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Author Topic: Dialogue rules  (Read 14880 times)
Rev. Austin
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« on: April 22, 2010, 05:41:48 AM »

This seems like a really simple question but it's something that's been bugging me for a while.  I had a story accepted recently and for the re-edit, the editor told me dialogue should always start on a new line/fresh paragraph.  However, is this the case?  As an example I'm going to use an excerpt from my circus story because a) it seems to flow the way it is and b) no-one picked up on it in the crit so I'm wondering if it is okay to not do as the editor said:

     “Sorry squ- lad,” the clown crouched with an audible crack and rested his hands on his knees. “I didn't mean to swear atcha.  I'm just cranky in the morning.  Friends?” He grinned broadly, revealing perfectly decent teeth.  Josh nodded, his eyes still wide.  “Great stuff,” Bungle said, and stood up with another knee-crack.  “Please accept my most humble apology, Mr Jackson,” Bungle bowed awkwardly, with another tip of his hat.  “Thank you,” Sam said, even though he suspected the clown was taking the piss.  Mister Bungle smiled briefly and slunk away, lighting up a fresh cigarette as he did so.

The formatting might be screwy but in the story it doesn't start on the same line as Bungle's dialogue (which is what confuses me - obviously if it looks like it'll start on the same line it should be moved but if it's a line or two away and flows, is this allowed?)
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delboy
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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2010, 06:09:03 AM »

I'd go with the new line advice, myself. The paragraph as it stands is kinda confusing (more so as it's out of context - it feels like it should be Josh not Sam saying thank you - but that's probably just because I've only seen this excerpt). Breaking it up won't interrupt the flow, if anything, it'll improve the flow as the reader will glide over it rather than having to take a moment or two to figure out who's speaking.

Quote
    “Sorry squ- lad,” the clown crouched with an audible crack and rested his hands on his knees. “I didn't mean to swear atcha.  I'm just cranky in the morning.  Friends?” He grinned broadly, revealing perfectly decent teeth.  

     Josh nodded, his eyes still wide.  

   “Great stuff,” Bungle said, and stood up with another knee-crack.  “Please accept my most humble apology, Mr Jackson,” Bungle bowed awkwardly, with another tip of his hat.  

    “Thank you,” Sam said, even though he suspected the clown was taking the piss.  Mister Bungle smiled briefly and slunk away, lighting up a fresh cigarette as he did so.

That said, there are occasions when I come across conversations that occur in a single paragraph and they do work - but they are the exception rather than the rule. Next time I find one I'll try and rememberto post it here.

The other time a single paragraph works is when reporting on a conversation rather than showing the conversation:

Quote
    “Sorry squ- lad,” the clown crouched with an audible crack and rested his hands on his knees. “I didn't mean to swear atcha.  I'm just cranky in the morning.  Friends?” He grinned broadly, revealing perfectly decent teeth.  Josh nodded, his eyes still wide.  Bungle told him that was cool, and asked Josh to accept his humblest apologies. Sam said thank you, and Bungle smiled and slunk away.
.

Which doesn't really work here, and probably isn't needed here, but is a useful technique when you have very long conversations that need a little breaking up, or where the conversation is just a bit of back story to teh current scene.

Hope that helps,

Derek
« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 06:18:29 AM by delboy » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2010, 06:41:00 AM »

Bad form to reply to oneself, I know, but here's an example of doing it the way you original did. This is from one of the greatest books I've read and from one of the heavyweights of fiction, too, so it must carry some weight:

From The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

   "What are you...Sicill?" Polack asked Minetta. They were trudging along together through the sand. Minetta with a grunt dropped his ration box on a new pile they were starting. "No, Veneetz," he said. "My grandfather was a big shot, you know, an aristocrat near Venice." They turned around to go back to the landing craft. "How do you know that stuff?" Minetta asked Polack.
   "Aaaah, what do ya t'ink?" Polack said

etc etc

I think it works here because it's the first paragraph of a new section. Once Mailer gets into the scene he adheres to the new paragraph per speaker rule.

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Derek
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Robert B. Parker
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2010, 07:28:01 AM »

Derek's reformatting of your dialogue is how you absolutely have to do it if you're submitting anything anywhere (except that I would put the last sentence on a new line, as the action refers to Mr Bungle, not Sam, so needs a new paragraph). It's one of those cases of once you're rich and famous you can break the rules, but I'd be very wary of doing it before then.
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Frank Menser
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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2010, 09:41:20 AM »

Your editor is voicing a personal preference (IMHO).

I went to my personal library and within 20 seconds found several examples from well known authors where dialogue began within or at the end of a paragraph. A quick example:


    No man among us knew what to do at these words, but then the Turk said, "Bekend" that is, "Bread" in the language of Chwarezm. I gave him a few sheets of bread. He took them and said,"You may go further. I take pity on you."


EATERS OF THE DEAD~Michael Crichton


I was told by an editor years ago to not begin a new paragraph with dialogue because he felt it was "weaker." So in the end you have to go with what they wish as they are buying.
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delph_ambi
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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2010, 09:47:28 AM »

That bit by Crichton is one person speaking about bread, taking the bread and finishing the speech, so it's really just one piece of speech and should not be split. It doesn't break the rules. Nothing to do with preferences.

The editor who told you not to begin a new paragraph with dialogue was talking through his backside, frankly.
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delph_ambi
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2010, 09:48:20 AM »

Where's Pharosian? He's good on this sort of stuff.
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« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2010, 10:04:04 AM »

Quote
The editor who told you not to begin a new paragraph with dialogue was talking through his backside, frankly.
Quote
Where's Pharosian? He's good on this sort of stuff.

 undecided
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2010, 10:28:26 AM »

Hey, Del! There was no intended or implied criticism of you there!  Shocked

You've already given great advice, with which I pretty much entirely agreed. I was just hoping that Pharo would pop along to give his own view, as he does so much editing. Geoff's a useful sort of a person on this stuff too. More the merrier!
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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2010, 11:12:36 AM »

Thanks for the info so far!  99% of the time I start a new paragraph but lately I've written something and it looks weird starting on a new line so I've been um-ing and ah-ing about leaving as is or moving it.  Also, I always assumed starting dialogue within a paragraph was okay, but something that really irritated me about MEAT by Joseph D'lacey was every piece of dialogue had its own line, for instance:

"What do you think?" Sue asked.
Frank smiled.
"Sounds great."

That's not from the actual book but it's how a lot of conversations are phrased so it looks (to me) like Sue says "Sounds great" when it's actually Frank.
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« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2010, 11:27:34 AM »

Hey Delph, I never thought that for a second  Cheesy It was the mention of someone talking out of their backside followed by a request for Pharo' as he's good at such stuff that made me smile...

Derek
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Robert B. Parker
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« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2010, 11:31:28 AM »

Rev, I'd agree with you on that last example. I'd much rather see:

"What do you think?" Sue asked.
Frank smiled. "Sounds great."


Derek
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Robert B. Parker
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« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2010, 12:01:32 PM »

Hey Delph, I never thought that for a second  Cheesy It was the mention of someone talking out of their backside followed by a request for Pharo' as he's good at such stuff that made me smile...

Derek

A DELicate DELema averted!

Phew!

DW Cheesy
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delph_ambi
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2010, 12:17:26 PM »

 

Right, see what you mean Del afro

In the example, the 'Frank smiled' is effectively the speech tag, so yes, the speech goes on the same line.
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Rev. Austin
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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2010, 03:41:24 PM »

Hey Delph, I never thought that for a second  Cheesy It was the mention of someone talking out of their backside followed by a request for Pharo' as he's good at such stuff that made me smile...

Derek

A DELicate DELema averted!

Phew!

DW Cheesy

You sound like Adam West Batman, DW haha
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