My apologies to everyone for being away for so long…family issues intermingling with a busy schedule have kept me from concluding this three part series…that and inconsistent Wi-Fi. Don’t get me started on that.
So…as I was saying in Part 2, interrupted speech can build action into dialogue but even more so having one character abruptly cut off another character’s words in an immediate manner—mid word—can speak volumes.
Dialogue abruptly cut off this way is handled the same way by use of the em dash. This takes a little more concentration as you’ll need to consider the sounds of words and syllables before deciding where to break the interrupted word. For example, if you’re asking someone to stop what he’s doing (Please stop…) but that someone cuts you off mid word as soon as you begin. You wouldn’t break off the word stop after the s (s—) because the first sound comes from the combination of the S and the T (st—).
Example: “I love y—” Annabelle’s foot slipped off the step as she began to declare herself.
Sometimes a person is speaking and someone interrupts them but they ignore the interruption and continue with what they were saying, again the em dash comes into play.
Example: “If I could have a moment of your time—”
“I love you.”
“—there’s something I need to ask you.” Damien smiled.
Sometimes a characters dialogue trails off because he’s lost his train of thought, doesn’t know what to say next, or in times of stress, doesn’t want to say what perhaps is best left unsaid. When you wish to show this, use the ellipsis (…) and remember, that’s only three (3) dots…not four or more.
Example: “I know we haven’t known each other very long…” He was so nervous that he forgot what he was going to say.
Creating a tension or an intimacy between the characters.
It’s best not to use names within dialogue too much but sometimes, when you’re building intimacy and/or tension, you’ll want to do just that—use the name of the person whose point of view it’s not to create a deeper connection. By the way, this is good advice in real life too.
Always use a comma before and/or after the name when addressing someone directly in dialogue—even if the name isn’t a proper name but an endearment, or curse. 🙂
Examples: “I love you, Damien.”
“Damien, I love you.”
“I love you, honey.”
“I love you, Damien, more than I ever loved my ex-husband.”
Dialogue within a paragraph.
When dealing with multiple lines of dialogue within a paragraph, make sure all the dialogue belongs to only one speaker. It’s best to put the dialogue tag at the end of the first sentence since tags are for readers so they may keep track of the speaker, but this a personal voice thing as well.
My greatest advice for a long bit of dialogue is that it is not left hiding at the end of the paragraph as that doesn’t help the reader and can make them backtrack—something you don’t want them having to do. Ever! Remember everything is about flow and moving the story forward.
Where to put the dialogue tag is something that you need to feel out for yourself. The feel of the dialogue or rhythm of the speech might require a different construction but as a rule, the end of the first sentence helps keep the reader on track. Especially, when three or more characters are talking in a group, readers might be able to guess who is speaking but there’s nothing wrong with helping out the reader either.
“I was wondering if we could talk a moment. I know you’re probably tired and want to get home. I even heard it might snow tonight but there’s something I want to say to you,” Damien said. “It’s rather important.”
(This might work well if you want Damien to sound rambling.)
“I was wondering if we could talk a moment,” Damien said, grabbing her hand. “I know you’re probably tired and want to get home. I even heard it might snow tonight but there’s something I want to say to you, and it’s rather important.”
(The reader knows it is Damien still speaking. He even sounds a little surer of himself too.)
It’s all about your voice.
Now beyond this, sometimes dialogue might stretch across paragraphs without another character speaking. This happens quite often when someone is dominating the conversation. When this happens, you will use proper punctuation, a terminal punctuation—i.e., a period, question mark, or exclamation point at the end of the paragraph but if the dialogue continues, there will be no closing quotation marks until the very end of the dialogue. Some grammar experts say to use an opening quotation mark to start the next paragraph, but this again is a personal choice. As long as the reader understands that the character is still speaking, it’s your choice to use opening quotation marks. But you must close the dialogue with closing quotation marks.
Example: Note the quotation marks.
“I was wondering if we could talk a moment,” Damien said, grabbing her hand. “I know you’re probably tired and want to get home. I even heard it might snow tonight but there’s something, I want to say to you, and it’s rather important.
The sky is looking a little like snow, isn’t it? Here, let’s sit over here and I’ll tell you what I have in mind. Oh, careful of that step, it wouldn’t do to have you fall and hurt yourself,” he told her catching Annabelle’s arm as her foot slipped from the step.
However, when another character joins the conversation, each dialogue set must be opened, and closed, with quotation marks as well as a new paragraph begun each time the speaker changes, whether there are tags or not.
She glanced over at Damien. “I’d wanted to tell you for some time now but we’ve been friends for so long, I didn’t know if you wanted more. I just didn’t know what to say.”
“I’ve loved you nearly from the first moment we met. Being friends was the best way to stay close to you…even after you married.”
“Had I known that, I might not have married him. I never loved him like I love you, Damien,” Annabelle admitted. “I’m sorry I never said anything before.”
Mixing dialogue with narration in the same paragraph can work as long as the narration refers to the character speaking and preferably, the one whose point of view the scene is focusing on. Dialogue can go in at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the paragraph and the narration. However, if the narration refers to several characters or you can’t tell which character is the focus of the paragraph, begin the dialogue with a new paragraph and a dialogue tag. In other words, don’t make the reader guess who is speaking.
If the paragraph opens with a wide view of a group of people but then the focus narrows to a single character, you could introduce that character’s dialogue into the end of that same paragraph because the focus is completely on that character—or you can simply begin a new paragraph with the dialogue.
This is what makes your voice unique but the important key to good dialogue writing is to keep the reader in the flow of the story. Confusion over dialogue can and will pull the reader out of the fictional world you’re working so hard to create.
Annabelle exited the building, the cold wind blowing up under her coat as she walked along path toward the parking lot. Her steps slowed when she spotted Damien standing near the pedestrian bridge that stretched over the creek separating the building from the lot. Still embarrassed and somewhat angry at having walked in on him in the break room with Sarah in his arms, Annabelle decided ignoring him was the best course of action. Tucking her head down as if evading the wind, she quickened her steps to get past him without confrontation. When she saw him step forward, she said, “Not now, Damien.”
“I was wondering if we could talk a moment,” Damien said, grabbing her hand. “Please, I know you’re probably tired and want to get home. I even heard it might snow tonight but there’s something, I want to say to y—”
“I love you,” she blurted out before she lost her nerve.
Remember…attributions can come before the dialogue, especially if you want the dialogue tag to be noticed but you can also hide them, put them in the middle or at the end of a sentence, however, although not always, you will want the dialogue, and not the attribution, to stand out.
I hope you now have a greater appreciation of how dialogue can evoke emotion, action, and create depth in a scene, sometimes without saying it all. If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments or write me directly. I enjoy hearing from you and want you to succeed, grow, and be a happy writer. Let me know, if I may assist you in gaining success for you and your manuscript…it’s what I do.
Happy Writing Everyone!