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"I wanna be - pants the president."

How do you format a dialogue when it is interrupted by an action verb or sound? I don't think this is the proper way. I am looking for a better alternative or the best alternative to format this properly. I am wondering what to do with the quotes and what to do with pants and how to indicate there's an interruption in speech.

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  • I don't understand what's happening in your example. May 24 at 20:05
  • 2
    are you saying that the character says three words, then stops to pant for a while, then gets their breath back and says two more words? May 24 at 20:20
  • Yes, that's exactly what's happening.
    – Sayaman
    May 24 at 20:22
  • @Sayaman: Sorry, I read that in an entirely different way. I read it as someone starting to say something (the first three words) then stopping to reach over and pants the president.
    – JRE
    May 26 at 7:30
  • @Sayaman: I would hope that your president doesn't use words like "wanna" when making speeches. "Wanna" is slang. "Want to" is the correct formulation.
    – JRE
    May 26 at 7:31
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At a minimum you have to interrupt the dialog. Either explain beforehand what the interruption is going to be, or put a longer description in the gap:

Chest heaving, he struggled for breath. Only a few words could come out at a time. "I want to be ... the president."

"I want to be - " he drew a long shuddering breath. "The president."

He ran up the stairs at full speed and burst into the room, panting and struggling for breath. "I want to be - " he inhaled loudly. "The president."

That sort of thing.

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The Australian author C.S Pacat often interrupts dialogue with action verbs, and she uses an Em-dash. Like this:

"He wants the Prince to" — he tried out the unfamiliar vocabulary — "offer for his contract." (From Captive Prince, p. 151)

So in your example, I would say: "I want to be" — he/she panted — "the President."

Personally, I wouldn't say he/she panted, because that makes it seems as if the character speaks, then starts panting, then continues. Instead, I would suggest one of these:

"I want to be" — he was still panting — "the President."

"I want to be" — she couldn't catch her breath — "the President."

"I want to be" — she was still panting — "the President."

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As mentioned earlier, your example requires a "stage direction". Anyway the issue becomes interesting when this is not in the gap, but before (or after) it. When we have to rely on a sign. Like in Kate Gregory's example:

Only a few words could come out a a time. "I want to be ... the president."

But there the three dots are, in my opinion, not the appropriate solution. Three dots are for me a less forced pause. More a pause for thought:

"What do you want to be when you grow up." She looks up at the stars and answers quietly. "I want to be ... the president."

In the gasping case, I'd prefer the hyphen.

Only a few words could come out a a time. "I want to be — the president."

By the way, same if the sentence breaks off in conversation.

Forced interruption:

"Honey, let me —" "I don't want to hear." "Please. I was just there to —" "You were there to meet her. And then you —" "Stop! That's not true."

Chosen interruption / fadeout:

"I love you. You are my ... greatest treasure. I ..." He listens to her while she continues speaking. "I ... I don't ... I don't know how to say it."

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