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Author Topic: Dialogue rules  (Read 14881 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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« 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
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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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2010, 05:07:03 PM »



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.

Yeah, that's a strange one, isn't it, Frank? Was that a pro market editor, or a FTLO type zine? I expect you're the same as me - the more a market is paying, the more notice I tend to take of the editor's suggestions, or if the editor has a good reputation then obviously they're worth listening to. Sadly, the higher up the food chain we submit, the less feedback we seem to get, though.

There were a couple of editors of small webzines at the Borderlands Bootcamp I went to a couple of years ago, and some of the advice they had been dishing out to people submitting to them was completely wrong by any standards. Much of it revolved around the old show vs tell thing, rather than technicalities like grammar and punctuation, layout, etc., though. I remember being alarmed by just how out of whack they were.
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« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2010, 09:27:35 PM »

Here I am...  Wink

I read this thread this morning when there were only 3 replies. Both Del and Delph had stated positions that I thought were right on, so I didn't think it needed another voice chiming in. The guideline that I think makes the most sense is to keep each character's dialogue and actions within a paragraph, and where another character responds either verbally or non-verbally, that starts a new paragraph.

As far as starting a paragraph with dialogue or starting it with description of some kind, I think they're both fine and abundant examples can be found. I agree with delph's point that the example given by Norman Mailer would have been better formatted with different characters' dialogue on separate lines.
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« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2010, 10:05:23 PM »

For what it's worth, I imagined this was something I'd written and edited accordingly:

“Sorry squi..., lad,” said the clown. With an audible crack of the knee joints he crouched low. “I didn't mean to swear atcha.  I'm just cranky in the morning.  Friends?”

He grinned, revealing perfect teeth.

Josh nodded, his eyes still wide.

“Great stuff,” Bungle said, standing up.  He bowed awkwardly and gave another tip of his hat. “Do accept my humblest apology, Mr Jackson.”

“Thanks,” Sam said, even though he suspected the clown was taking the piss.

Mister Bungle smiled and slunk away, lighting up a fresh cigarette as he did so.

____________________________________________________________________________

I trimmed down the action since it was getting a bit in the way of the dialogue, especially the knee-cracking, which doesn't happen twice in succession so quickly - it's due to a fluid build-up that takes time to re-occur.

Anyhow, that's my penny'sworth!

DW Cheesy

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« Reply #18 on: April 23, 2010, 02:52:04 AM »

I wish you'd tell that to my knees, Paul - mine crack and pop every time I stand up from kneeling. If I was to do squat-thrusts it'd sound like somebody splitting firewood afro
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« Reply #19 on: April 23, 2010, 03:30:37 AM »

Sure it's not your work trousers, Ed? Might be time for this year's wash?

Derek
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« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2010, 09:40:46 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.

Delph,

I used that example because it was brief and I am nursing an injured hand. There are much longer examples that prove my point and they are easily found.

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« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2010, 10:35:58 AM »

I suppose if you do start a new paragraph with dialogue it might not be immediately obvious who is speaking, which would weaken the narrative and be distracting in some cases.

What's up with the hand, Frank? Nothing serious, I hope. Backalong, I accidentally fired a nail gun nail through the pad on my index finger and up through the nail. Put my typing out of action for a week or two.
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« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2010, 11:05:40 AM »

ouch!  Shocked
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« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2010, 01:28:27 PM »

ouch!  Shocked

Yeah - the worst part was that it went through the architrave at the top of my bedroom door, then ricocheted off something inside the wood and curled out through my finger, leaving a kind of tepee-shaped non return valve of fingernail gripping the inch of galvanised steel protruding through through it. So my choice was to stay pinned to the door frame there and wait for my wife to get home to fetch me some sidecutters to snip it off with, or just brute force it out the way it went in.
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« Reply #24 on: April 25, 2010, 01:48:20 PM »

I suppose if you do start a new paragraph with dialogue it might not be immediately obvious who is speaking, which would weaken the narrative and be distracting in some cases.

What's up with the hand, Frank? Nothing serious, I hope. Backalong, I accidentally fired a nail gun nail through the pad on my index finger and up through the nail. Put my typing out of action for a week or two.

Just paying for a bit machismo from a few years back.

I actually broke this hand three times according to the Doc. Never realised it except once when a 1,500 pallet shifted and crushed muhand on the truck frame. The bone my little finger was attached to tried to push its way out of my skin. As I was unloading boxes of frozen food by hand off a truck I couldn't stop, so I set it myself and then wrapped duct tape around it to keep it in position. Then I unloaded the truck.

Every so often I bump it the wrong way or forget and try to heft something too big at the gym and then it's swollen and stiff for a few days. I did the nail gun through the thumb too, but I missed the nail. Thanks for the concern. smiley
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« Reply #25 on: May 13, 2010, 11:21:24 AM »

This has been fairly well covered. Only I sometimes wonder why anyone bothers. I tried to read 'Narrow dog to Carcassone' a best seller allegedly. I repeatedly threw it aside but tried to understand why I hated it.
One paragraph had three different people speaking, descriptive text and not a quotation mark or sensible punctuation mark anywhere.
Maybe I was missing the point. Being an illiterate man who left school without qualification the published author was allowed different guidelines.
AM I being bitchy?
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« Reply #26 on: May 13, 2010, 12:56:41 PM »

AM I being bitchy?

lol

"I see from your avatar you have claws," noted Desertwomble.

But seriously, I read 'The Road' which throws most punctuation rules to the wind, but still found the book highly readable. I think it all depends on who the author is, and whethter he can get away with it on a literary level rather than on how big his name is.

DW Cheesy
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« Reply #27 on: November 14, 2010, 09:22:58 PM »

As a standard rule it is usually best to use a new paragraph line per speaker as everyone has said--but one thing I think was missed in the replies is the speed of reading.  I mean, readers equate fast reading with good stuff--must have been good, I just sped through the whole thing.  Vonnegut would use excessively short chapters to do this--most of us read till we get tired and decide that at the end of the chapter we're reading we'll stop there, but if the next chapter is just a page or two, why not knock it out and so on.  Another sped element is dialogue--we read it faster and the story moves quickly in real time.  By adding a new paragraph line to each speaker we are also moving faster down the page--subconciously telling us that it is a fast read and therefore a good one. 

Well, maybe not always, but it seems to work for me at least most of the time, but then again I'm a beginner at all of this. 
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« Reply #28 on: November 15, 2010, 02:40:04 PM »

It's not just that we read dialogue faster -- it's a fact that people don't tend to skip or skim dialogue, whereas they will happily avoid reading big blocks of text and chunks of description. You can convey tons of information concealed in dialogue that the average reader would tire of it was delivered in the form of a narrator's info dump.

Another cheat for making a book unputdownable, is ending each chapter with a question, like Dan Brown did with the DVC. It soon wares thin as a ploy, though, IMO. It began to irritate me because I felt like I was being duped or manipulated.
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