1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Dialogue and its place in a paragraph

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by CMastah, Nov 13, 2014.

    So here's the thing, in quite a few instances I have paragraphs that include either action or description, right? Sometimes the dialogue comes at the end of the paragraph, is that fine or is there an issue here?

    Also, can a paragraph just be two sentences long? If it can, then what about if that happens frequently (where you have paragraphs with just two sentences)
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The basic rule is that the dialogue comes at one end of the paragraph or the other. It doesn't matter which end. Generally it's more comfortable starting the paragraph with the speech, and then the tag:

    "You're really making me nervous. " He said, wringing his hands.

    There's nothing wrong, though, with turning it around:

    She sighed wearily. "I really don't mean to make you nervous."

    And you can have speech at each end:

    "The thing is..." he began, and then turned and checked that the curtains were closed. "I have this fear of spiders that I don't want anybody to know about."

    Speech in the middle of a paragraph tends to be really uncomfortable, it's generally best to break the paragraph at the point where the speech occurs.

    As far as short paragraphs are concerned, they usually are when dialogue is involved. If you take my three examples above, there's no grammatical reason why they shouldn't be three consecutive paragraphs. A paragraph is just a convenient way of grouping a number of sentences that comprise one thought/action. That's why explanatory tracts often have quite long paragraphs, to include the same "thought" within one paragraph. If you're a writer of fiction, it's kinder to your readers to give them a break, and not lecture them.

    If you find that a paragraph of speech is more than about five lines long, you're probably doing an info-dump by putting the words into the mouth of a character, and you really need to find a better way of getting that information into the story - if it really needs it anyway.
     
  3. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Well, technically, any time a new speaker speaks, you start a new paragraph, so dialogue can't come at the end of a description paragraph.

    A paragraph can be any length ("Yup", she said.). A story that was mostly two sentence paragraphs would probably be annoying, though, unless you had a good reason for doing so.
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It wouldn't make sense to put dialogue at the end of a paragraph describing, say, the landscape, but dialogue could logically be at the end if the entire paragraph was describing the speaker, or even the situation.
     
  5. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    No, I was being all technical (as is my habit when it comes to grammar). My point was that the 'rules' require that you start a new paragraph when a new speaker speaks which means your landscape-describing paragraph would be one paragraph and the dialogue another.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, if you're describing landscape, the dialogue should be a new paragraph.

    What I was saying was that dialogue is acceptable at the end of SOME descriptive paragraphs.

    (The 'new speaker' rule doesn't really fit, to me, because there was NO speaker in the descriptive paragraph. I'd say the rule you're really using is 'new paragraph for a new idea', and if the point of the writing shifts from describing the landscape to dialogue, that's a new idea. If the point of the writing stays the same, telling us about this character, then the dialogue could be part of the same idea and therefore the same paragraph.)
     
  7. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    New speaker, first speaker, whatever. I believe that the only proper way to start dialogue is as a new paragraph. Maybe I could grasp your point if you provided an example of the end of a descriptive paragraph with dialogue included at the end.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Where you choose to place dialogue is arbitrary. Yes, there are "rules," but they can easily be broken. The only thing to keep in mind is how the placement of the dialogue affects the natural flow of the writing. But even then there isn't a rule you must follow. It's all about using your judgement.

    Yes, you can. If this happens frequently, the worst that can happen is that you annoy a reader (if he/she even notices), but doing this isn't inherently wrong.
     
  9. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    For instance:


    Cathlynn watched them for a while, unsure of their intentions, and then quickly went for the sword she had left by the washroom’s door. The strange men noticed her and froze in place as she raised her sword and said, “Who are you and what do you want? This is my sister’s home and you’re not welcome here”.

    Also, saying she raised her sword in the second sentence sound a bit repetitive to me, am I just imagining that?
     
  10. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with this is that:
    1/ you start off with Cathlynn's POV. (all the first sentence)
    2/ Then the strange men's POV (start of second sentence)
    3/ Then Cathlynn's POV (end of second sentence)
    The speech - I think - you intend to be spoken by Cathlynn. However, "the strange men" are the subject of the sentence, and as such all the verbs should apply to them, and they should be the ones to speak. It would not be unreasonable to stick in a couple of commas and end up with:
    The strange men noticed her and froze in place, as she raised her sword, and said, “Who are you..."
    This, clearly, has the men doing the speaking, but that's not what you want, is it? A clearer meaning would be something like:
    She saw them freeze in place as she raised her sword and said, “Who are you ..."
    This keeps the POV on Cathlynn throughout
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The woman was tall and fair and beautiful, and her gown was shimmering silver. A strange light danced around her, over her, and somehow even through her. She smiled and Joe felt as if he had been blessed. "Welcome to Oz," she said.

    Or whatever. You could put the dialogue in a separate paragraph, but I can't see why it's wrong as it is.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Shadowfax did a thorough job of explaining the issue here. "The strange men noticed..." is out of place in the sentence and the paragraph.

    @stevesh is right about a new paragraph each time a new speaker speaks. As for @thirdwind saying you can break any grammar rule you want to, I wouldn't. It irritates readers. Yes, experienced writers do such things, but one needs a strong reputation before readers let you get away with it.

    I understand what @stevesh was saying about the dialogue at the end but @BayView's example is fine.

    Beginning, middle or end is a style choice as long as everything in the paragraph concerns the speaker. You don't want a paragraph describing the scene ending with a character's dialogue. But a paragraph describing a character ending with that character's dialogue would be grammatically correct.

    Finally, short paragraphs are normal in a dialogue exchange. But keep in mind we, as new writers (me), often write the scene as just the dialogue. The rest of what is going on is in our heads, but the reader cannot see inside your head and you want the reader to see the scene. DND (dialogue no description) often needs conscious intervention.
     
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  13. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Uh oh....I've got a LOOOOOT of editing to do -.-'

    I would say I was originally influenced by RA Salvatore's method of writing (although I do admit it's been ages since I read one of his novels) which seems to avoid being from the 3rd PPOV of a specific character while still talking about how each of the main characters is feeling at the time. I decided I wanted to go with something more akin to game of thrones where it's more focused on the emotions of a specific individual during that character's segment. I'm tempted to go 3rd PPOV similar to the hobbit (LotR? The one I read about where it isn't personal to a specific character), but this story's strongest point is supposed to be the emotional characters within it.

    But yeah.....LOOOOOOOTS of editing to do -.-'

    Plus I've also got paragraphs that don't feature descriptions, but actions, like:

    (there's an angry fellow AND a guard, the guard isn't the one who's angry. Aren is supposed to be warning the angry fellow, is that clear here or did I make a mistake?)

    Jasper and Aren immediately went to stand between the angry human and Krid to put a safe barrier between them. The guard turned in place to look at Krid and then at the elves again and seemed confused by the events. “Back off if you want to keep that hand,” Aren warned.

    Ummm....just out of curiousity, if I want to get my book published traditionally, am I putting up too much stuff online? Would changing the names and races of the characters when I do so enough to stop it from being a problem?
     
  14. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I'll respectfully suggest that the worst that could happen is that an editor for a publisher you're trying to sell the story to will see your penchant for 'breaking the rules' as ignorance thereof, and bin your manuscript.

    If you're just writing for yourself and don't care about being published, break away. More opportunities for me.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    :rofl:
     
  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Plenty of new writers break the rules in their first books, and they get published. It happens more often than you think, especially in the literary/general fiction genre. A good writer/agent/editor can tell the difference between someone who doesn't understand the rules and someone who breaks them on purpose.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    First - I don't know exactly how much of your book you're putting online, but certainly little bits like this are no problem at all. Even a full chapter wouldn't be a problem with any publisher I've ever worked with.

    In terms of your POV issues - I think you're talking about writing in omniscient third, rather than close third. It used to be a a very popular style (dominant, I'd say) but lately close third has more or less taken over. Writing in omniscient isn't a death-sentence for publishability, but it's an added challenge, I'd say.

    So if you decide to go with close third, you need to pick a POV character and stick with that character for a chunk of time. Switching from one POV to another too rapidly is called 'head hopping' and is considered a flaw. What 'too rapidly' means varies, of course... there are some who say you should only switch at scene breaks, but there are successful writers who switch far more often. Nora Roberts has certainly been known to do so, and I just finished reading Speaks the Nightbird, a fairly well-received novel, and the POV switched a LOT in it, frequently mid-scene.

    Have fun with it!
     
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There's a difference between breaking well known rules for some kind of style choice and never learning the rules in the first place. I'm pretty sure someone who purposefully ignores certain grammar rules will look quite different on the page from someone who is writing all over the place because they don't know what the rules are.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've always used the rule that the paragraph "belongs" to the speaker--it should use their point of view, and if it contains actions, description, etc., they should usually be the speaker's.

    I thought that I disagreed that speech shouldn't be in the middle of a paragraph, but I must admit that I had to look for a while to find an example. The example was in a book by Josephine Tey, which means that I don't question the writing, but I can't argue that it proves that this is acceptable in more modern writing.
     
  20. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    I have got a long, painful editing road ahead of me.

    So in following in this line of thinking of how paragraphs work, take the previous paragraph:

    Cathlynn watched them for a while, unsure of their intentions, and then quickly went for the sword she had left by the washroom’s door. The strange men noticed her and froze in place as she raised her sword and said, “Who are you and what do you want? This is my sister’s home and you’re not welcome here”.

    Two questions on the matter:

    1. For a segment/scene that's in the close third PPOV of Cathlynn, is it ALWAYS wrong to start a paragraph with someone else (like say the paragraph began with 'The strange men seemed to be searching the room')?

    2. I read a book once on POV (forgot what it's called, will look it up later and then name it) that said I shouldn't say words like 'see' or 'heard' and should just describe the sight or sound instead. I phrased the second sentence based on that assumption, though the examples given for that method of 3rd PPOV was also shown by a modern fictional novel so I'm not sure if that was the reason (I think Christopher Pike's 3rd PPOV novels are written in the same manner, and he does all his stories with a modern setting).

    But yeah, this is going to be a long painful road of editing :p

    When re-reading the second sentence given your own experience with it (since I'm the author, I personally know who said what), I actually see exactly what you're talking about.
     
  21. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    2. Actually I realized I hadn't asked my question on the second point :p, my question was should I go ahead and use saw or heard?
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that the problem with the second sentence is that "noticed her" can be taken as being from the men's point of view. How did she knew that they noticed her? There's probably something that she observed, and that could take you back to her POV. And what she observed doesn't necessarily have to use "saw" or "heard".

    Example:

    Cathlynn watched them for a while, unsure of their intentions. Eventually, the red-haired man turned away toward the back room, and she quickly went for the sword she had left by the washroom door. But not quick enough; the red-haired man turned back, met her eyes, and halted. She raised her sword. “Who are you and what do you want? This is my sister’s home and you’re not welcome here”.

    I think that the above would be legal, but all the same, I think I'd start a new paragraph with "She raised..."
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    "See" or "heard" are, in some contexts, what are called 'filter words'. If you're in close third and your POV character is the one seeing or hearing something, you often don't need to use those words, which often remove the narrative from the action.

    eg. If you're in Bob's close 3rd POV...

    Bob saw the man jerk when he heard Joe's voice

    would be less 'filtered' if written as

    The man jerked when he heard Joe's voice.

    Filtering isn't necessarily wrong, but it should only be used with a purpose, not accidentally.

    When you're in close third and you want to show the reactions of someone OTHER than the POV character, you may use words that are similar to filtering words. In the passage you shared, I'd probably follow Chicken Freak's example and write around the POV shift, but you could also try something like:

    Cathlynn watched them for a while, unsure of their intentions, and then quickly went for the sword she had left by the washroom’s door. The strange men clearly noticed her and froze in place. She raised her sword and said, “Who are you and what do you want? This is my sister’s home and you’re not welcome here”.
     
  24. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Damn, this is actually a little tough for me to grasp. This specific example has been cleared up (although I'm still a tad fuzzy to be honest) but I doubt I can apply this to the rest of my work.

    For instance, the clearest thing to me now is that when I saw 'The strange men noticed her and froze in place as she raised her sword and said, “Who are you and what do you want? This is my sister’s home and you’re not welcome here”.' I realized (after you guys brought it up) that it actually isn't clear who the speaker is (in fact, grammatically speaking it seems like the strange men are the ones saying it).

    I'm assuming that starting the sentence by saying 'the strange men' is probably correct/fine (at least that's my understanding of the explanations) but use of the word notice is not. Would 'the strange men turned and froze in place' be better? I was going to suggest saw, but that's a judgement call of the strange men and not hers (her only experience of the situation is that they literally turned, I think if I said 'turned to her' it would still be incorrect).

    I'm really grateful for the help guys, I'm sorry if I'm a slow learner but some of this stuff is flying over my head :p
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    As for having a lot of editing to do, welcome to the club. You won't have a good finished work if you don't edit, edit and edit some more.
     

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