your critics.;) And to confound the newbies; "Well, Bluebell did it! . ."

    Edit: And to annoy seta.
     
  11. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's the key, right there. Standards are just standards, not ways things absolutely have to be done, but the reason they are standards is because it's far easier to be a good read when you're using them. You can break as many of them as you like, as long as it's still a good read.

    Editors and publishers aren't going to throw your book away just because you've used a strange chapter style, or written using unconventional speech markers, or switch to first person halfway through, just as long as they are still entertained and not confused by your writing. What you need to remember is that all of the above can contribute to making your writing impenetrable, if not used well.
     
  12. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    LOL - like I said - you can break conventions but don't do it for the sake of breaking conventions.

    Jonathan Livingston, Seagull was very readable even though it was awkwardly written from the perspective of a seagull.

    Also, despite my griping about something like The Great Gatsby or Of Mice and Men - boring as they were they very readable.
     
  13. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    One of the things I don't know about sometimes is whether to put thought commentary right after a piece of dialogue or do it in its own separate paragraph. Like for instance:

    Option 1.

    "Timmy, try throwing the ball a little farther," he says. If the boy is going to have any chance of becoming a professional baseball player when he grows up, he might as well start practicing now.

    Option 2.

    "Timmy, try throwing the ball a little farther," he says.

    If the boy is going to have any chance of becoming a professional baseball player when he grows up, he might as well start practicing now.

    In my opinion, Option 1 would be better in this case. But sometimes, not always.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    perhaps not, but agents might, since they get so many submissions, they and their 'readers' are always happy to find some excuse to toss one and shorten the pile...

    same goes for readers at publishing houses, even if your ms is requested thanks to a cold query or agent's submission...

    so, why minimize your work's chances of being accepted, by indulging in non-standard format, when following the rules can maximize them?
     
  15. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If my understanding is correct, Option one is perfectly fine. descriptions of actions and thought commentary can come right after the dialogue tag.

    Its when new dialogue is written that there should be a new paragraph.
     
  16. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Yeah, that's what I think too. But my question is when is Option 2 preferable?
     
  17. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    To me option 2 makes it less cohesive with the speaker of the sentence, but then it would depend on the context of the section I think.

    Personally I'd choose option 1. :)

    I'm starting to think a lot of writers are breaking with traditional usages of grammar rules and other basic writing rules. Breaking the standards is becoming more common.

    I have no intention of doing that myself, it just interests me in how authors decide they are going to break the rules, and how much of a conscious choice it is to break them, or if it is just something they have as a habit.

    It's not just one passage in this book, it is many, but like Cog said, it usually goes along with the short sentence back and forth between two or three characters. Never longer than five or maybe ten word dialog bits.

    The whole book is a break from the norm, so it's not that unexpected for me to see something like that.

    I know I've never done it, even with short little back and forth bits. I always put them in their own paragraphs. But I guess it's something to keep in mind if it can be done without being confusing to the reader.
     
  18. Happy Archer
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    Happy Archer New Member

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    I fully and wholeheartedly agree with this statement.
     
  19. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    And how do you know these writers/artists aren't breaking with convention for the same reason? What puts you in a position to decide whether an artistic experiment is worthy or pretentious? You may not see the meaning in the madness, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

    I agree that being different for the sake of being different is moronic, but if its been published/exhibited then someone with real credibility has said "this is of value", and you shouldn't be so quick to discredit it just because its new or unconventional, even if it doesn't appeal to your sensibilities.

    As to the original post, stick to the rules until you've actually been published - once you've got a reputation as a successful writer, you can do whatever you want (within reason). But until then, why lessen your chances of getting to that point at all.
     
  20. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I'm wasn't saying I wanted to do it, either. I was just asking what people thought of that as a way to write dialog.

    And by the way, The Time Travelers Wife is Audrey Niffenegger first novel...so obviously being published is not license to not follow rules, since before this book she too was unpublished.
     
  21. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    What puts you in a position to decide whether an artistic experiment is worthy or pretentious? You may not see the meaning in the madness, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

    That's true - I'm no expert. I'm just an objective observer who cannot stand when someone writes something that makes no sense.

    This line of thought brings up a new concept though - truly avant garde artists usually have consummate understanding of their practice and therefore can see what's missing from their art and then create something new.

    Most people across all disciplines, art or science or anything in between, are simply mimicking the techniques that they have been taught without actually understanding the methodology behind it.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this makes no sense, since the narrative isn't really narrative... it's thoughts of the narrator, in his own pov, rather than just description of what is going on in the scene, in which case it would be ok to have it follow the dialog in the same paragraph, as shown in example below:

     
  23. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    I'm a little late to the discussion, but when I read the OP's post, I thought of this story:

    Country Doctor by Kafka

    (It's very short. You should read it.)

    It's quite good, but it's difficult to read, IMO, because it uses gigantic blocks of text (made all the more difficult on the Web) and it doesn't use paragraphs for dialog.

    I'm not sure when Kafka lived or wrote, but I think the standard is perhaps more well defined in this day and age, despite time travel.
     
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Kafka wrote in the early 20th century. I'm not sure why he chose to write that way, though. Most writers I have read from that time period (and even earlier) start a new paragraph when someone else is talking. So it looks like Kafka did it for a particular reason.
     
  25. Paradox_Knight
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    Paradox_Knight New Member

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    Normally in this situation I would slap you with a wet fish, do a commando roll and invest in a new and improved form of sheep dip, before telling you that rules are meant to be broken. But then again, every writer has his/her own style and it is entirely up to you whether you want to conform to the status-quo or go a bit mental! Write with a quill! Whilst sucking a tea-bag! And getting your head repeatedly conked by a sprite bottle held by a belligerent badger! Haha! Well maybe not to that degree of insanity...
     

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