1. james crofoot
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    james crofoot Member

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    Dialogue and narration

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by james crofoot, Sep 23, 2011.

    I've read in some places it's ok to put dialogue in with narration. I've also read the opposite.

    Example-Ronald looked at him and smiled. Thomas had seen that face before, it meant trouble. Sure enough, Ronald pushed Thomas to the ground. "You better get that old man to help or else." The rest of the boys laughed.

    If not would it be ok if say one line of action took place after dialogue, instead of who said the dialogue.
     
  2. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    I don't see anything wrong with it. There might be one of two of those floating around in my story. As long as the direction is clear as to who is saying the message then it shouldn't be an issue.
     
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've heard that you're only meant to keep it in the same paragraph if the action is done by the person who spoke.

    Example:
    "What's this?" He picked up the strange object and turned it in the light.

    So my own example there, I think it's all right because the "he" who's looking at the thing is also the one who spoke. But it would be really weird if the "He" was a different person to the speaker - you certainly wouldn't have understood them as different people if you'd read it. So that tells me, if the action is carried out by anyone other than the speaker, it needs to be in a separate paragraph.

    Also, the example you gave, it was confusing to me - given that it was a paragraph of action, I feel that the lack of short paragraphs made it unrealistic, like it's poorly written, because the action no longer has any rhythm. There's no jerky, sudden jolts like an action like that should have on the character, which the reader should feel. So for me, it's not just a matter of grammar - it's tone and rhythm.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A paragraph containing dialogue should only contain one person's dialogue, Everything else in that paragraph should be about that character's activity in connection with, and close in time to, the dialogue.

    For the example in the initial post, the final sentence about the rest of the boys laughing should be in a new paragraph.
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ If you look at older novels you'll find that this convention doesn't exist. Writers often put answer/reply and description all together in one paragraph, e.g.

    The watch returned. 'Any movement?' 'No,' was the reply. We continued our vigil. etc etc

    They also tended to have longer paragraphs than contemporary writers.

    Cog's advice is good for aspiring writers now, I just mention this for anyone who has noticed the exceptions.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog is right about that last part not belonging in the same paragraph... but it has to be crystal clear who's doing the talking... in that example, it's not, since two characters are mentioned and either one could have been speaking...
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's probably best used when you have one person doing a thing or talking a lot and you want to break it up with the other, for example a long description of someone setting up an experiment, you can drop pieces of speech in so it's not all "he lifted up this, poured that into that, flicked this switch and pressed the button." in which case all the speech wouldn't need any speech tags, and can just nestle in between the descriptions to add variety.

    If there's focus on more than one person then it's best to put your energy into making sure it's always clear who's speaking.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Conventions change. But it is still good advice to keep focus in a paragraph. Paragraphs aren't as tightly constrained in fiction as in nonfiction, but you should still strive for cohesion.
     
  9. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    This is a paragraph from an unpublished book I wrote; the first dialogue is in italics to set it apart. Also, in For the Kiss of an Angel the angels never use contractions in their dialogue. Feedback?

    I said, Lucinda began, but then Michael burst in, "That is exactly the sort of attitude that starts these silly no-angel policies in the first place. It is an actual fact." Lucinda groaned inwardly as the angel planted himself, hands on hips. "Tell me, sir," Michael went on. "Just what is it that you do not like about me? Is it my affiliation with the greatest religious organization in the universe? Or maybe you are just allergic to feathers. Can you please, just let me know, exactly what it is you find most objectionable about me, sir?!"
     
  10. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    My observation is that many conventions are breaking down. I was taught to set out dialogue in the traditional way - using quotation marks, applying tags, only including non-dialogue components in the same paragraph if they are tightly connected to the dialogue.

    "I won't be long," said Alice, putting on her coat and heading for the door.


    My suggestion is that you read a lot of good contemporary fiction and see how other authors are experimenting with language. I try to read the Booker longlist every year, and that helps give me a feel for what people are doing. I wouldn't go so far as to say that tradiitonally laid out dialogue is a disadvantage, but I get the feeling that publishers, judges, reviewers and even readers are looking for more innovative approaches.

    ---------- Post added at 03:27 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:22 PM ----------

    That is a good example of the ways in which conventions are breaking down. I have seen paragraphs like that in successful, published novels. In terms of how I was taught to set out dialogue back in school, it counts as wrong. But not these days.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's clear to me that Ronald is speaking. I don't think one has to hold the reader's hand quite so much. (Assuming that it is Ronald who is speaking -- if not, I agree with you that it's unclear.)
     
  12. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Obviously it's the aggressor speaking here.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    This would bother me, but I find that I'm only bothered at the _second_ shift in focus. You shift from Lucinada, to Michael, to Lucinda, to Michael, and it's the second shift to Lucinda that bothers me and makes me want a paragraph break. Well, that and the "the angel" which confuses the identity of the speaker when the shifts in focus have already confused it enough. I'm assuming that "the angel" is Michael.

    If I owned this paragraph, I'd change it as follows:

    "I said," Lucinda began, but then Michael burst in with, "That is exactly the sort of attitude that starts these silly no-angel policies in the first place. It is an actual fact."

    Lucinda groaned inwardly as Michael planted himself, hands on hips, and went on, "Tell me, sir, just what is it that you do not like about me? Is it my affiliation with the greatest religious organization in the universe? Or maybe you are just allergic to feathers. Can you please, just let me know, exactly what it is you find most objectionable about me, sir?!"


    ChickenFreak
     
  14. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Ditto, though I'd even go as far as breaking it into three paragraphs and adding an em-dash after Lucinda's "I said" to visually show the interruption (and to avoid confusion that Lucinda is speaking the latter portion):

    "I said—," Lucinda began, but then Michael burst in with, "That is exactly the sort of attitude that starts these silly no-angel policies in the first place. It is an actual fact."

    Lucinda groaned inwardly as Michael planted himself, hands on hips.

    "Tell me, sir," he went on, "just what is it..."


    For me personally, I have no problem with dialogue and actions being mixed together, but I still separate dialogue from actions if more than the speaker of the dialogue are in those actions. I'd probably have three paragraphs for the OP's paragraph in question, as well:

    Ronald looked at him and smiled. Thomas had seen that face before, it meant trouble. Sure enough, Ronald pushed Thomas to the ground.

    "You better get that old man to help or else," he threatened.

    The rest of the boys laughed...
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely yes to the dash. I don't think there's much to choose between having the extra paragraph split or not. That bit reads a little awkwardly to me either way, but that's going beyond the question of how to mix dialogue with narration.
     
  16. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I think, in this case, it is clear who is speaking. But it's sloppy practice to assume that it is clear to the reader. This time it's o.k., but next time - who knows?
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed, but it's sloppy practice to assume it isn't clear to the reader, too. Too many tags giving the name of the speaker can be just as annoying as too few (and is probably a more common beginner's mistake).
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sloppy writing is still sloppy writing. A paragraph that lacks focus because it contains too many disparate elements is sloppy, even if you asssert that a reader can figure it out anyway.

    Quality writing is not about what you can get away with. It's about writing with clarity and purpose and beauty.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and a big 'amen' to that!
     
  20. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    Thank you MarmaladeQueen, Chickenfreak, Raki, and digitig (if those are your real names) and all. Thanks, you are making some good sense on this thread; it has been helpful to me. I have another example from the same book, an even worse one!


    {Two tall women were lurking in the shadows beneath the burned out streetlight on the corner. One of them cackled, "Oh, look. A fallen angel!" and the other countered, "He's mine. You stay back, girl!"}

    I think I know what the correct answer is, but there is no doubt who is saying what. I will change this, but I really think it's okay to vary from the normal routine once in awhile. but, yes ... I will change it.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i see no good reason why you can't leave that as is... it gives a feeling of immediacy to the dueling bits of dialog that would be lost if you separated the remarks...

    if you snag a publisher and your editor doesn't like it, you can hash it out then...
     
  22. CULLEN DORN
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    CULLEN DORN Member

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    I find the example above to be engaging and commendable. Nothing wrong with that at all.
     
  23. james crofoot
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    james crofoot Member

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    thank you all very much for the input. I really did used to be a stickler on seperating the two but yaeh things change. all of you have been a very big help. I can definitly see the way i want to rewrite this paragraph.

    p.s. thanks mister dorn for the big words lol
     

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