Which is more appropriate:

The air carried a bitter chill, but was clear and unpolluted.

“Oh wow,” I said. “I know how Black Friday has a reputation for crowds, but this takes it to a new level!”

“That’s why we don’t usually go shopping on Black Friday, honey,” my mother replied, squeezing my shoulder, "but I think we can make an exception this time."


The air, clear and unpolluted, carried a bitter chill.

"Oh, wow," I said. "I know how Black Friday has a reputation for crowds, but this takes it to a new level!"

"That's why we don't usually go shopping on Black Friday, honey," replied my mother as she squeezed my shoulder, "but I think we can make an exception this time."

Thank you!


5 Answers 5


The answer to a question of style will always be, it depends. In the example given, I'd say that the minor action disrupts the dialog, but that's without knowing the context of this excerpt. And this is meant to be an example. There's no rule for how to place minor detail, but there are helpful ways to think about it.

Every reader imagines the story a little differently. How much detail to provide is a writer's choice. The choices made will, over time, make up their style.

Minor details are generally given to flesh out a world. The color of someone's eyes, the make of a car, the address of someone's apartment—these are all examples of details that are given to make a world seem more real. The person's face, the car, the apartment—these are details that will guide the reader's imagination towards the picture the author has in mind. Similarly, minor actions can give context to a character's larger actions, bringing a character's behavior closer to what a writer wants. If all goes well, this will result in well-drawn locations and characters.

You may say, this is all excellent, but how does it help?

When asking where to place a minor detail or action, you might do better than looking at any one example. Have a look at your own writing. In particular, try to find some favorite passages, ones you feel worked well. Bits of action and description that you're proud of.

Where did you put colorful details? Did you interrupt dialog? Did you find clever ways to work it in? Did you have expository sections? There are no correct choices, only the ones that work.

Try to find commonalities between these passages and use that as a guide, but don't be bound by anything. Know your strengths, but don't worry about taking risks.


Appropriate? Are you kidding us? This is not a question about appropriateness. Sounds like your English teacher shoved too much unnecessary stuff into your head.

This is a question of style. It's about find your voice. The only person capable to answer its "appropriateness" is you. Which version do you like better? What does your gut tell you? Then that's exactly the right choice. Learn to trust yourself.

(If you really can't decide: No one complains if he has to read fewer words. So choose the version with the fewer amount of words if in doubt.)


I agree that the answer is "it depends." I personally would write:

My mother squeezed my shoulder. "That's why we don't usually go shopping on Black Friday, honey, but I think we can make an exception this time."

In my view, if Mum is squeezing my shoulder, it goes without saying that the sentence following within the quotation marks is her reply. But then again, I'm making the supposition that you'll have a fair bit of speech in your story and will be looking for ways to stop saying "said" and "replied" repeatedly. If there's some show after the tell, your first example is just fine - as is the second!


Some authors claim it's bad style to tag a speaker with action instead of "said". - I strongly disagree If you teach your readers that they can rely on you sticking to "one speaker per paragraph" and that you never mix emotes of one speaker with words of another, just skip "said" if there's an action taking place.

"That's why we don't usually go shopping on Black Friday, honey." My mother squeezed my shoulder. "But I think we can make an exception this time."

Less verbiage, less clutter, everyone knows that she said this and unless she spoke it in an entirely atypical manner, really no need to remind the readers that what's in quotes is being said.

Note, there are specific punctuation rules in cases like these.

  • "Action" interruptions (like in my example) are separated with a full stop, treated as a separate sentence. In this case starting a new sentence with But is forgivable.

  • "Speaking" interruptions (said, muttered, shouted, admonished) are separated with a comma:

...Black Friday, honey," my mother said, "but I think...


I like the first one.

On the other hand there is no real better here other than personal preference and consistency of style. I still line the first one, it's more optimistic.

  • Agreed, it depends but I prefer the first; it just reads better to me :)
    – CLockeWork
    Dec 2, 2013 at 11:34

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