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Now I'm not sure whether this is something that's an accepted teaching with regards to structuring paragraphs, or just something that is commonly used...

I'm talking about paragraphs that are structured as follows:

"Quote," attribution, "continuance"

You see this throughout literature.

My question is, can I break this norm?

"Quote," attribution, "continuance," further explanation, "completion of quote."

Here's an example:

“Dawn once told me about a problem she once had with her step-mother." Wendy cast a furtive glance at Dawn, to check that she allowed Wendy to continue, "The one where she found her step-mother..." she reduced her volume considerably, "with someone who was not her father."

I've emboldened the narrative away from the quotation to illustrate what I mean.

Is this acceptable?
Granted, this is a fairly trivial example, but the the principle of what I'm asking remains.

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You can insert narrative into dialogue wherever a speaker might pause:

"You," she finally looks at me, "have been," her finger touches me on the chest, "much too reckless with my heart." She pushes me away and stands. "Go!" She points at the door. "And don't come back."

Where the speaker pauses will depend not on syntactic rules but on what makes sense in your story. For me even this feels fine:

"You," she finally looks at me, "have been," her finger touches me on the chest, "much too reckless," she leans close, "with," kisses me, "my heart."

Interweaving the description and dialogue in this way makes sense because the behavior and the words flow in unison. You can imagine the speaker pausing for effect when her actions become increasingly contradictory to her words. Still, you might find a clear separation more sylistically elegant:

She finally looks at me and touches me on the chest "You have been much to reckless with my heart." She kisses me, then pushes me away and stands. "Go!"

That is of course not the same chain of events, and you might prefer words and action in parallel. But you must not overuse such a "special effect", because it soon becomes annoying to the reader, as any deviation from the usual.

  • While your second example isn't strictly grammatically correct, I wouldn't mind it if the entire piece had a similar stream-of-consciousness broken-grammar feel. I'd have to see it in context, though. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jul 10 '14 at 10:02
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    Personally (as a reader and writer) I prefer grammatical aberrations limited to climactic plot points to heighten intensity. A whole book of experimental prose is indigestible for me. – user5645 Jul 10 '14 at 10:14
  • I agree entirely. But de gustos non disputandum. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jul 10 '14 at 13:07
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The problem is that the prose in the middle is stage business, and there are only so many times you can interrupt with stage business. I think you have to punctuate the non-dialogue bits as sentences, not interrupters.

“Dawn once told me about a problem she once had with her step-mother." Wendy cast a furtive glance at Dawn, to check that she was allowing Wendy to continue. "The one where she found her step-mother..." She reduced her volume considerably. "...with someone who was not her father."

The continuing dialogue can have ellipses and dashes and whatnot to indicate that the speaker hasn't actually stopped speaking, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of an example where you can interrupt with prose more than once.

ETA @what actually gives a decent example, although I note in my comment that it only works if the entire piece is structured in the same loose way.

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    Thanks for your answer. I rarely come across an opportunity where this kind of thing is called for; this may even be the first case since I began writing. I see your point about about the sentences and the dialogue seems all the more cohesive. Thanks again. – Dan Hanly Jul 9 '14 at 21:50

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