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In films, you hear people exchange a phrase or two before the camera pans to someone else and so on. Is it ok to do that in a novel? What are some ways of doing this?

Example:

"The cops came in" Joanne said.

"Oh, seriously!?" Mona said.

"Yeah, I--" Joanne said

Markus was sitting on a couch smoking a cigar. He was extremely hungry, because he didn't eat anything for hours.

"Man, I am hungry." Markus said.

"I am too and--" Marco replied.

I am not sure why, but I don't think it's possible to capture that effect outside of films. The transition text cannot cut someone talking. I mean we can, but it looks odd and it doesn't feel justified to cut a dialogue like that unless someone is interrupted by an actual person and not because the "focus" of the narration was lost.

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  • You want your scene to last just "a phrase or two", not to have a long scene cut midsentece to create some sort of cliffhanger?
    – Alexander
    Aug 3 '21 at 23:28
  • "Is it ok to do that in a novel?" Have you seen this in any of the novels you've read? Aug 4 '21 at 6:37
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The reason you see this technique in a movie is because they have no other way of telling you that Joanne and Mona continued to discuss the time the cops came in but our attention is going elsewhere. In a novel, you have narration and a POV character.

"The cops came in" Joanne said.

"Oh, seriously!?" replied Mona.

Joanne continued to explain but [I/Steve] turned to see Markus sitting on a couch smoking a cigar.

"Man, I am hungry." Markus said. "I haven't eaten anything for hours."

"I am too" Marco agreed.

Meanwhile, outside, ...

In addition to "meanwhile," you have "across town" or "back at the apartment" and so on. Rather than interrupting a conversation mid-word, you narrate that "they continued to argue/reminisce/plan" and then you use a scene switching phrase to establish that new dialog is happening in a different location.

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I take it that you're asking how to write dialog where people interrupt one another.

This formatting differs from culture to culture (or language to language). In English, it's the em dash (—) that's used for interruptions. In other cultures/languages, the ellipsis (…) could be used to do the same. So if you write in any other language than English you'll need to do research.

I'd write your example like this in order to make it obvious they are interrupting each other:

"The cops came in," Joanne said.

"Oh, seriously!?" Mona said.

"Yeah," Joanne said, "I—"

"Man, I am hungry," Markus said. He was sitting on a couch…

I.e. avoid any dialog cues or other text between the line of dialog being interrupted and the line that interrupts.

Marcus pops into the scene a bit abruptly, at least if he's sitting on the couch. If he comes in smoking a cigar, I think it might work better. Or you might introduce him earlier in the scene, maybe even have some "hungry" body language from him while Joanne and Mona talk.

Also, pay attention to the punctuation and formatting throughout this example. Dialog does have a right and a wrong format...

This is an English example. Other cultures might use different dialog formatting, e.g. replacing quotes with a dash, using other types of quotes, or changing the order of the quote and comma. So again, if you're not writing in English, you'll need to check out the convention for your language/culture.

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    I think Marcus is in another scene entirely in the context of the question.
    – Weckar E.
    Aug 4 '21 at 10:20
  • The reason Joanne is interrupted is because the "camera" pans to a different person in the same room, but there's no camera in a novel if that makes any sense. I am wondering if this can be done.
    – Sayaman
    Aug 4 '21 at 11:45
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    @Sayaman, but wouldn't Joanne still be heard finishing her line if we're in the same room? You can definitely get the effect of camera work in a novel. You do it by focusing on (describing) different things. However, it will not be required to be nor be practical to be as detailed as in a movie or TV show. For instance, in dialog, you keep the flow of the dialog unless someone interrupts themselves or someone else. It's unusual to stop midsentence to describe things. Actions get clumped together with the speaker, usually on the paragraph of the dialog.
    – Erk
    Aug 4 '21 at 13:33
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If I understand your question correctly, there seems to be two parts. The first part is how to write the dialogue for when a character is interrupted. The second part is how to describe a character entering a scene without actually entering the room.

For the first part, Erk's response works well. Using a dash (—) or ellipses (…) is a common cue for a sentence being cut short.

For the second part, you can use Joanne as a way of "panning the camera". For example:

"Man, I am hungry." Markus said, startling Joanne.

Joanne turned to see Markus with his head thrown back on the couch. In her heated conversation with Mona, she almost forgot he was there.

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