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DancingMaenid
09-16-2012, 03:06 AM
I'm generally all right with punctuating dialogue, but this is something I've struggled with a few times.

How do you format dialogue in which a character performs an action while speaking, or pauses in the middle of a sentence to perform an action? I'm thinking of something like:

Bob laid the shirts out side by side. "This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one--" he pointed at the blue shirt "--is too small."

For Bob's second sentence, about the blue shirt, is it appropriate to break up the dialogue in that way?

I usually use the construction used in the first part of Bob's speech. That is, I'll use a speech tag ("he said") and connect it to the action ("pointing at the shirt"), which usually seems to work. But when it comes to situations like the example sentence, I hesitate to do that twice. Writing

"This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one," he said, pointing at the blue shirt, "is too small."

feels too repetitious and clunky.

How do you indicate that a character is performing an action in the middle of a sentence?

Not sure if this makes sense. Hopefully I've explained what I'm getting at.

Sage
09-16-2012, 03:14 AM
I want to do it the way you do because that's what makes the most sense to me, but I have been told to put the em-dashes outside the quotation marks. So I'm looking forward to an answer on this (and hoping that it's not just a bunch of people saying to revise the sentence to avoid the situation :tongue)

Kerosene
09-16-2012, 03:24 AM
What Sage said.

"Hey"--Bob smacked the wall--"listen to me!"

That's what I've seen in other works, though, I try to work away from it. Adding "Bob said, smacking the wall" completely negates the problem.

Fallen
09-16-2012, 03:39 AM
I was kind of taught two ways.

If the action is continuous, eg, it goes on at the same time as the dialogue, then:

"Hey, you"--he was waving her over--"got something to tell you."

But if the action actually stops the dialogue, then:

"Hey, you--" He paused, looked around, then quickly waved her over. "--got something to tell you."

DancingMaenid
09-16-2012, 03:51 AM
Awesome! All of this helps a lot, so thanks.

Fallen, that's interesting about the distinction. It hadn't occurred to me to place the dashes in different spots depending on whether the speech is supposed to supposed to be continuous, but your examples make a lot of sense to me.

absitinvidia
09-16-2012, 05:33 AM
Per the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, section 6.84 (Em dashes to indicate sudden breaks):

If the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks.

“Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots, and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.”

The em dashes always go outside the quotation marks.

blacbird
09-16-2012, 05:58 AM
Example reads fine to me, and really isn't a significant problem. Any editor will have a preference for how to punctuate this, and any sane editor will be far more interested in what is said and described, rather than how it is punctuated. Concentrate on that.

caw

Sage
09-16-2012, 06:56 AM
Per the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, section 6.84 (Em dashes to indicate sudden breaks):

If the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks.

“Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots, and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.”

The em dashes always go outside the quotation marks.
See, I would have always assumed that the break belongs to the quoted material. That's what's being cut off. That's where the confusion lies, I think.

More confusion: if the dialogue is interrupted by something that gets its own paragraph, aren't the em-dashes inside the quotation marks?

“Look, I know you're mad at me, but I just wanted to say--”

She left the room before I could finish.

“--I love you.”

thothguard51
09-16-2012, 07:08 AM
I am looking at the example from another point of view.

Is the dialogue action tags really needed? Is it wise to interrupt the dialogue in this case with useless action. My preference, never interrupt dialogue with action. In this case, pointing, is it really needed?

Look at your example...

Bob laid the shirts out side by side. "This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one--" he pointed at the blue shirt "--is too small."

The sample starts with action, Bob laying his shirts out. The sample then moves to dialogue only to stop after two words to tell the reader which one Bob is referring to. Followed by a bit more dialogue before stopping again to tell the reader he is now pointing to the other shirt before ending the dialogue with 3 words. IMHO, this sample is a bit disjointed...


Now, look at something like this...

Now, if Bob is speaking to someone, you can try something like this.

Bob laid the shirts out side by side, one green, one blue. He looked them over and turned to Susan. "The green is too large and the blue too small. Both are useless for the dinner party."

This way, I did not interrupt the dialogue with unnecessary action when the dialogue is clear as to which shirt he is referring to. You have dialogue, let it do its job.

Now, if Bob's thinking to himself, it might read something like this...

Bob laid the shirts out side by side, one green, one blue. He looked them over. The green was obviously too large and the blue to small. Both were useless for the dinner party.

Once again, I don't need action tags because this is an internal rationalization by Bob.

The thing about dialogue/action tags, they should absolutely be necessary to show character or something that would be natural, after all, unless our characters are robots, they more than likely move while talking, like shuffling their feet or looking around to see if anyone is watching/listening. You could argue that the pointing is natural and yes it would be, but is it necessary in this case when just using the colors would show what he is talking/thinking about.

As I said earlier, let the dialogue do its job of showing instead of relying on action tags to tell readers something...

Hope that makes sense...

Good luck.

thothguard51
09-16-2012, 07:16 AM
.


“Look, I know you're mad at me, but I just wanted to say--”

She left the room before I could finish.

“--I love you.”

"Look, I know you're mad at me, but I just wanted to say..."

Ellipses inside of the quotation signifies an interruption of speech, or a trailing off. The person walking out may interrupt the person speaking, but its not a HARD interruption.

M-dashes go out side of the speech to signal an abrupt or hard interruption, such as a slap across the face.

Or so I was taught...

Susan Littlefield
09-16-2012, 10:29 PM
You first example is fine. The second example is too wordy.

Pick up some novels and see how the pros write their dialogue with action. :)

Jamesaritchie
09-16-2012, 10:31 PM
Inserting action in the middle of dialogue is not only common, I'm not sure I've ever read a novel that didn't so so at some point.

But there is a method to it, and it should be done only once per attribution. When you start writing sentences that look like Bob laid the shirts out side by side. "This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one--" he pointed at the blue shirt "--is too small." no punctuation is going to save you.

Readers, which also means agents and editors, not only read your story, they see it. Sentences like this read poorly, and look even worse.

You always have to ask yourself why you want to write something in a particular way. Doing so once in a while, in a short manner, is a good way to break rhythm, and doing so, again, only once per sentence, is fine if the action comes from outside the speaker, and is something that really would break his words in this manner.

But there must be solid reason, and the example you give has no reason. I doubt there is a good reason, ever, to break a single sentence twice.

And why is he pointing at all? Is everyone in the room color blind? All you have to do is write, Bob laid the shirts side by side. "Well," he said, "the green one is too large, and the blue one is too small. Now what?"

If you want action in the middle of the sentence, you write: When you can write, Bob laid the shorts side by side. "This one," he said," pointing at the green one, is too big, "and the blue one is too small."

Need matters, and unless a sentence needs something, don't do it. If you can write without such tricks, do so. They never help the writing, and never impress readers.

blacbird
09-16-2012, 10:43 PM
When you start writing sentences that look like Bob laid the shirts out side by side. "This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one--" he pointed at the blue shirt "--is too small." no punctuation is going to save you.

Readers, which also means agents and editors, not only read your story, they see it. Sentences like this read poorly, and look even worse.

. . .

But there must be solid reason, and the example you give has no reason. I doubt there is a good reason, ever, to break a single sentence twice.

And why is he pointing at all? Is everyone in the room color blind? All you have to do is write, Bob laid the shirts side by side. "Well," he said, "the green one is too large, and the blue one is too small. Now what?"


Exactly. Especially the point about the pointing. It's a good example of excessive choreography of inconsequential action, and I should have caught that when I first read it.

Which leads me to a major rule of thumb for my own writing: When a sentence begins to bother you, it probably needs to be rewritten, not just tinkered with. And that means looking very closely at the focus of the sentence, at the central point it is intended to convey, and stripping away anything that isn't clearly in that focus.

caw

Susan Littlefield
09-17-2012, 01:29 AM
When a sentence begins to bother you, it probably needs to be rewritten, not just tinkered with. And that means looking very closely at the focus of the sentence, at the central point it is intended to convey, and stripping away anything that isn't clearly in that focus.

This is excellent advice.

Lil
09-17-2012, 05:47 AM
If you are worrying about the grammar, punctuation or usage in a sentence, REWRITE THE DAMN SENTENCE!

If you have questions, there will be readers who have questions. It doesn't matter if you have ended up with the technically correct solution. There will still be questions, and you don't want readers to be pondering your grammar. You want them to be caught up in your story/argument/whatever.

So if you are wondering about a sentence, toss it out and start again. Everyone will benefit

Roxxsmom
09-25-2012, 11:14 PM
What Sage said.

"Hey"--Bob smacked the wall--"listen to me!"

That's what I've seen in other works, though, I try to work away from it. Adding "Bob said, smacking the wall" completely negates the problem.

I was taught you could do it:

"Hey." Bob smacked the wall. "Listen to me!" or "Hey!" Bob smacked the wall. "Listen to me." If you're going to use an exclamation mark, I'd go with it being after the "Hey," since that would likely be said with more force.

Using the dialog tag (the said) works too, but omitting it makes the passage sound punchier (no pun intended, since he is smacking the wall) and more direct, I think. The dialog tags softens it, imo. When someone yells at you and smacks the wall, you are not thinking about him "saying" something. You're thinking about what he's doing and reacting to it.

Now the shirt example is a calmer, more thoughtful passage, so a dialog tag would work fine there.

I have no problem at all with Bob pointing at the shirts. People point at things/gesticulate all the time when they talk, even if only one other person is in the room (why wouldn't someone point something out to only one person? I'm confused here). He would be pointing at the shirts for the same reason the author wants him to point at the shirts--to let both the person in the scene and the reader know which one he's talking about when he says "this one."

And m dashes can be used inside quotes at the end of a sentence to indicate an abrupt interruption of speech. But in this case, I'd think he may be trailing off more than cutting himself off or being cut off. Ellipses are more commonly used if someone trails off.

But if the sentence isn't conveying what you want, then there are many other ways you can approach it.

guttersquid
09-27-2012, 02:49 AM
The OP gives two versions of the sentence. The best way to punctuate it is a combination of the two.

"This one," he said, pointing at the green shirt, "is too big. But that one," pointing at the blue shirt, "is too small."

That's the way Elmore Leonard does it (and he does it a lot).

thothguard51
09-27-2012, 03:10 AM
Might be why I am not a big Elmore Leonard fan...

blacbird
09-27-2012, 11:21 AM
I have a personal rule for description of action: If it takes longer to read than it takes to take place, it's bad.

That's just me, but for me, it works.

caw

Roxxsmom
09-28-2012, 09:23 AM
I have a personal rule for description of action: If it takes longer to read than it takes to take place, it's bad.

That's just me, but for me, it works.

caw

I think that's a good rule of thumb. I know I tend to edit down descriptive passages for short, simple actions for that reason. A short, simple action generally benefits from a short, simple description.

But there are occasional exceptions with all things, I suppose.