formatting dialogue

edited January 2012 in - Writing Problems
HELP! Informed advice (Marina Oliver) says that each new speaker must have a new indented paragraph but you don't indent if the speech is in the middle of a sentence.
So far so good. BUT how do I deal with this snippet from my novel?
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They drove into the deserted town square.
"Spooky, ain't it?" Bert whispered, as if afraid to break the silence.
Green shivered; "There should at least be a dog," he said; "Let's get out of here."
"Can't be soon enough for me," agreed Bert, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.
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It looks bitty, doesn't it? Can anyone tell me what's right?
This is my first time on Talkback, so I've no idea if this is the sort of thing it's used for!

Comments

  • Other TeeBee-ers will correct me if I'm wrong but the only things which look wrong to me are the semi-colons.

    Green shivered. "There should be at least a dog," he said. "Let's get out of here."
    "Can't be soon enough for me," agreed Bert, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.

    and as for indentation, as I understand it:

    First line not indented (unless you intend it as a new paragraph)
    "Spooky ain't it?" etc indented.
    Green shivered. etc indented.
    "Can't be soon enough..." etc indented.

    I have found this whole indenting thing the hardest thing to master, and I've been at it for two years now.

    By the way
    " " for American punctuation

    ' ' for British punctuatin.

    And finally, welcome to TB - nice to have another admission to the madhouse.
  • I agree. Those semi-colons are so wrong! Simple full stops or commas, as appropriate!
    Indent each of those lines as each one has a different speaker. Not sure what you mean by bitty. Dialogue, unless they are making long speeches, often has just a few words per line. That's normal, and correct.
  • I was taught the following from both High School (English classes), my Grandfather and a Creative Writing coach (who were both English teachers at old-fashioned grammar schools):

    They drove into the deserted town square.
    "Spooky, ain't it?" Bert whispered, as if afraid to break the silence. Green shivered.
    "There should at least be a dog," he said. "Let's get out of here."
    "Can't be soon enough for me," agreed Bert, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.


    Maybe an old-fashioned way of doing it, but I think that's how most publishers still like it...
  • You can ask MS Word to automatically indent a new paragraph and it will do it perfectly. I'm doing a BA in Creative Writing and indent my paragraphs to 1cm from the margin and I've had no problems from tutors.

    Also if you're worried about your dialogue not sound right, read it aloud. In fact always read your work aloud. It's a good way to pick up on things that are not working. Anything can look good written down (well almost) but if you read it aloud you'll be amazed how much of a difference it makes.

    Welcome to TB. We're a very friendly and helpful bunch :)
  • Good stab BLZ, but still incorrect. Green and Bert should not have separate action on the same line, and publishers will balk at those kind of errors.

    PBW is correct in saying that semicolons shouldn't be used, but rather commas. Always indent a new paragraph and do so when writing/denoting dialogue, as already pointed out.

    They drove into the deserted town square.
    'Spooky, ain't it?' Bert whispered, as if afraid to break the silence.
    Green shivered. There should at least be a dog...let's get out of here.'
    'Can't be soon enough for me," agreed Bert, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.

    There are of course a squillion ways of writing this segment, and no doubt other TBers give you them. But as you are a beginner it is best that you stick with small steps while learning the craft, and this is fine as it is without complicating it further.

    And welcome to TB!
  • You could combine the first two lines to make it less bitty.

    They drove into the deserted town square. "Spooky, ain't it?" Bert whispered, as if afraid to break the silence.
    Green shivered. "There should at least be a dog. Let's get out of here." (I prefer the full stop after 'dog'. Short phrasing gives it more tension).

    The only thing that is really wrong is your use of the semi-colon.
    Welcome to Talkback!
  • Thank you all for your input. That poor old semi-colon took a bashing! My age must be showing, but I was taught that a semi-colon should be used when you want to indicate a pause greater than a comma could denote. And as for 'bitty' - my sample was indented on the lines that started with " but when I posted it the indents disappeared. Must have done something wrong!
  • The semi-colon does what you say, Liz, but not in speech. You are dividing two different actions here. Green shivered. Green spoke.
    Then two separate sentences - the first part of Bert's speech, then another part with a capital letter.
    You could have written:
    Bert whispered, as if to break the silence, "Spooky, isn't it?"
    Still no semi-colon!Here, the whispering is the same as Bert said, so the comma after silence relates to the introduction to the speech.
    Doesn't grammar sound clunky when you start talking about it?
    The way this site is formatted may stop your indents - it certainly doesn't allow italics.
  • Yes, the forum can't deal with indents, it seems to take them out even when you paste something with them in.
  • Well, what I was taught (up there, somewhere) does still appear in a lot of novels I've read, so many publishers obviously don'e baulk at the iregularities, as suggested - I think it must be largely down to the education standards of the individual in each company, who takes on responsibility for each manuscript submitted. I've seen some glaring grammatical errors in big publishers, and some laughable ones from mdium-sized ones - and the mistakes I'm talking about aren't typograhical errors. My biggest niggle with authors (such as Chrs Ryan) is that although the plots are usually good & well-researched on the most part, he commits some stupid cock-ups with detail, failing to remember them in later chapters od dialogues. I'd love to do his proof-reading, but you know what big publishers are! And that's just one obvious set of errors...

    To be fair, I might have broken all of the piece up to separate lines, as seems popular in many novels today, thus:

    > They drove into the deserted town square.
    > "Spooky, ain't it?" Bert whispered, as if afraid to break the silence.
    > Green shivered.
    > "There should at least be a dog," he said. "Let's get out of here."
    > "Can't be soon enough for me," agreed Bert, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.

    Still not keen on that, but if the publisher prefers it, who am I to argue?
    (I'm puzzled about why one character is called by his surname, and the other by his Christian name, mind you!)
  • Aha! BLZebub - You'll have to read the novel. If it ever gets published, that is! OK I'll tell you. Bert is our hero's old school friend, Green is an unpleasant character whom nobody addresses by his first name. Which, as it happens, is Cyril, so perhaps he prefers it that way?
    Anyway, I've decided on a plan of action, based on a consensus of all opinions expressed here, thank you everyone.
    Indent everything that starts with quotes, even if the intro to it is only half a sentence.
    Replace all semi-colons with commas or full stops.
    Read the whole damn thing again for the umpteenth time to see if it still works that way.
    Research self-publishing as an ebook.
    PRAY. Oh yes - and stop worrying about why I couldn't remove a tab for 2 hours this morning - it's gone at last which should be good enough. ;-) Note use of orphan semi-colon.
  • Welcome to TB liz.
    I thought your piece was ok, too (apart from the semicolons !)
    but I would go with Red's version.

    The thing about grammar and punctuation is that no matter what we were taught, the more we write and send things 'out there', the more we find that there's such a variety of ways of doing it.
    Unless it's specifically how a publisher wants it done, I say go with what you feel is right yourself.

    Good luck with your plan of action !
  • [quote=B L Zebub]I've seen some glaring grammatical errors in big publishers, and some laughable ones from mdium-sized ones - and the mistakes I'm talking about aren't typograhical errors.[/quote]

    Look hard enough and you'll find that all novels contain them ;)
  • ...Including my (quoted) post above, Red!! :-D

    Lordie, Lordie - was I tiried...tried...tired when I writ that... ;-)
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