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I am in the middle of writing a scene between two characters, a cello player, Lisa and her friend from college, Jack. Lisa has recently lost her sight, and Jack is trying to encourage her back into music.

The following piece of dialogue is spoken entirely by Jack, but the POV is from Lisa (so I'm limited to how I can describe the "action"), and the action is from both characters.

"Hang on, I got you this," Jack said, thrusting a book into Lisa's hands. "I didn't exactly know what I was looking for, but this place has everything." He took her hand and guided it to the top of the book, where Lisa could feel the raised bumps of braille under her fingertips; it was a music score. "Lisa, you gotta come with me to see—" Lisa could feel the panic vibrating through him as soon as the words left his mouth. "Shit, sorry," he said. "I am so sorry."

Should it all be on the one paragraph? I feel like it doesn't look right.

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The general rule is to start a new paragraph for dialogue or action by a new character. Everything you wrote here is Lisa describing and thinking about what Jack has said or done. So, yes, it can go into one paragraph.

But it doesn't have to. If you feel more comfortable breaking up, then break it up. The new paragraph will allow the scene to breathe a bit more. I would break it after "score." Why? Because that is likely when the characters are pausing as well. Lisa is checking out her new book and getting far enough with it to realize it's a music score (something that will take her longer than it would someone glancing at a traditionally printed one). They're both enjoying the moment that Jack's gift created.

"Hang on, I got you this," Jack said, thrusting a book into Lisa's hands. "I didn't exactly know what I was looking for, but this place has everything." He took her hand and guided it to the top of the book, where Lisa could feel the raised bumps of braille under her fingertips; it was a music score.

"Lisa, you gotta come with me to see—" Lisa could feel the panic vibrating through him as soon as the words left his mouth. "Shit, sorry," he said. "I am so sorry."

This way there is time for both the characters and the reader to shift to the next part, which is Jack starting a new topic of conversation. It also helps frame his screwup and allows the reader to feel his panic along with Lisa.

  • Thanks very much, that feels much better. I was trying to think of where to split it. – Melanie Gault-Taylor Aug 5 at 23:57
  • I agree with the premise of Cyn's answer, and I'd suggest adding another line break before "He took her hand...", because while the independent subject is "he," it's still a sentence about Lisa's experience. The line break also gives it just another breath between the dialogue and the action, which might be needed in this scene. – wordsworth Aug 6 at 0:39
  • @wordsworth's suggestion works well too. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 6 at 3:07
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An expansion on what @Cyn wrote:

The rule is to begin a new paragraph when the dialogue switches to another character. But within the speech of one character, the general rules of paragraph formatting apply:

  • Begin a new paragraph when the character has finished one topic or idea or part of his speech and tells something else.
  • Begin a new paragraph, if you want, to break up a long monologue to facilitate the reader's visual orientation on the page and his ease of reading.

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