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Thread: Paragraph Form/Structure

  1. #1
    Pen, Paper, Prepared. ...Write! Hummingbird's Avatar
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    Paragraph Form/Structure

    I have noticed something in my writing that I'm not sure is common or the best. So I thought I'd ask.

    There are times when I write a dialogue sentence, an action, a dialogue sentence, another action, and another dialogue sentence.

    Like this:

    "Really? You think so?" Lisa spun, holding her skirt. "I hoped it looked okay." She looked at the ground and blushed. "I bought it just for tonight."

    That is how I have been writing some of my paragraphs. In the books I have read it seems it is most common to have the action in the middle of the paragraph and any dialogue in the start and/or end of the paragraph.
    Would paragraphs switching back and forth from dialogue and action be confusing to the reader? Or is it okay to use as long as I try to make sure my sentence-types sound different? Perhaps a third option is I am worrying for nothing...?

    Thanks for any help!
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  2. #2
    That hairy-handed gent
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    As long as you are dealing with a single speaker, this structure is fine. The standard convention in dialogue sequences is to go to a new paragraph when there's a different speaker. If you intend a pause, you might want to indicate that by starting a new paragraph, but otherwise, this example looks proper.

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  3. #3
    Pen, Paper, Prepared. ...Write! Hummingbird's Avatar
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    Awesome, thank you! Yes, I only do that with one speaker. I was prepared to have to start teaching myself to stop doing that.

    I am so relieved. Thank you!
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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    You can include interruptions like that in dialogue, but you shouldn't overdo it. Make sure the actions are important. The example you gave felt a little bit awkward to me. It had a sort of staccato rhythm.

  5. #5
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwm4768 View Post
    You can include interruptions like that in dialogue, but you shouldn't overdo it. Make sure the actions are important. The example you gave felt a little bit awkward to me. It had a sort of staccato rhythm.
    I agree, I would have structured it more like this:

    Lisa's skirt lifted as she spun*. "Really, you think so? I hoped it looked okay." She dropped her eyes, blushing. "I bought it just for tonight."

    * or some other action
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  6. #6
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    It's fine, and personally, I like the beats in your original structure.

    But I agree with others. Don't overdo it.

    Maybe break up the speaker's actions with reactions in a new paragraph.
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  7. #7
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    Obviously I haven't read your writing, but if you use the same pattern constantly the prose might become boring. Mix it up, too, just to change the rhythm. But grammatically, your natural rhythm is fine.

  8. #8
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    Agree. One thing I noticed reading a couple of Lee Child/Jack Reachers, Child (or the editor/publisher) consistently removed subsequent action from dialogue. Applying this to Hummingbird's example:

    "Really? You think so?"
    Lisa spun, holding her skirt.

    In the case of those Child novels, I'd read dialogue, think that part was done, then here would come a descriptor relative to that dialogue, but kept apart from it for some reason. It bugged me.

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  9. #9
    resident curmudgeon
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    I'm not at all fond of using action twice in the same dialogue paragraph. There's no real rule against it, but it becomes very tedious reading if done too often.

  10. #10
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    I don't like it when I find descriptors of how something is said or even who said it at the end of several lines of a character's dialogue. It's too late to tell me that after I have read the dialogue.

    Is that what you meant?

    But I can't think of any reason why an action shouldn't appear after a character's dialogue provided the dialogue itself is the stimulus for that action.

    But I agree, normally action comes before dialogue if the action and dialogue are in response to the same stimulus.

    If the stimulus is say the character unexpectedly touches something hot, for instance, the four reactions in sequence will be sensation and realisation of burning and the removal of the character's hand from the heat source followed by any spoken curse. The writer may choose to use less than all four of these responses/reactions, but whichever ones he does use should still follow that sequence.


    Quote Originally Posted by kkbe View Post
    Agree. One thing I noticed reading a couple of Lee Child/Jack Reachers, Child (or the editor/publisher) consistently removed subsequent action from dialogue. Applying this to Hummingbird's example:

    "Really? You think so?"
    Lisa spun, holding her skirt.

    In the case of those Child novels, I'd read dialogue, think that part was done, then here would come a descriptor relative to that dialogue, but kept apart from it for some reason. It bugged me.

    I'm describing it poorly but do you know what I mean?
    Everything yields to treatment.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW
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    Another tip that I've been given, and has made sense for me so far, is to end the paragraph with what is most important - sometimes that's the dialogue, other times the action.

    I don't mind the back and forth, although it's not how I write, and if it works for your readers, that's the only answer you need. But if you get feedback from your readers that they are looking for more description, then you might have your answer - what you've written could be flushed into two paragraphs, maybe.

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  12. #12
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    I don't like it when I find descriptors of how something is said or even who said it at the end of several lines of a character's dialogue. It's too late to tell me that after I have read the dialogue.

    Is that what you meant?

    But I can't think of any reason why an action shouldn't appear after a character's dialogue provided the dialogue itself is the stimulus for that action.

    But I agree, normally action comes before dialogue if the action and dialogue are in response to the same stimulus.
    Bufty, thanks for responding. Problem is, I just looked in three Reacher novels for great examples and you'd have to know I can't find one.

    All I can say is, I remember thinking (over and over) why isn't that line on the end of the line above? Why is it a new paragraph? Makes no sense.

    You said it as I wish I had, Bufty: The dialogue was the stimulus for the action, so the two should have been together. They weren't.
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  13. #13
    Retired Illuminatus dangerousbill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hummingbird View Post
    "Really? You think so?" Lisa spun, holding her skirt. "I hoped it looked okay." She looked at the ground and blushed. "I bought it just for tonight."
    I hope it's okay. I do it all the time, and so far, no complaints, no warrants, no arrests.
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  14. #14
    figuring it all out Mike_Gasaway's Avatar
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    Mine is all about flow. How it feels. Sentences and paragraphs are formed that way.
    Put them together if they FEEL like they should be together.

    That goes hand in hand with what everyone is saying but may give a reason for it - the idea of not overusing it.
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  15. #15
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    The evidence disappears - doesn't that always happen?

    By 'after' I simply meant it came after - not necessarily immediately following in the same paragraph. That would depend upon context.

    Quote Originally Posted by kkbe View Post
    Bufty, thanks for responding. Problem is, I just looked in three Reacher novels for great examples and you'd have to know I can't find one.

    All I can say is, I remember thinking (over and over) why isn't that line on the end of the line above? Why is it a new paragraph? Makes no sense.

    You said it as I wish I had, Bufty: The dialogue was the stimulus for the action, so the two should have been together. They weren't.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  16. #16
    Are we there yet? charmingbillie's Avatar
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    What you have is fine, though I agree with others that you'll want to vary your structure as you go.

    One thing I keep in mind is that a lot of people are skim readers. That's one reason for the dialogue paragraph, action paragraph format. Like:

    "What are you talking about?"

    I stood up straight and glared at him.

    Likewise, if you bury dialogue in the middle of a paragraph, I always feel like some people (like me at times) will miss it. It's why I don't have long single paragraphs too (though often they turn out to be longer than I'd thought they were).

    So, some additional things to keep in mind.
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  17. #17
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    I mentally "hear" pauses in the dialogue when you break for action.

    So I imagine an entirely different speech pattern between:
    He winced at the screeches wafting over from the karaoke booth. "This is why I normally don't drink here," he said.
    and
    "This," he said, wincing at the screeches watching over from the karaoke booth, "is why I don't normally drink here."
    Worth bearing in mind if you want to give emphasis to certain words (or might have accidentally placed some there without meaning to).
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  18. #18
    My New Cat Is Too Big for Shoulders Corinne Duyvis's Avatar
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    Splitting up the action like that is something I usually find myself pointing out to CPs, since for me, as a reader, it's grating to bounce back and forth like that. It doesn't make for a smooth read, IMO. Personally, I try to group dialogue together as much as I can.

    Then, when the action is shoved together as well, it often seems extraneous and I'll cut half of it. Too often, action during dialogue only exists to stop the characters from talking in a blank space, and not because it adds something to the scene. I think that results in cleaner, streamlined conversations.

    The above is ENTIRELY PERSONAL, though. As you can see from this thread, plenty of people feel differently. Try to hone your own ear. Read your writing aloud. Study books you love and pay attention to how they do it. Then read those passages aloud, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by ZoeYork View Post
    Another tip that I've been given, and has made sense for me so far, is to end the paragraph with what is most important - sometimes that's the dialogue, other times the action.
    I love this tip and I try to keep it in mind as well.
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  19. #19
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I think what you've done is fine. But it is okay to have dialog that's "tagged" or that has action at the beginning or ending as well, and of course to have dialog that is just dialog with no intervening actions or tags, so long as it's clear to the reader who is speaking and what the setting is.

    Having an action inserted in the middle of two things the same speaker says implies (to me at least) that she performed the action during the pause in speaking.

    "I want to show you something," Susan removed a box from the top drawer of her desk, "that's been in my family for generations." She flicked the catch with one finger, and the box popped open, revealing a shimmering dagger.

    If she performs the action first, it implies she did it before speaking and so on.

    You don't want long, unbroken talking head passages with no description or action. You also don't want description or action to be so pervasive or repeated that it is distracting or focuses the reader on the wrong thing.

    I think a bit of variation in the rhythm is your friend here.
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  20. #20
    Pen, Paper, Prepared. ...Write! Hummingbird's Avatar
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    Thank you very much to everyone who has responded! This gives me much to think about. I do not use this format often, and the sample paragraph was just something I made up for this post so I did not put much thought into it.

    I also like the idea of putting the important stuff last.

    I was not thinking about people skimming through the reading either. I can see where stuff could get lost in paragraphs like that to a skimming reader.

    I'll play around with how I'm wording things and see what happens. When I am rewriting everything I will see how many of those paragraphs I can reword, but I won't be too concerned if I end up leaving a few like that.

    Thank you so much everyone!
    Hummingbird

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