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First question I've asked on here so hopefully it isn't a silly one.

I am a little confused about a certain paragraph/dialogue convention I am using in something I am writing. Occasionally I have a situation where I include the actions of more than one character after a piece of dialogue in the same paragraph. An example would be:

"Please, John, do not let our urgent matters get in the way of your leisure," the man's voice echoed in the chamber as he scolded him for resting his feet on the table. John, slightly embarrassed, swung his legs to the floor and sat forward.

Would this be an acceptable format? I tend to find that it brings a good flow to the story (at least in my situation!)

Thanks for any help :)

  • I won't add an answer since, I dunno, this is just opinion: but as well as it being acceptable the way you've written it, it is also acceptable in the opposite format (".....table" as paragraph one, then "John, slightly...." as paragraph 2). Personally, I feel like I would go for the latter, but they both work fine. – Mac Cooper Jan 6 '15 at 19:45
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    Well I know the guidelines say not to use the comments for thanking anyone but to heck with it. I really appreciate all the answers and Mac's comment. While there was some conflicting advice I think all of it was very valuable. – Sean Jan 7 '15 at 0:12
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Your real problem is that you have dialogue, and then the narration immediately after it tells us what the dialogue just said. Remove that bit.

If we don't know that John's legs are on the table (as opposed to the chair, a statue, or someone's head), move that to John's action sentence.

"Please, John, do not let our urgent matters get in the way of your leisure," the older man said, his sharp voice echoing in the small chamber. John, slightly embarrassed, swung his legs off the table to the floor and sat forward.

It's fine that those are both in the same paragraph. You could even put them in the same sentence:

"Please, John, do not let our urgent matters get in the way of your leisure," the older man added, and John quickly swung his legs to the floor and sat forward.

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I don't know if it's correct to write it or not but I had no problem with the original sentence the way it is. The description presented both the mood in the situation and also conveyed a bit of what kind of person the other one in the room is.

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Good question. Typically it's fine, but it may bring up problems to deal with in the paragraph, and now you have a few: "...he scolded him..." This leads to the silly predicament, grammatically, of which is which. Since we know he was talking to john, that it is he scolded john, but the reader has to think of that, and grammatically you've made the reader assume your meaning. Generally a no-no.

Otherwise it's acceptable but cognitively costly. As a reader I have to re-read this first sentence twice to really grasp what's happening, not because there are two things, but because of the underlying structure. Dialog, then who the dialog came from, then an emotion from another character, finally ending with an action from the 2nd character. That's a lot for a single sentence, and the fact that it's two characters doing two different things can cause confusion.

I recommend just leaving simple actions for two characters in a single sentence for easier understanding. Right now I have trouble picturing the scene you are spelling out without reading it multiple times and thinking about it. If you can read it and just see it, then voila.

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