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Can you please advise if there is a preferred way of separating speech and description into paragraphs in English writing?

Specifically, I mean a description and/or internal thoughts from the point of view of one character directly followed by a speech coming from that same character. Do you merge them into a single paragraph or split into two?

For example, this excerpt:

He thought about her remark. It reminded him of ... [this internal pondering can go for a while] ... But he was not sure. "Tell me more, please."

  • I've seen both. Usually I'd say if the paragraph is already really long to speak in a new one but this is just to break up a block of text than because of any rule, and I've seen paragraphs with both going on for well over a page (By Hemingway) :) – Mac Cooper Mar 28 '15 at 17:03
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The description can be as long as you like, in one paragraph, so long as it's one idea. If there are two ideas, break into two paragraphs.

Dialogue typically gets it's own paragraph, even if it's by the character whose thinking generated the description that precedes it. Same reason. It's another idea, strictly speaking.

"Do you see what I mean?" GJ asks GI.

Who made this piece of junk? I can't ride it, he thinks. It'll fall apart underneath me. It reminded him of an old chair in the office which always fell into two pieces whenever anybody sat on it.

"Tell me more, please. About this ... thing, I mean."

"Of course, sir! It's a real treasure -- "

Don't tell me that! thinks he. I know what a real treasure this is.

The one exception is the case where thinking and dialogue, all by one character, are mixed together or alternate, if these sentences form a single idea. You could put it in a single paragraph, as is often done.

After some difficulty cutting the steak, almost instantly he regretted putting it into he mouth. "It's delicious," John mumbled to his grinning hosts. This chews like a rubber shoe he thinks. He bit down hard. "So how'd you make this? I mean ... it tastes great!" It tasted like the paper taken out of the office shredder, in fact. "Where did you buy this?" It's spoiled, they fed me rotten meat, thinks he.

John excused himself from the table after a few moments -- to go wash his hands. Actually he went to vomit. He thought he was going to die; he ran the entire way to the sink.

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I am not aware of any valid rule that addresses your question. There are some guidelines.

  1. length. If the paragraph is too long, split it.
  2. pacing. If the action is fast use shorter paragraphs, longer paragraphs to show thought.
  3. topic. You seldom want disjoint ideas in the same paragraph except to show contrast.

You may notice that the guidelines I listed do not directly address your question. This is because there is no standard, which is a good thing. The method I like to use is to not add paragraphs to dialog on the first pass, just get the words down, then come back and break things up as needed.

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