1. Jonathon33

    Jonathon33 New Member

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    Technical issue with dialogue

    Discussion in 'By Writing Form' started by Jonathon33, Jun 19, 2018.

    When, after someone has finished speaking, do you go to a new paragraph? If they perform an action after speaking does it stay on the same line?

    For example:

    "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf," said Greg, picking up his golf clubs. Sam followed suit and they walked to the clubhouse.

    Does Sam belong in a new paragraph?

    Any help greatly appreciated.
     
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  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In this case, Sam would belong to a new paragraph, because the action belongs to Sam. If it had belonged to Greg, it would likely stay. So I would change your example to:

    "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf," said Greg, picking up his golf clubs.
    Sam followed suit and they walked to the clubhouse.

    If the action was arguably Greg's, I'd be more likely to leave the sentence in the paragraph with the dialogue:

    "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf," said Greg, picking up his golf clubs. He bent to pick up Sam's clubs, too, and walked toward the clubhouse.
    Sam followed. "But isn't the equipment more expensive?"

    Lately I've been struggling with what to do with little bits of dialogue that come after a long paragraph. This?

    Greg picked up his golf clubs, inserting them lovingly into the bag. They were his father's clubs; he had a clear memory of his father cleaning and polishing them, even down to steam-pressing the little protective bags for the heads. What were those things called? Jane called them 'baggies', but he was quite sure she was wrong--you couldn't imagine Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer saying 'baggies'. Realizing that Sam was waiting for an answer, he said, "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf."
    Or this?

    Greg picked up his golf clubs, inserting them lovingly into the bag. They were his father's clubs; he had a clear memory of his father cleaning and polishing them, even down to steam-pressing the little protective bags for the heads. What were those things called? Jane called them 'baggies', but he was quite sure she was wrong--you couldn't imagine Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer saying 'baggies'.

    Realizing that Sam was waiting for an answer, he said, "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf."
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2018
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  3. Jonathon33

    Jonathon33 New Member

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    a) That's very helpful, thanks so much. Been driving me up the wall.

    b) Definitely the second one. I couldn't tell you why; just instinctively it looks cleaner and more fluid.

    I now will go edit 60 pages.

    Thanks again!
     
  4. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Far be it from me to contradict the august people who've already chimed in,* but I don't see any problem with the paragraph as originally constructed. I don't think it's necessary to start a new paragraph simply because the action shifted from one person to another.

    Consider this paragraph: "Stephanie, finding a clear shot, kicked the ball to Jamey. Jamey fielded it and tried to evade Mary's onslaught, but ended up fouling her. Seeing Mary sprawled on the turf, the referee blew his whistle, and the play stopped."

    Each sentence has a different subject, but breaking the paragraph into three paragraphs would disrupt the immediacy of the action.

    However, if the second sentence included a quotation from Sam, I'd start a new paragraph:

    "I used to play tennis, but now I prefer golf," said Greg, picking up his golf clubs.
    "Yeah, I feel the same way," Sam replied as he followed suit and they walked to the clubhouse.

    *Actually, not very far at all.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Ah, but that's not dialogue--none of it is dialogue, so the rules are rather different. I'm also curious as to who the POV character is; that would affect my decisionmaking. If the POV is not Stephanie, Jamey, Mary, or the referee, I'd probably write it that way. If it's one of them, I would write it a bit differently.

    I don't know if there's a firm style-book-type rule that interactive action including dialogue should swatch when either the speaker or the actor changes... but it's absolutely the rule I use, and it seems to be the rule used in most of the books that I read.

    Edited to add: When I do have X's action in Y's paragraph, I tend to filter that through Y.

    John said, "No." He leaned back and watched as Sally's eyes widened.
    Yet again I edit! An example of POV and intentional filtering, with your example:

    Smith leaned forward to watch the action. The team had improved. Stephanie had a clear shot--and, yes, good, she saw the opening and kicked the ball to Jamey. Jamey fielded it. For once, Jamey was paying attention--he saw Mary's onslaught and tried to evade. He failed, and ended up fouling her, but, again, improvement. Seeing Mary sprawled on the turf, the referee blew his whistle, and the play stopped.

    "Shouldn't we make sure that little girl isn't hurt?" asked Melissa.

    Smith spoke as he fished his clipboard out from under the seat. "Other team. Not my problem."

     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2018
  6. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    I'd pick the first one, because all of the stuff in there belongs to Greg. This is one of those many examples where I don't know the hard and fast rule, but am just going with what would feel right for me. :D

    I could be wrong of course, and often am!

    If the second version was used, and if it was a scene with a third person present, might it also lead to confusion as to who's action it was? (speaking considered to be an action in this case) Due to the convention of having a new paragraph for a new actor. People might be confused and think someone else was about to speak due to the presence of a new paragraph. It's a very little thing but there's a risk it might trip someone up and pull them out of their story immersion a little. I always try to avoid such risks. :)
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the issue in these kinds of situations is about clarity. Make it absolutely clear—without backtracking—what is happening and who is saying what.

    Readers of English prose are trained to expect only one speaker per paragraph, for the sake of clarity. Stick two speakers in there, and things can get very confused.

    However, Sam's 'following suit' silent action in the OP's example is just finishing the moment, so it's okay to tack Sam's action onto the end of Greg's speech and action. If you automatically create a new paragraph for every separate action, the prose can become choppy to read, even though it might seem fine as an excerpt. So there are pitfalls, even when the actions and speakers are perfectly clear.

    I think the question to ask yourself is what @ChickenFreak portrayed so well, with her examples. If the second person's silent action simply finishes a moment, or contributes to the moment, it's fine to add it on at the end (or even in the middle) of the first person's actions and speech. If the second person's action starts something new—like Sam doing something unexpected—it's a good idea to put it into a new paragraph.

    It is a 'rule' to only have one speaker per paragraph—simply for clarity. That way it's clear who is speaking in every instance.

    However, starting a new paragraph for each thematically new silent action is not so much an unbreakable 'rule,' as a convention. Readers are trained to assume a new paragraph means something new, so when this order is disrupted it can make the writing feel awkward. The choice of what is 'new' is somewhat subjective, but be aware that readers will expect a new action to have its own paragraph. If you tack a new action onto the end of an old one, it won't feel right to the reader.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2018
  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think the thing to remember is that a paragraph is supposed to be about one thing. Like, each paragraph has a topic, essentially. So for dialogue paragraphs, the topics would be Character X speaking, then Character Y speaking - two paragraphs. For the soccer example, it seems like the topic is "a bunch of people playing soccer".

    It's not the switch of characters that triggers a new paragraph, it's the switch of topics. This often coincides with the switch of characters, but it doesn't automatically.
     
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  9. Jonathon33

    Jonathon33 New Member

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    I think, with the benefit of the voices here that a lot of it is intuitive. What jannert articulated about the prose being choppy is what happened when I started to edit my work.

    I think if the next person's actions are incidental to the speaker's dialogue or action, then it can remain within the paragraph. If however, Sam (in a pique of jealousy over Greg's brand new clubs) had thrown a bucket of balls at Greg's head, that would necessitate a new paragraph, otherwise it would look like Sam was dominating a paragraph originally intended to convey Greg's thoughts.

    Anyway, that's sort of how I looked at it. I originally hoped someone would educate me on a hard-and-fast rule, but since there isn't one, I'll use my gut.
     

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