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I've noticed I've been putting lots of action between someone's dialogue and have many inconsistencies and wanted to know if there was a difference between different ways of punctuating it or if it didn't matter. For example:

“What…?” a man started, holding his head as he sat on the ground. “What was that for?”

“Well, since you guys didn’t stop when I assume you heard the shots,” -he motioned toward Dempsey beside him- “continued to harass this guy,” -he pointed to the guard in from of the gate- “and, on top of that, you didn't stop when you presumably saw me, I did what I thought would really get your attention and from the looks of it, it worked like a charm.”

Would it be better for the action to be abrupt:

…heard the shots-" he motioned to the Dempsey behind him "-continued…"

Leading into it:

…heard the shots…" he motioned toward Dempsey behind him " …continued…"

Or as a part of the sentence:

"…heard the shots," he motioned toward Dempsey behind him, " continued…"

Or is there some other way(s) to punctuate it in a way that makes sense and isn't jarring? Some other method to integrating motion into a line of dialogue?

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    Imho, neither works well. If you have a continuous line of dialog, try to keep it together. Otherwise, split it into multiple lines, so the reader won't have to "stitch" the long line when it is interrupted by descriptions.
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 21:53

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Your punctuation doesn't seem right. I won't say it's wrong because there's probably some case for it in English, but as a reader, the dashes and the run-on sentence confused me.

This is how I'd done the punctuation in your example.

“Well, since you guys didn’t stop when I assume you heard the shots,” he said, motioning toward Dempsey beside him. “...continued to harass this guy...” He pointed to the guard in from of the gate. “...and, on top of that[---]”

However, this makes the talker do a lot of pauses as I read it. I'd probably remove the second pause:

“Well, since you guys didn’t stop when I assume you heard the shots, continued to harass this guy...” He pointed to the guard in from of the gate. “...and, on top of that[---]”

However, since this may be a case of one character getting a sentence that is too long (though I understand there's a gun involved maybe he could talk that much without interruptions) you may also want to break it up. Using interruptions from other characters or by letting Dempsey talk. That way you won't have to deal with such a long sentence.

For example (I'll call "he" "Bob"):

“Well, since you guys didn’t stop when I assume you heard the shots,” Bob said, motioning toward Dempsey beside him.

"You fucking shot him," the man on the ground said.

"And you continued to harass this guy." He pointed to the guard in from of the gate.

"Are you insane?"

Bob looked at him for a moment as if contemplating the question. "And on top of that[---]"

Finally, I'd change the first sentence to:

“What…?” one of the men said[---]

"A man" makes me think a completely new guy-jumping-out-from-the-crowd is talking, but I'm assuming there's a group of men in front of the POV character.

Use "said," but use it as little as possible for instance by using action to indicate who speaks:

"Well..." He spat on the ground. "Since you guys didn’t stop[---]"

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  • Yes, there is a new guy jumping out of the crown in this scene. This whole scene is supposed to be a high-ranking military official crashing a groups riot with an elemental explosion. However, since you gave me a whole new scenario, I think I might use it and build off it, if you don't mind? Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 23:03
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    @KevM Not at all... go for it! :D
    – Erk
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 23:07

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