5

I know that it's one of the golden rules to start a new paragraph every time there's dialogue from a new speaker, but my conundrum is this: what if the two bits of dialogue are sharing a sentence?

That might sound kind of odd just spoken in theory, but bear with me. For example:

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed, at the same time that Corey shouted, "God, no!"

If one were to break the dialogue, like so...

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed.

At the same time, Corey shouted, "God, no!"

...then it becomes momentarily unclear upon the first reading that two people are speaking at the same time. The reader doesn't realize that Alexa is talking over anyone until they move down to the next paragraph, whereas in the first case, the eyes catch that there are two speakers at first glance. When you read it all in one sentence with no pauses, it sort of runs together--which, in this case, is actually the intention.

Let's relate this to a different form of storytelling: animation. Characters' positions on the screen between scenes have to move in an easy to follow manner, while poses should be clear enough so that even if one were to black out the entire character, their action is still clear by silhouette alone. All of these precautions are to make sure that a frame "reads" well; the viewer should be able to tell what's going on the instant it appears on the screen.

Sometimes, paragraph breaks can make things clunky and mess up the flow. It doesn't seem like much, but any small disruption can put enough of a roadblock in the flow of a scene to keep the reader from seeing what the author envisioned.

This conundrum has been haunting me. Thoughts?

  • I've seen it in some the classics read in college level creative writing classes, but I can't remember the authors/works so my answer is only in a comment. If someone whose work is studied now, then yes there are accepted times to break the convention. I've done it and would have written your sample paragraph the exact same way. Breaking it up causes a sort of mental delay to the dialogue when there really isn't one. Use of character's names easily prevent confusion in your example. – Seserous Jun 8 '18 at 23:18
4

I actually disagree with the other answers. I think there are occasionally situations where it's preferable to break this rule.

The most obvious one that I can think of is that you want to emphasise that the speech is very closely related (for instance, if two people speak simultaniously, as in your example). I think something like the following is perfectly ok, for example:

Tom and Katherine yelled "No way!" simultaneously, followed only a fraction of a second later by Barry's significantly softer, "Of course", and an even quieter, almost imperceptible "Hmm, maybe" from Steve.

This gives a very different effect to:

"No way!" yelled Tom and Katherine, simultaneously.

This was followed a fraction of a second later by Barry's significantly softer "Of course".

"Hmm, maybe." Steve's voice was so quiet as to be almost imperceptible.

The difference is that in the first example, all of the speech feels like it's part of a single action. There are (presumably) obvious reasons why writers don't generally want this effect, and why the "new character speaking, new paragraph" rule exists, but in those rare moments when it's exactly what you need, I think it's silly to obsess over the "rules" at the expense of the experience.

3

As they say, a good writer knows how to break the rules.
I'm dealing with this in a story I'm writing. Sometimes it just makes sense to keep different quotes in the same paragraph, especially if there's a lot of narrative around it. My advice would be to give main characters manners of speech that are distinct enough that who is speaking is clear enough from context that 'said so and so' is no longer necessary. In my story it's rather easy, as one of the main characters has a strong Turkish accent. Here's an example:

‘’So it was a failure?’’ Mia gazed toward Emine with glassy eyes and a folded brow. Emine softened her expression. ‘’Well, no one is stop TOKİ if zis your question, but protest was success. Too many peoples joined protest.’’ Mia’s eyes sharpened. ‘’Well, if the police broke the protest up, and nothing changed, that sounds like a failure.’’

The important thing is whether it is clear or not.

*As to your specific example, Scout, I think it's fine, but if I can nitpick, I'd say the sentence has too many function words.

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed, at the same time that Corey shouted, "God, no!"

'at the same time that' is 5 syllables! I'd reduced it to:

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed, just as Corey shouted, "God, no!" or even

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed, as Corey shouted, "God, no!"

Function words distract attention away from the interesting nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs that make your writing strong. They're just clutter. Try to reduce them wherever you can.

3

I'm in the 'spread it out' club. It makes it much easier to parse. It may look better and more concise on the page to do it in a smaller space, but you're making the reader do unnecessary work, and if you do it too often (or with more complex examples), then the reader's speed may drop, or worse they may lose track of who's speaking at all.

2

The short answer is no. There are no circumstances under which the convention should be broken.

Your example should be written:

"You wouldn't dare," Alexa hissed.

"God, no!" Corey shouted in chorus.

Or similar.

The convention is hard wired into the reader: new paragraph = new speaker. This 'rule' is extended by some writers to include action (or in action).

"Do something!" demanded Alexa.

Corey made no reply.

"Well?"

Corey shrugged.

"Are you a man or a mouse?"

Eye roll.

Slap!

  • See how easy that is to follow? Because the reader is aware of the convention.
0

Surtsey's reply is correct, and deserves acceptance.

You could also do something like this:

Encouraged by the frightened look on Corey's face, Alexandra hissed, "You wouldn't dare!"

That might or might not convey the meaning, depending on surrounding text.

-1

I agree there are exceptions and have read such in some writing book. The quotes were to be short.

The stretched out conversation between Alexa and Corey may be easy to understand, but it doesn't flow as well.

  • 1
    Hi Eloise. I emphasized what I believe is your proposed answer, to make it clearer that you are actually providing an answer to the question. That said, we greatly prefer answers that go into some depth, provide examples and elaboration to back up the claims or suggestions made. Answers that don't explain why they are correct are more likely to, at best, linger in obscurity, and may be downvoted by the community for not being useful. Consider how you can Edit this to elaborate more on why this is a correct answer to the question asked at the top of the page. Enjoy your stay! – a CVn Jun 7 '18 at 11:06

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