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edited December 2005 in - Writing Problems


  • This one may seem like an obvious one to everyone else, but I'm getting in a muddle with it.

    I had thought that you start a new line with each different person's dialogue, and that prose continued after that, on the same line.

    "My, what a magnificent pumpkin," Jenny mused.  She moved away from the window.

    That would all be on one line right?

    But what if it was

    "My, what a magnificent pumpkin," Jenny mused.  Phil looked at her sidelong.

    (Why I'm focussing on magnificent pumpkins I have no idea, and it's probably best not to delve too deeply into it...) But anyway - would that be on one line too?  I have lots of examples as the second type, where the focus shifts from the person speaking to the one listening, and my partner (in his role as Personal Chief Editor) says it's confusing when it comes straight after what someone else has said.  Or should I be starting a new para - or just a new line?  I've tried looking in the novels on my shelf and they all seem to be formatted differently.

    Can anyone help please?
  • Think on the lines of a play script. Each character has their speech and action separately written.

    Thus, speech about your pumpin by one character should be on a separate line to any comment or impression from another character.

    By beginning each characters words/thoughts on a new line every time it may be possible to omit the "she said/he said" words of description.

    Jack said, "Come here."
    "Why?" asked Jill.
    "Because I said so!"
    "But I don't want to."
    "Do it!"
    "Typical of a woman, now you've missed a kiss." Jack muttered as he climbed the hill for water.

    Hope this helps. Others will write different opinions, that's the "joy" of writing.
  • I agree that if you're changing perspective it's better to go to a new line.  It gives the reader a little pause to absorb one person's point of view and register that something different is now going to be said. 
  • I don't see anything wrong with "My, what a magnificent pumpkin," Jenny mused.  Phil looked at her sidelong. EXCEPT - and this has nothing to do with your question - the placing of the word 'sidelong'. Sidelong, in this sense is an adverb, so more correctly I think, the sentence should read 'Phil looked sidelong at her'. In your sentence Phil could be looking at something she's wearing. Or, God forbid, part if her anatomy!! Cheers.
  • Well maybe her sidelong is worth looking at!
  • Y'never know Sue. Love it!!
  • Thanks for the feedback (including yours, Neil, which didn't answer my question, but did make me titter!) - I think I'm slightly clearer on the whole thing now.  Although, I suspect I will be starting new lines all the time from now on!  Damn: more paper - and it'll cost even more in postage!!!
  • A sidelong, if you are lucky enough to have one, is certainly worth looking at. Mine is twelve centimeters high and looks stunning in crushed velvet.
  • I'm not sure if my sidelong hasn't fallen off! Pardon me for butting in but this question is of importance to me too and while I'm here..., I am self taught from the age of eleven onwards and consequently am mystified by grammar and punctuation. I write as I think and barring a few corrections to the punctuation for my dialogue, my tutor made no comment. I asked a retired teacher to proofread my work recently but am not sure now if he understood what was needed. So wot I want to know is how important is it? Will any ms get thrown in the bin because of a misplaced comma or two? I don't have the time or space to go to school with my job.
  • Depending on the frequency - if you mean "a misplaced comma or two" per chapter, then this is not an issue at all (happens to the best of grammarians!). But if you mean a misplaced comma or two per paragraph, then it is a problem.
    And here are the important things to keep in mind when submitting:
    Grammar is the first thing that will be spotted. So, grammar comes at first place.
    Content comes only at third place, as contents are of personal liking and there will always be people who may enjoy the story you tell. But a badly written story will not see daylight at all. So, yes, things like grammar, punctuation and spelling are essential.
    At second place comes good sentence structure -that is the arrangement of words which convey the meaning. It may be gramatically correct but still unable to convey your thoughts well. Small publishers may disregard bad sentences to a certain degree while mainstream publishers will be very strict about that as well.
  • As for your original question - does prose continue on the same line after a dialogue:it  depends.

    The foolproof rule is that you can continue on the same line only if you describe the actions of the same person. Follow this rule and you'll almost always be correct.
    In your example, this goes:
    >>"My, what a magnificent pumpkin," Jenny mused. She moved away from the window.<<
    To be on an even safer side, don't continue on the same line at all but always start on a new one. In the above example, "She moved away from the window" will come on a new line, as a new paragraph.

    Here's why:

    Each new paragraph puts a break in the action. The sentences follow on the same line until such a break (a pause) is needed. If, in the above example, Jenny mused and almost immediately afterwards she moved away from the window, then no break is needed and the description continues on the same line. In most cases, though, the actions do not follow immediately. Immediately following actions give a sense of urgency and speed. So, it will depend on how you imagined the scene to develop. It's all up to you. Both your versions are gramatically correct, the difference is in the meaning.

    Normally, when you start describing another person's action, this means a slight pause had occurred. Imagine it as a movie - the camera would be have moved from one actor to the other. That's why a short break is proper and you should start on a new line (new paragraph) with the description of that other person's actions.

    There is an exception: when the other person's action followed almost immediately. So, in your example, if Phil looked at Jenny at about the same time as she spoke, then you can continue on the same line and describe his actions:
    >>"My, what a magnificent pumpkin," Jenny mused.  Phil looked at her sidelong.<<

    Most often, the case is that the second person reacts not immediately but after a pause. Therefore, their actions are most often described on a new line.

    A pause between your character's actions would also allow more time to the reader to absorb the meaning. Thus, the break in the lines becomes a way to emphasize what a character said, or what they did.

  • Thank you for that Gardenia: I like the analogy of a movie, with the camera shifting from one person to another - makes it much easier for me to understand it!
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