4

What would be the correct way to format the following exchange in narrative prose? Is it:

Alice sits on the bench, silent. Eventually, I speak.
"What are we going to do?"
After a long pause, she responds.
"I don't think we can do anything."

Or is it:

Alice sits on the bench, silent. Eventually, I speak.
"What are we going to do?"
After a long pause, she responds, "I don't think we can do anything."

Or is it something else entirely?

  • In your first example, your formatting is fine, but it does give the impression of a slight pause before each line. If you run up the lines as @mwo suggests, you are separating each speaker into a new paragraph without making the reader feel like there's a short but meaningful wait between lines of dialogue. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 31 '15 at 0:45
7

Try to give each character their own paragraphs.

Alice sits on the bench, silent.

Eventually, I speak. "What are we going to do?"

After a long pause, she responds. "I don't think we can do anything."

Note, I chose the period after 'responds'. 'Responds' isn't interchangeble with 'says'. For example, all these are valid...

she says, "I don't think we can do anything."
she whispers, "I don't think we can do anything."
she screams, "I don't think we can do anything."

these are awkward...

she speaks, "I don't think we can do anything."
she responds, "I don't think we can do anything."
she talks, "I don't think we can do anything."

It's better to stick to 'says' and 'asks' if you are unsure of the difference.

  • You've given some great answers. Glad you're here. – user5645 May 30 '15 at 9:39
  • 1
    Thanks, but really I'm just putting off starting that next chapter. – mwo May 30 '15 at 9:53
  • I don't mind "responds" with a comma, but it has to work in context. It doesn't always fit. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum May 31 '15 at 0:42
2

There is the old adage that you should never use anything other than (she/he) said

But I think it is more a case of being consistent, by having a consistent way of marking speech you produce a couple of benefits to the reader.

Firstly, they can unconsciously ignore the 'who said' part, unless they need to clarify who said. If you know it is there, your brain skips over it and you can simply take in the flow of conversation. This makes for a much less jagged reading experience.

Secondly, if your character suddenly 'shouts' a line, it will add a huge amount of emphasis amongst a sea of 'said' dialogue. Considerably more than if you have liberally scattered the contents of thesaurus's said page amongst your dialogue.

So to actually answer the question! choose a simple style that the reader can learn and then ignore. I don't think it matters greatly what it is, just be consistent.

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