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I know you can add dialogue to the same paragraph as an action to show who's talking, but what happens when a character is making a speech and it's broken up by actions (hand movements, looking at other characters, etc)?

  • Do I start a new paragraph for each action he does, even though he just continues talking?
  • Do I start a new paragraph when he resumes talking?

For example, if I have two paragraphs of text, and between them is a sentence of an action, where precisely do I use paragraph breaks?

If I get rid of all the paragraph breaks, it just turns into a wall of text, but without them, I'm worried it will look needlessly broken up and chaotic.

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Perhaps you could interrupt the dialogue with dashes wherever the action is performed.

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It's a judgement call. You can certainly combine dialogue and actions in the same paragraph, and it's generally a good idea to do so when writing about someone giving a speech. But as you said, the "wall of text" is also a potential problem.

The speech your character is giving will probably have separate ideas in it, times when you would make a paragraph break if you were transcribing the speech. That's likely a good place to make the break in your action/dialogue.

For example:

The family was all staring at me, all waiting for me to start making sense. I did my best. "I know it's been a long time. I know it's been hard to figure out what I've been up to, and I'm sorry if that's been frustrating."

I took a deep breath. It was hard to argue with an introduction that general, but I was about to get into the meat of it all, and that's where the trouble would come. "The thing is, I've been doing some digging. Some research, and what I've found has changed my mind about so much. First of all," I said, fixing my gaze on Charlie, "I found out about that night. The night you and Alexandra made the deal."

Alexandra and Charlie exchanged shocked looks and Charlie started to sputter out a denial, but I held up my hand and, miraculously, he complied with my request for silence. I guess I must have really caught him by surprise.

"And I know about everything you did after that, all the ways the deal played out..." etc.

Might not make sense without the context, but I think it shows the general idea? Mixing dialogue and actions in the same paragraph is good, but it's also good to avoid walls of text by using logical paragraph breaks.

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