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I'm writing a book, and there's a point I've come up to where there's an action, plus dialogue from two different characters. Here's the excerpt:

“What do you want for her?” Dane asked. The man paused in thought. "Five hundred."

Now, what is the best way to format this? Is it A:

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked.¶
The man paused in thought. "Five hundred."

Or could it be B?

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked. The man paused in thought.¶
"Five hundred."

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2 Answers 2

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The rule is to have a paragraph break when the subject changes.

In the context of fiction writing the subject can be thought of as the character who does something. The subject of an utterance is always its speaker, therefore there is a paragraph break when the speaker changes during dialogue.

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked.   ← Dane is the subject of both the action of asking and the question that he utters.

The man paused in thought.   ← The man is the subject of the action of pausing in thought.

"Five hundred."   ← Since there is no dialogue tag and this utterance follows a sentence with the man as its subject, we must assume that the man is saying this and therefore the subject of this part of the dialogue.

As there is a change in subject between "... Dane asked." and "The man paused ...", and nowhere else, a paragraph break must be introduced there and only there:

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked.¶
The man paused in thought. "Five hundred."


There is an optional exception from the rule above. If the subject changes for only a brief insertion, this doesn't require a paragraph break. So, if Dane also spoke the last sentence, we could render this as:

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked. The man paused in thought. "Five hundred?" Dane added, hopefully.

Here the impression is that Dane's dialogue is paused only briefly and that he immediately continues when he sees the mans hesitation. If you wanted to suggest a longer break during which Dane waits for the man's reaction and only continues after some more thinking, you could present it this way:

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked.¶
The man paused in thought.¶
"Five hundred?" Dane added, hopefully.

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The general rule is one speaker per paragraph, so

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked.

The man paused in thought. "Five hundred."

is most correct.

It would be equally valid to incorporate the man's pause with Dane's dialogue.

"What do you want for her?" Dane asked. The man paused in thought.

"Five hundred."

This approach implies the pause, and the reason behind it, is Dane's interpretation of the man's action.

The difference between the two is in 'A' the narrator tells us why the man paused, whereas in 'B' the narrator tells use that Dane believed the man paused because he was thinking. Maybe Dane was wrong. Maybe the man was thinking about cheese or something. In 'B', we don't actually know. That's one of the knobs writers can control the flow of information and create insight into character's internal mindset.

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