1. Kerilum

    Kerilum Active Member

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    Ok.. new paragraph for dialogue?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kerilum, Nov 17, 2016.

    I feel kind of embarrassed for asking this, but when does one begin or not begin a new paragraph for dialogue?

    I read lines where a new paragraph starts, character does action, and then speaks but there is no new paragraph.
    Then I read lines where a new paragraph starts, character does action, and then speaks but there is a new paragraph.

    Here's what I have:

    The girl suddenly stopped. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently staring at the crows, she spoke with a tired, yet curious voice. “The crows, they only come out when it rains. Do they?”

    So do I or do I not begin new paragraph for dialogue?
    Again, I feel stupid for this, but help is appreciated
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2016
  2. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with what you have there because the girl has been the subject of the subsequent sentences.

    Now, there's also nothing technically incorrect about having two people speaking in the same paragraph. You can do that. But I wouldn't because you risk clarity. Nothing will turn readers off quicker than opaque prose.

    ETA:

    There is also nothing wrong with either of these ways of doing it. Both are valid. It just depends on the context as to which I would use.

    If the dialogue is related to the action or it's a character beat, I would not start a new paragraph for the piece of dialogue.

    If the dialogue is separate from the previous action, I would start a new paragraph to signal the readers that I've moved on from that action, the story is progressing.
     
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  3. Historical Science

    Historical Science Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with Spencer, I would say the overwhelming majority of readers prefer new paragraphs for different speakers to keep dialogue clear and more fluid.
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, for sure new paragraphs for new speakers - maybe it wouldn't be technically incorrect (although I kind of think it would be) but readers definitely have expectations that it makes sense to meet.

    For the same speaker? I've traditionally kept the same paragraph, but I just went through a round of edits with a publisher whose house style is to start a new paragraph after the action. No big deal... just made the switch.
     
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  5. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    The reason I said it wasn't technically incorrect was to avoid the inevitable "So and so did it in such and such book." o_O

    I would never advocate for that, though.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    If the speaker is the same character as the one that was performing the primary action in the paragraph, I would not start a new paragraph with the dialogue. So no new paragraph in your example.

    If they're not, or if the action was a tangle of multiple characters, then I would:

    We all leaped up. Karen turned off the radio. Joe dimmed the lights. Kelly opened the dishwasher. We all froze, straining to hear any sound, any sound at all.

    Karen finally said, "False alarm?"
     
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  7. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Don't be embarrassed. I still struggle with this when writing a first draft and then depend on my betas/editors to help me suss it all out in the end.
     
  8. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I think there's a kind of "rule" that you ALWAYS start a new paragraph when you start dialogue. So, in your example, the girl's actions would be separated from her speech. That's why you've come across examples where there is a new paragraph. And I believe that it's more common to start a paragraph with dialogue than to end it...possibly because of the number of people following this "rule"!

    To my mind, what's more important is that dialogue should always be at one end or the other of the paragraph, beginning or end doesn't matter. What does matter is that you don't stick it in the middle.

    And what else is important is that it should be clear who spoke, which isn't helped by following the above "rule", because you could end up with...

    "I hate you!" Maria spat the words out.
    "You don't mean that," I offered placatingly.
    She turned away from me, suddenly less fiery.
    "Perhaps you're right."


    ...and that last speech could have been either of us.

    “The crows, they only come out when it rains. Do they?” The girl suddenly stopped. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently staring at the crows, she had spoken with a tired, yet curious voice. CORRECT


    "I've been walking all day and..." The girl suddenly stopped speaking. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently staring at the crows, she spoke with a tired, yet curious voice. “The crows, they only come out when it rains. Do they?” CORRECT

    The girl suddenly stopped. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently staring at the crows, she spoke with a tired, yet curious voice. “The crows, they only come out when it rains. Do they?” CORRECT

    The girl suddenly stopped. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently staring at the crows, she spoke with a tired, yet curious voice. “The crows, they only come out when it rains. Do they?” Then she turned and walked on, head hung low against the pouring rain. WRONG
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2016
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  9. Jaiden

    Jaiden Member

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    I think the main drive here has to be clarity and reader understanding. I sometimes have to do a double-read of something when there is a lot of speech without actions or people attributed to it, but as long as each person is separated properly, you can back-trace it well enough. But then, there are 'rules' for these things, and I'm not sure I'm a great follower of many of them. I once spent a lot of time checking my writing against other writers to make sure my conventions were on-point, but in the end I've gone for clarity over everything. Which is why I agree and disagree with Shadowfax above. I agree that the first three are 'right' and the last 'wrong', but if the last is how you write, I wouldn't read that paragraph and be confused or really bothered with it. Cohesion across your writing is important, but a bit of writing before and after someone speaks wouldn't kill me.
     
  10. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I wouldn't go all the way to saying @Shadowfax's last paragraph is WRONG... I think that could be a really effective technique for a scene where the dialogue is exactly as important as all the other phrases in the passage. A lot of the time, though, dialogue is more important than the surrounding phrases, so it's good to set it off a little.

    Like:

    "I love you," he said with a tear in his eye.

    The tear is a detail, and the important stuff is the "I love you". So that dialogue shouldn't get buried in the middle of a paragraph. But for a different set-up, similar to the one in Shadowfax's example? I think the important part of that paragraph is that the girl is feeling rejected and dejected and sad in the rain, and the dialogue isn't extra-important in showing that, so it's fine to leave it in the middle of the paragraph. For my taste.
     
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  11. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Per se, it's not a deal-breaker, but it just makes it harder to read. I'm not reading to improve my reading skills, where it's like a training exercise where the harder it is, the more benefit I'll get from it. Make it too hard for me to read your work and I won't.
     
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  12. Jaiden

    Jaiden Member

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    I completely agree. There is nothing worse than having to read a line multiple times simply because it doesn't make it easy for me to comprehend what is going on. The importance of dialogue shouldn't get muddled in a large paragraph. I was more making a point around the principle of dialogue being sandwiched between description, because it isn't always wrong. That's why I'd always suggest clarity and cohesion above all else.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't follow. Why is this wrong? It seems fine to me.
     
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  14. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    It is not very pretty, like riding on a bumpy road with big signposts everywhere. Remember who's boss, author - say one thing at a time, really, I think so...

    The girl suddenly stopped. Her eyes were almost bloodshot from tiredness, and her shoulders drooped. She was maybe eleven. Intently Staring at the crows, she spoke with in a tired, yet curious voice.

    “The crows, they only come out fly when it rains. Do they?

    'No, you ditz, they fly all the time...'
     
  15. Shnette

    Shnette Active Member

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    I don't know much about rules, but I prefer when the text has a steady flow. I pay less attention to where in the paragraph the dialogue falls and more to who saying it and what they're doing.

    If the dialogue is directly related to the action, I see no reason for a separate paragraph until it is broken by another thought, action, or character.
     
  16. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    IMO - I've already had some disagreements with my position but, for me, it's all about how easy it is to read without mistaking what's narrative and what's dialogue. Stick the dialogue in the middle and you have to concentrate to notice the quotation marks.
     
  17. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Hmm. I've never had that problem. I'm not denying that you do, but I never have. This may be primarily a quirk of yours.

    Though my complete ease with it may also be a quirk of mine, resulting from, perhaps, my early and ongoing fondness for Rumer Godden, who put quotes everywhere.
     
  18. Peper Shaker

    Peper Shaker Member

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    I think it depends on the rhythm of the writting. I alternate, depending on the actions or consequences of the dialogue.

    I don't see anything wrong with what you wrote.
     
  19. CaitlinCarver

    CaitlinCarver Member

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    I'd say the rule for dialogue and starting new paragraphs is this: If you're introducing a new idea in your dialogue, then start a new paragraph. If not, then don't.
     
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  20. Jaiden

    Jaiden Member

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    Can't really go too wrong with this.
     
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