1. Lucian Hodoboc

    Lucian Hodoboc New Member

    Apr 15, 2018
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    Breaking up dialogue with action

    Discussion in 'Dialogue Development' started by Lucian Hodoboc, Apr 15, 2018.

    What is your opinion about breaking up dialogue with several sentences of action within the same paragraph?

    Personally, I think it can work fine in English, because the general consensus for writing dialogue in English is to separate the character's words from the action through quotation marks, but in other languages (such as my native one), in which dialogue is marked through em dashes, not through quotation marks, it can be quite confusing.

    Do you think that using action to describe what the character is doing and feeling while they are talking, and then continuing the character's speech is a good way to write dialogue?
    John Calligan likes this.
  2. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Aug 8, 2015
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    Artistically, I think many readers will interpret action during dialog as pauses in the dialog. That means that if the action takes too long to describe, and especially if the action is supposed to take place simultaneously with speech, readers will interpret the scene as stiff and choppy.

    If at all possible, you want to be able to read the scene out loud and find that the descriptions of action can be read in the amount of time you picture a pause between the words.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    GlitterRain7 and Stormburn like this.
  3. cutecat22

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Feb 20, 2014
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    I love action in dialogue, so long as it's warranted and done in such a way that the action writing doesn't take over the dialogue.
  4. odolmen

    odolmen Member

    Aug 24, 2012
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    Yes! To me, it's the same in movies. If characters are just talking to eachother, not gesturing, not evolving around space or... doing anything, then they might as well be just talking on the phone.
    (and even when on the phone, I tend to walk around and fidget a lot)
    There's so much more to dialog then just words. The entire body communicates as well and when characters are engaging with eachother, that's what I want to witness.
  5. apalachn

    apalachn Member

    Apr 22, 2018
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    I think action in dialog makes it flow better because it allows the reader to picture what is happening while the dialog is going on. I agree with the other commenters who said it should remain short and in line with the amount of pause expected in the dialog. I almost exclusively use some action. During dialog rather than some iteration of he said she said. It also gives more color than omitting all other non-dialog words. In summary. Big fan.
  6. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

    Apr 30, 2018
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    Generally I avoid breaking up dialogue with action, but sometimes it's just inevitable. When someone talks and something happens while they're talking, but the speaker doesn't make a pause, I sometimes struggle to get it across in an understandable manner.

    In other words – I want to tell about what happened, and I want to make it clear that there was no interruption. So I don't want to write something like this:
    "[---]." Tom sneezed and Jack went on talking: "[---]."

    I want to somehow embed the event inside the speech.

    For example:
    "What was that commotion about?" Joey asked.
    Billy shrugged. "That old geezer next door – Joey grinned – opened a window and a bird flew in."

    If I wrote it like this:
    "What was that commotion about?" Joey asked.
    Billy shrugged. "That old geezer next door," Joey grinned, "opened a window and a bird flew in."
    it would be unclear which one of the two said "opened a window..."
    Or would it??

    Joey grins while Billy is talking.
    How do you write something like that properly in English?
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Sep 6, 2014
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    I'd really try to avoid breaking up a line like that. Unless it's absolutely vital that we know Joey grinned in response to the first part of the sentence, not the entire thing, I'd write it as:

    Billy shrugged. "That old geezer next door opened a window and a bird flew in."
    Joey grinned.

    If it is important to show the action in the middle, I'd give a new paragraph to Joey.

    Billy shrugged. "That old geezer next door--"
    Joey grinned.
    "he opened a window and a bird flew in."

    The idea is that a paragraph break indicates a new speaker/actor.
    cutecat22, Lawless and apalachn like this.

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