1. MWB

    MWB Member

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    Em-dashes in dialog?

    Discussion in 'Dialogue Development' started by MWB, Jan 28, 2023 at 5:00 PM.

    Which, if either, is correct?

    "I mean, look - she nodded to the crowd - you made a party."

    or

    "I mean, look" - she nodded to the crowd - "You made a party."

    I realize I am not using actual em-dashes here...not sure how to create them in this editor.
     
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    The first one is definitely non-standard and basically wrong.

    The only question is if the em dashes go inside the quotes or not. I think both may be acceptable but not certain. The action beats definitely don't go inside the quotes.

    Your second version is how I usually do it.
     
  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Em-dashes seem odd in dialogue to me. I think your example would work better just with a standard action beat, like this: "I mean, look," she nodded to the crowd. "You made a party."
     
  4. Louanne Learning

    Louanne Learning Senior Member

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    It's all one sentence, so the second quote does not need to be capitalized. Use an em-dash inside first quote to show an interruption.

    "I mean, look—" she nodded to the crowd, "you made a party."

    How to type em-dashes on the keyboard:

    https://zapier.com/blog/em-dash-on-keyboard/
     
  5. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Always full stops with the beats.

    "I mean, look." She nodded to the crowd. "You made a party."

    I don't believe there are any exceptions, but I could be wrong. But not in this case.

    You can use an em dash to indicate an interruption, but the em dash indicates a full stop end of sentence anyway.

    Unless you include a tag, then you would get:

    "I mean, look," she said, nodding to the crowd, "you made a party."

    That makes it not a beat at all but a tag with a beat included, which is just an elaborate tag.
     
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  6. MWB

    MWB Member

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    This seems the most elegant for what I'm doing.

    Yes! This is what I was looking for...how I recall seeing it in books I've read. Now that I see it though, it seems unnecessary.

    Thanks everyone!
     
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  7. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    The only problem with this version is it uses 'nodded' which is a non-standard dialogue tag. Many editors and style guides do not approve of a dialogue tag unless it involves actual speech (said, asked, uttered, etc.). You can't 'nod' a line of dialogue.

    But a full stop with a period as suggested by @Homer Potvin is a good alternative, or adding a participial phrase to a regular dialogue tag also suggested by him (the 'she said, nodding').

    You can use em dashes, and should, if action clearly interrupts dialogue. (It may be acceptable in some cases for emphasis too, but I'm not sure about that). But whether the dialogue is truly interrupted may come down to style. In your case I'd probably say it's not a true interruption and could be considered continuous. But if it were, I'd probably do it like this:

    "I mean, look"—she gestured toward the three layer cake and decorations atop the table—"you made a party."
     
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  8. MWB

    MWB Member

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    That is how I thought it should be, just going from memory, but visually it just doesn't look right. What I did initially, was how you typed it, but without the inside quotes, just the em-dashes. It looks better visually, but I had a feeling it wasn't grammatically correct.

    Does anyone else visually analyze what they wrote? I find I'm seldom grammatically correct when editing visually...usually because I don't know what is correct to begin with.
     
  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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  10. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Moonraker" by Ian Fleming
    Here's the standard:

    "I mean, look"—she nodded to the crowd—"you made a party."
    No spaces around the em dash there. Don't capitalize when coming back into dialog.

    Though it's possible to slip the em dash back into the dialog and just use a pure beat. Then it's like the beat is interrupting the dialog and you finish with a fragment. (Guess this one's not a true fragment. It usually is though.) More of a pause is implied, IMO. Of course your example kind of hints at a pause anyway. Just that "look" interjection's effect, I think. Even that introductory phrase ("I mean") forces a pause in with its natural comma.

    "I mean, look—" She nodded to the crowd. "You made a party."
    There's nothing to stop you from writing it that way. That top example is the preferred method though when the sentence is very connected.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2023 at 4:32 PM
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  11. MWB

    MWB Member

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    I didn't think about it when I posted but would this be considered workshopping a story? The line I used as example in my OP is from a story I'm intending for one of the monthly prompts.

    In my defense I was only questioning the format of em-dashes in dialog, not the line itself, but I think it might be crossing that line?
     
  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're fine. It's just a sentence. We'd have let you know if it wasn't.
     
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  13. montecarlo

    montecarlo Contributor Contributor

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    You need more than one line to cross a line
     
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