I understand how to punctuate dialogue interrupted by action. But there are two main examples of where I feel it's effective for the same character to interrupt their own dialogue.

  • Example 1: Character is speaking when something unexpected happens like a trip

"So you seriously think I shouldn't wear hee-- OH CRAP!" said Annie, as she tripped over and broke her left heel.

It's probably a stylistic choice, but I feel the above has a much better flow and humor than if the "oh crap" is placed after the interrupting action.

  • Example 2 - Character is having an internal debate in his/her thoughts

It's definitely a bad idea. No it's not, just do it. No definitely a b-- JUST DO IT!

I think this communicates well the internal escalation of the character's own debate about what to do.

Therefore, is there a better way to punctuate the above or are these examples ok as they are? I haven't been able to find any punctuation examples on this specific use case, but please point me to them if they do exist.

1 Answer 1


I tend to use ellipses ("...") and dashes (-) depending on the nature of interuption. The former is for a pregnant pause when the character has a verbal dialog with him/herself over a problem, i.e.:

"5 times 3 is 15. Carry the 1... divid by 2... account for change in gravity..."

While a dash will be used for dialog that would start off as a statement and suddenly shift to a question, imperative, or interjection mid-statement i.e.:

"Don't worry. Our early warning system will let us know about any incoming project- OH MY GOD! DUCK!"

It's important that you leave enough context in the statment that the cut off word is easily known to the reader and should always cut between syllables rether than mid-word. Your use of "Hee-" didn't make any sense to me that she was having trouble in heels (truth be told, I thought it was a Michael Jackson reference). If you're keeping the reader from realizing she is in heels until she stumbles, better to cut off after "wear" or find an interjection that pairs with "Heels" like "He-- ELLLL!" then add in the dialog tag she stumbled in her heels.

Same in your second example where "No definately b-" doesn't read as a cut off of "bad" to me. At the very least, if verbalizing thoughts, give a "ba-" and I recomend a forced compound word of "JUSTDOIT!" to show a sudden shift in how it's heard.

  • This is interesting, I've always only ever used em dashes for dialogue interruptions and cutoffs, so I am wondering how standard the use of a single dash for interruptions is?
    – FrontEnd
    Jan 19, 2021 at 15:00
  • It's more just a dash. I only did the single one for here as word processors will turn a "--" into a single long dash.
    – hszmv
    Jan 19, 2021 at 15:06
  • Sorry confused here, do you mean you meant to use the em dash (long dash) but used the en dash (single short dash) instead?
    – FrontEnd
    Jan 21, 2021 at 7:02
  • @FrontEnd: If there is a grammatical difference between the two, I am unaware of it. As long as you are consistently applying it in your work, I won't fuss over it. J.K. Rowling famously use four periods in her ellipses but that hasn't stopped me from reading Harry Potter.
    – hszmv
    Jan 21, 2021 at 12:22
  • Yes there's definitely usage differences, I think the emdash makes most sense here as that is it's main use in dialogue. Please see here: grammarist.com/usage/hyphen-en-dash-or-em-dash
    – FrontEnd
    Jan 22, 2021 at 3:06

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