Dialogue can get messy, jumping from character to character with beats and prose mixed in here and there. How do you handle all the paragraph breaks? Obviously anytime a new character speaks you have to start a new paragraph. What about when a character speaks followed by a beat that leads back into prose for a few lines. Can a "beat" consist of more than a single sentence.

Here's an example to help me clarify: (My thoughts on the subject are in parenthesis)

“Were you just going to leave it like that?” Hayden asked. (This is dialogue that needs it's own line)

“I… Well… obviously not forever. I was… I was waiting for you to come back. What were you doing?” Jasper felt his voice shake. This was too much all at once. There were people riding some sort of machines, another in the woods, and now Calloway had an arrow sticking out of his leg. (Dialogue of another character needs a new line. This paragraph also includes a bit of that character's thoughts)

Hayden touched the arrow shaft. “Does this hurt?” (New line of dialogue)

Calloway nodded, fighting back tears. (Does this need it's own line? It's not dialogue but relates to a different character)

Hayden wiggled the arrow back and forth, watching as Calloway flinched at every movement. (Does this need it's own line?)

Jasper admired his sister’s bravery, her fearlessness. (Another new line?)

“Can you come help me?” Hayden asked, forcing Jasper into action. “It’s too deep to pull out, but we don’t have the tools to cut it out either. Hold this,” she said, giving Jasper control of the arrow shaft. She rummaged through a tool box, grabbed a pair of wire cutters and attempted to cut through the arrow shaft. After a few squeezes the handmade arrow snapped. Calloway grunted as the point recoiled. (This needs a new line because it's dialogue but followed by a bit of prose. Do I need to start a new paragraph at "She rummaged through...")

Jasper returned to the kitchen and ladled out a mugful of steaming tea, listening to Hayden telling Calloway to hold still. When he rejoined them, Calloway was sitting upright, hugging his knees. Hayden had wrapped the wound, stabilizing the arrow by padding the area around it. The bandage was easier to look at. (Does this need to be it's own paragraph or can it be connected to the prior paragraph since it's not new dialogue?)

Sorry that's a long example. I'm just confused about what structure sections of mixed dialogue and prose should be in.


1 Answer 1


There isn't a hard and fast rule. Just split where it seems sensible.

If someone does something while talking or closely connected with their speech, it can be in the same paragraph.

"Use this," Jack said. He put the gun on the table.

If it's separated in time or logically separate or you want to create a short break or pause, then use a new paragraph.

"Use this," Jack said.

He did something entirely irrelevant.

The same factors apply with other paragraph breaks: how long you like your paragraphs to be, how happy your audience is with long paragraphs, what you want to emphasise, how you want to group things logically, what rhythm you want to create. As with your example, it's common to start a new paragraph when the focus shifts to someone else, but it's not mandatory; it often gives a sensation of rapid movement which you may or may not want.

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