Writing [Tutorial] The Secret to Proper Paragraphing and Dialogue

OokamiKasumi

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Want to Know the Biggest Secret in the Fiction Writing Industry?
It's not the Plotting they use, the Characters, the Theme, the Settings, or anything else like that.
It's the Sentence Structure.




DISCLAIMER: This is how I was taught to structure dialogue for publication purposes -- by my editors.
If you don't want to do it this way -- Don't. (Less competition for me.)


The Secret to Proper Paragraphing & Writing Dialogue
(NOT a punctuation article.)

Once you know what your characters are doing and saying, how do you get all that down on paper without ending up with a huge confusing mess?

Putting the Story on Paper.

Everybody knows that when a new speaker speaks they get a new paragraph, right? In other words, you DON'T put two different people talking in the same paragraph. Okay, yeah, so anyone who has written any kind of fiction learns this pretty darned quick, (usually from their readers.)

What nobody seems to get is that the same goes for a new character's ACTIONS. Seriously, when a new character ACTS they're supposed to get their own paragraph -- even if they don't speak!

In short, you paragraph by change in CHARACTER -- not because they speak, but because they ACT. Ahem... Dialogue is an ACTION. In other words, the reason you don't put two different characters' Dialogue in the same paragraph is BECAUSE you don't mix two characters' Actions. Okay?

"Wait a minute, doesn't that cut everything into tiny bits, you know, when you cut all the dialogue away then divide up all those paragraphs?"

No because Character A's dialogue is supposed to be IN Character A's paragraph of actions. Character B gets their own paragraph of dialogue AND actions.

You divide up a story's paragraphs by individual Character -- not by individual lines of Dialogue OR Actions.

What you definitely don't do, is cut all the dialogue away from everything and mash all the different characters' actions together in one messy paragraph where no one can tell who did what.

"Where the heck did THAT rule come from?"

http://www.amazon.com/The-Elements-Style-Fourth-Edition/dp/020530902X

Strunk & White's Element's of Style, the grammar handbook.​

To wit…
"In dialogue, each speech, even if only a single word, is a paragraph by itself; that is, a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker."

This is often misinterpreted as "Make a new paragraph at every new line of dialogue."

Um... No. The key phrase here is:

"a new paragraph begins with each change of Speaker."

As long as the Speaker is Acting, the Speaker HAS NOT CHANGED.

However, every time a new character Acts, you ARE Changing Speakers -- even if they don't talk! Therefore, each new character ACTING gets a New Paragraph, whether or not they have dialogue.


How this works...

WRONG:
"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. <-- Two Characters acting in the same paragraph.

Becky mumbled, "I wouldn't so much say named, as gave it an identifying word to distinguish it from all the other stuffed cute kitty plushies." <-- this whole line is Abandoned Dialogue.

RIGHT:
Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. "You named a stuffed animal?"

Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. "I wouldn't so much say named, as gave it an identifying word to distinguish it from all the other stuffed cute kitty plushies."

What's Missing?

'Becky mumbled.' This is an unnecessary Dialogue tag. Once you link a character's Dialogue to their corresponding Actions, you no longer need the Dialogue tags.

If you really, really want to add that Becky mumbled her words, describe it as an Action. Don't TELL us that she mumbled, SHOW us.

Example:
Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. Her voice dropped to barely a mumble. "I wouldn't so much say named, as gave an identifying word to distinguish it from all the other stuffed cute kitty plushies."

-----Original Message-----
"What if the next internals and action/dialogue are his, like:"
"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. Her reaction was adorable and he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."
"Then can you lump those actions together?"
-- Thanks in advance -- Jas

Um... NO.
-- Remember this?

"…a new paragraph begins with each change of Speaker."

When a new character ACTS they're supposed to get a new paragraph.
"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and {Toby's actions -- Becky's Actions} Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck.

Becky didn't say anything, but she IS acting --a blush is an action-- therefore Becky gets her OWN paragraph.

Adjusted:
Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. "You named a stuffed animal?"

Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck.

This is incorrect too:
"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised.

Actions go BEFORE Reactions!

Toby was surprised so he commented: "You named a stuffed animal?" He didn't comment THEN become surprised.

Adjusted:
Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. "You named a stuffed animal?"


All together now!

Original:
"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. Her reaction was adorable and he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."

Adjusted:
"Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. You named a stuffed animal?"

Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck.

Her reaction was so adorable, Toby couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies?"

-----Original Message-----​
"But when you do that, it looks so...choppy on the page. There's ton's of empty white space!"
-- Hates Empty Space​
Yes, it looks choppy on the page, but its Far More Important that there is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind as to who is acting and who is speaking.

Another Example:
"Don't help me. I'm fine by myself," she told him, not bothering to be polite. He looked surprised and perhaps a little hurt. She heard another voice.

"Geez, you're pretty full of yourself, aren't you?" She got to her feet and brushed herself off, glancing in the direction of the newcomer. She nearly recoiled in shock. Another handsome guy. He crossed his arms over his chest. "He was just trying to help you." He told her. She readjusted her bag and said.

"I don't recall asking for help."

By the way, once you separate each of your character's actions into new paragraphs and reconnect each character's dialogue to their actions, you won't need dialogue tags such as "said" because your character's actions already identify who is speaking in your dialogue.

With actions separated and dialogue attached.

"Don't help me. I'm fine by myself." She didn't bother to be polite.

He looked surprised and perhaps a little hurt.

A new voice called out. "Geez, you're pretty full of yourself, aren't you?"

She got to her feet and brushed herself off, glancing in the direction of the newcomer. Another handsome guy. She nearly recoiled in shock.

He crossed his arms over his chest. "He was just trying to help you."

She readjusted her bag. "I don't recall asking for help."

If you truly loathe all that white space, then fill it in with more actions, description, and internal narration observations.


-----Original Message-----​
But what about when someone is watching someone else, or feeling someone do something to them?
-- Concerned about Observation​

This seems perfectly fine, right?
He watched her shake her butt.
He felt her skin move against his.

However, once you take this into account:

"…A new paragraph begins with Each Change of Speaker."
When a new character ACTS they're supposed to get a new paragraph.

Not so fine after all. You have two people acting in the same line -- in Both Cases.

The way around this little gem of a problem, is to SHOW the event by character rather than TELL it in one lump.

You begin by dividing the actions by Character:
He watched her.

She shook her butt and her skin moved against his.

He felt it.

Seems kind'a…short eh? That's because those lines TOLD you what happened, instead of Showing you what happened, so there are all kinds of details missing. Once you add enough details to paint a whole picture…

Adjusted:
From his seat at the edge of the stage, he watched her.

Tall, svelte, and in the skimpiest bathing suit he'd ever seen, she moved in close and shook her butt. The round, firm flesh jiggled enticingly against his face.

His cheeks were subjected to the most incredible, though slightly sweaty, facial massage ever.


KILL the Dialogue Tags.
Seriously.

When you have an action with a line of dialogue, you don't need Dialogue tags, such as "he said" -- at all. You already know through their actions WHO is speaking.

Dialogue tags are only ever needed when you don't have any other way of identifying the speaker.

HOWEVER, if you have no other way of knowing who is speaking than dialogue tags, then you have committed the heinous crime of:

Dialogue in a Vacuum
Also known as "talking heads syndrome."

A book with nothing but reams of dialogue marked only by dialogue tags means that while people may be talking, there is no PICTURE. The mental movie has stopped and only the sound-track is playing. Compare it to a Radio Show with no sound effects.

I don't know about you, but when I go to read a story, I want to SEE what I'm reading like a movie, not listen to a radio show.

Memorize this:
Readers always interpret what they read the way they want to see it
-- unless you SHOW them what you envisioned.


In other words…
What CAN be misunderstood WILL be misunderstood.


Leave Nothing to Misinterpretation!

Readers will ALWAYS make whatever assumptions come to mind about what they are reading. When a reader realizes that what they thought was going on -- wasn't, they'll get confused, and occasionally pissed off.

Unmarked blocks of dialogue are painfully EASY to get lost in.

I remember reading one whole page of un-tagged action-less dialogue only to find out that I had two of the characters reversed. Did I reread that whole page to figure out what was going on? Hell no! I tossed the book across the room. (In fact, it's still on the floor gathering dust bunnies.)

"But, isn't that what 'said' and other dialog tags are for?"

Just for the record...

Using dialogue tags is Not against the rules. Dialogue tags are a perfectly viable way to identify who is speaking -- it just makes that part of the story BORING. (I don't know about you, but I won't read something that bores me.)

I choose to write my dialogue without using "said" unless I am actually describing a change in voice, tone, or volume in the same paragraph. And even then, I try to avoid them. I use the speaker's actions to define who is speaking to whom.

I use... ACTION TAGS.

"What the heck is an Action Tag?"

BODY LANGUAGE

Language is Visual not just a bunch of words. Watch the average conversation between two people. 90% of that conversation isn't in what's spoken, it's in what they are DOING as they are speaking. It's in their Body Language.

Body-language cues the reader as to what is going on in a character's head – in ADDITION to dialogue and internal narrative.




Action and body-language tags on dialogue
are Not just for Decoration.


Stories are Mental Movies you play in your imagination. I don't know about you, but I HATE to be interrupted when I'm involved in a good movie. If I have to stop and reread a section just to figure out what the heck is going on, I've been interrupted. One too many interruptions and I'm switching to another story -- with no intention of continuing with something that's just too much work to get through.

Action tags keep the mental Movie rolling and the MEANING of what is being said crystal clear. A small simple action can tell you right away, what's going through the speaker's head.

Don't just SAY it! ~ SHOW it!
"I love you too." She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She dropped her chin and pouted. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She glared straight at him. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She turned away and wiped the tear from her cheek. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."


WHY I loathe the word "said."

To be perfectly clear, it's not JUST the word 'said', I hate ALL Dialogue Tags inclusively. I utterly refuse to use them.

Why?

Because they're wasteful. They clutter up dialogue while slowing down actions, and they use up word-count that could be far better used elsewhere.

I don't believe in putting anything in my fiction that isn't useful. If it doesn't add to the character or the plot, it gets eradicated. Dialogue tags are too easily replaced by something that actually adds to the story, such as an action, a facial expression, a spot of description, or a character's opinions.

Just for the record, I write extremely dialogue-heavy fiction. When I find that a dialogue tag is indeed needed in my story to identify who is talking, I see it as a red flag that indicates that all action has come to a screeching halt. Nothing is Happening other than talking; also known as: Talking Heads Syndrome.

When that happens, I find some way to fill that space with something useful to the story such as an action, a facial expression, a spot of description, or a character's opinions -- ANYTHING other than a dialogue tag.

But those are MY feelings on the subject. Your mileage may vary.

Dialogue tags ARE a legitimate form of sentence structure. When there is no other way to identify a speaker, dialogue tags are indeed a viable option.


Paragraph Aesthetics...?

-----Original Message-----
"I suppose the issue I have is with the aesthetics of paragraphing. Though text is not comparable to a visual medium such as film, it is still something that we have to view with our eyes."

Actually, text aesthetics -- the way the words appear on the page -- seems to be a HUGE bone of contention.
-----Original Message-----
"...The way I see it, your example suggests that I break my text up into a lot of little paragraphs. Given this understanding, in a scene rich with alternating action, it looks like I'll be left with a lot of one-line paragraphs. ...I'd greatly appreciate it if you clarified this situation. I suppose that is the trouble with having to jot down the basics, you can't expand on the little details of the rule. ^_^

Paragraph Aesthetics - Illustrated

The way a story appears on a standard 9.5 x 11 inch piece of paper is NOT the way to judge whether or not one's paragraphs are too long or too short. A story viewed on a browser page carries even less weight.

Why not?

Because Fiction is generally printed on pages HALF the size of a full sheet of paper. What appears to be a lot of short little paragraphs on the "internet page," are NOT so short or so little once you put them on the Printed page.

The standard sizes for printed Fiction are: paperback (4.25 x 6.75 inches), and trade paperback (5.5 x 8.25 inches.) Hard-cover books use the same size page as a Trade. Only coffee-table books possess printed pages anywhere near the size of a standard sheet of paper.

Personally, I could care less what my text looks like on the page. As far as I'm concerned, making the story as clear and easy to read as possible is far more important to me than what the text looks like. If I have done my job well, no one will even notice the words - only the story unfolding in their imaginations.

As for internet reading, I'm completely baffled why anyone would care how it looks on the browser page. All you have to do is narrow the window and the text adjusts.

Visual Aids:
ALL examples were originally 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Standard Paperback 6.75 x 4.25, 1/2 inch margins:


Trade paperback 5.5 x 8.25, 1/2 inch margins:
http://i426.photobucket.com/albums/pp347/OokamiKasumi/web/Writing/Trade_paperback.jpg~original


Standard sheet of paper 8.5" x 11", 1 inch margins:

Now do you get it?​

-----Original Message-----​
"Also, I hope you don't mind, but did you come up with the rules yourself, through experience and trial and error, publisher's advice, or is there a handy guide I can employ? Obviously, I quite loyally follow Strunk and White, but I don't think it talks about this subject much. Is there a book that YOU use?"

Let's start here:
"...did you come up with the rules yourself, through experience and trial and error, publisher's advice...?"

YES -- to all of the above, plus editor hounding and long chats with a number of extremely well-established fiction authors. In addition, I've read a crap-load of how-to books. I'm pretty sure I own, and have practically memorized, just about every book "Writer's Digest" has put out.

My writing advice posts are the results of taking all the info I'd crammed into my head and condensing it into small bite-sized, chew-able, pieces that are easy to remember and much easier to apply. Rather than waste people's time on theory, I focus on application.

As for recommended reads... Unfortunately, there is no one guide that shows it all. Not One. However, there are two books I can't praise highly enough. As far as I'm concerned, they are VITAL reading for fiction writing.

Scene and Structure goes into painstaking detail on not only why you separate paragraphs by Character, but also why you structure your individual sentences by Cause and Effect, or Action THEN Reaction.​

Writer's Journey is about creating stories plotted on the Mythic Cycle as codifies by Robert Campbell. If you're writing any kind of adventure, this book is a must read, absolutely.​

There are lots of other books I could recommend, but these are the two "Must Haves" if an author really, REALLY wants to write fiction well.

☕
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Want to read my other Writing tutorials?
 
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SailusGebel

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This particular essay tends to get a lot of screaming and yelling. Everyone seems to think it's a personal attack on their work -- even if I have no clue who they are!
Ngl, when I see such a wall of text, I tend to get defensive about it and think of this as a personal attack. But I let it go after a minute or so. My guess, it has something to do with insecurities or other stuff like that? It's hard for me to talk about this in English, so I will stop here. Kudos to you for writing all these tutorials.
 

OokamiKasumi

Author of Quality Smut
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Ngl, when I see such a wall of text, I tend to get defensive about it and think of this as a personal attack. But I let it go after a minute or so. My guess, it has something to do with insecurities or other stuff like that? It's hard for me to talk about this in English, so I will stop here. Kudos to you for writing all these tutorials.
Eh...? Wall of text? But it has lots of pictures and easy examples too?


Very informative. Thank you. It makes perfect sense to me.
Thank you! I hope it proves helpful in your work.
 

BenJepheneT

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You'd be surprised. The screaming this essay gets can be quite intense.
Fuck this essay. this trashy ass fucking work. what is this? what kind of sick fucko would write this and post it under broad daylight with no conscience attached? this essay is a blight on the literary world. it's ass. bootyjuice. dogshit. catpiss. aids. it's fucking aids. its mega aids sourced from a seedy alleyway in New Orleans between a gay bar and an iron-padded liquor store. its the kind of aids that rivals crack addiction for sodomy. it craves sustenance for that addiction. it broke into my house, shattered my kneecaps and took my wallet. it also gave me aids, and now I have to rob houses to sustain myself but I can't because the fucking aids broke my kneecaps. i thought it couldn't get worse, but it did. the fucking crack addiction aids fries the brain. now the aids fried brain has a god damn agenda, like some kind of spontaneous neural virus. like two packs of smoking ass it starts thinking and forming plans and ludicrous, unsupervised ideas and now it stole a jet and crashed into a skyscraper. fuck this fucking essay, now the nation is in economic turmoil and internal panic. why the fuck did you write this? you clearly don't know how to fucking write. if you did, you wouldn't write this shit fucking essay. god I've seen diarrhoea-ridden lap dancers shit better stuff than you. a fucking two-dollar opium junkie blowjob provides more than this. fucking herpes would be better than this. this is why the Taliban won. if there was a god, he'd hate this shit fucking essay you made. if there were two gods, they'd be competing to hate this shit fucking essay, and leave the world in negligence, which is how they somehow ignored the creation of Hallmark romance movies. you essay is so shit it retroactively made Christmas hallmark romance movies. you fucked it all up. we could've gotten USB sticks that could slot in one go, but you just had to write this cheek clapping essay that Silicon Valley somehow predicted this massive rhino shit fuck and created the USB sticks we have now as a last ditch effort to delay this essay. and they fucking failed. you fucker. you motherfucker. they made a ninth stage in hell just for you, and it's called ass sweats who wrote shit fucking essays that don't even deserve conception in a conceptual stage. i hope you're happy. i hope you're real fucking happy. i hope you will look back at this event and be real proud of yourself because if I was you I would've revived the Nazi Party and went on with the Third Reich and finish what hitler couldn't because that monkey dick of an essay was so bad that it warped the spectrum of morality and made genocide a virtuous one, because it's a voluntary method to stop more people from reading the pixelated equivalent of a sloth's hardened smegma. fuck you, in all meanings of the word, be it sexual and within insults, and with all the sincerity a nun could shit out with that choir-boy tight anus, fuck. you.
 

Reisinling

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I remember shaking my head when I was reading the style guide book, but then who am I to fight against that? Though I always wonder if methods described in these books do indeed make the book "better", but for a specific type of person that reads "literature", while most of the books on this platform target different audience, that might be put off by the fancier language and descriptions.
 

LostLibrarian

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Okay, read through it. Now I see the drama potential :D

That said, I also would disagree with two points in some cases.

(a) The point about talking heads/not using tags: While I mostly agree with the idea of using actions instead of "he said", there is also one point, where it makes a lot of sense: long dialogue. There are chapters - the usual talk over coffee chapters - which are mostly just one long dialogue.

We had a similar discussion about the value changes in the romance genre (still have to answer on that one^^), where repeating one thing one too many times while escalating makes things comical. The same can happen with character actions in dialogue, when you have a lot of short sentences back and forth. It feels less like body language and more like two people dancing on their chairs, always shifting, looking, moving, etc. It can distract from the actual topic of the conversation.

So I would not disagree directly, but add: action should only be used and added when it helps getting the point of the dialogue across (though body language, etc). There are also times, where action can shift the focus from important words/sentences. If the function of the action is only to "remind who is talking", a short "XY said"-tag is a lot better, because readers will generally filter them out while reading.

(b) Each new action needs to get a new paragraph: Same as above, I would disagree in some situations. The goal of the rule is clear: make it as clear who is doing what or who is speaking. But such thing can - at times - also be achieved with passive voice. If we go with your example:

"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. Her reaction was adorable and he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."

If we want to the talk be together in a paragraph instead of in 3, we can turn Becky's action passive as a result of his actions.

"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. His teasing words deepened the Blush on Becky's face. A sight so adorable he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."

It is a bit off because the example isn't that great for it (and I don't have the mind to come up with a good one right now). But there are some cases where the beginning of a speech and the next sentences should appear together in one paragraph to reinforce each other. In that case, passive speech (which of course shouldn't be used too much) can be used to make clear, that the speaker is still the one "in control".

Once more, it isn't really against the rule, but more something "to add", because a lot of people tend to stick "too close" to rules, which can in turn also make their writing a bit stiff...


One more point besides that to add about paragraphs: the tutorial itself is mostly about how to use paragraphs to make the reading flow better. One more interesting use of paragraphs of writing is also, to break the reading flow. If there are scenes where the time flows really slow or if there is a certain moment where the author wants the reader to notice something specific, "more paragraphs than needed" can also change the flow of the reader.

Again, one rather easy example from Overlord, but I don't want to thing about my own example:
ov1.png ov2.png

In both cases, the usual flow of the paragraphs was knowingly destroyed, to achieve a focus on some part of the writing. To get an information across, or to change the flow of the reader to influence his focus.

It's not against those rules, but more of a "if you know the rules, you know how to break them" kind of thing. And I really enjoy such things, because it (a) makes reading more entertaining and (b) gets information across without repeating it four times to make sure, that all readers really have understood the words.
 
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OokamiKasumi

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I remember shaking my head when I was reading the style guide book, but then who am I to fight against that? Though I always wonder if methods described in these books do indeed make the book "better", but for a specific type of person that reads "literature", while most of the books on this platform target different audience, that might be put off by the fancier language and descriptions.
There is a reason why this particular book is used as a College textbook.

What a lot of people don't know is that Strunk & White's book was first written in the late 1800's. It has since been...abridged many, many times since then. However, quite a bit of the original language is still in there and this has caused no end of problems with those who don't read actual literature.
 

Renaxan

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I read this thread and man, I don't know... I straight laughed how bad am I actually right now. I was new to this writing stuff and when I saw my story literally against a lot points on these... I guess I ducked up xD I'm using a lot of words "said" in my fanfic because that's what I picture it when they do dialogue.

I guess that's also the reason why my fic rating goes beyond low.

It might hard for me to change though, I realize it. I'm also, frankly speaking, pretty follow up visual novel player besides reader of fiction as a hobby... well, comparing both of them I like the format of the visual novel more so when I write my stuff what I imagine was kinda reflected in that format... which is mostly first POV and simple sentence shorts.

And yes, ton of dialogues.


ie :

First POV
--------------------------

The unknown guy wearing black tuxedo approached me.

"You suck" He said.

"Uhh what?"I replied.

...Why this guy suddenly mocked me?
--------------------------------------

I should know that it should be fine to not use "said" there, but my brain just told me something wrong with it... like... usually I play VN when a dialogue happens there would be a name of the person who currently talking, then followed by action afterward. At first time writing, I'm even using (character name) but my friend told me it was ugly.

Well, this is really good advice.. Thanks. I will try to ignore my brain from now on.. or at least reduce it.

Now I need to sleep, my brain refused but my body need it.
 

LostLibrarian

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I should know that it should be fine to not use "said" there, but my brain just told me something wrong with it... like... usually I play VN when a dialogue happens there would be a name of the person who currently talking, then followed by action afterward. At first time writing, I'm even using (character name) but my friend told me it was ugly.
One thing to underline here is that "a lot of native readers won't consciously read the dialogue tags". You should still try and work to use different tags or use actions, but it is better to use "two more tags than needed" compared to "one tag was missing".

The most important part is that your reader knows who is talking. Nothing is more important than that. The moment your reader has to think who does an action or who says what, you have a problem. Their reading flow is broken, they will remember the wrong things, or they will feel annoyed.

The easiest thing to achieve that is to simply use tags. With that, you are already ahead of a lot of books, who don't use enough tags and make such stuff really hard.
The second step would be, to remove tags that aren't needed, e.g. in a dialogue where it goes A-B-A-B-A-B. Here it would be enough to only remind people "from time to time" who is talking.
The third step would be to use actions instead of the remaining tags, to convey more information and make the world feel alive.
The last step would be to use different language style in the dialoge tags to make clear who is talking just with the words alone. Which is a ton of work and really hard.

So yeah, even if you are only at step one, you are still a step ahead of a lot of other stories and people can read your stuff without getting confused. Yeah, your story might not be up to traditional publishing (I mean, most stuff on here isn't. I mean, my stuff surely isn't either xD), but your free story on the internet is already good enough, to entertain readers and provide a proper reading flow.

Everything else now is detail work, to turn a "totally fine story" into a "good story" or even a "great story"...
 

Snusmumriken

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Imo you can have actions taking place after the speech - if that is their place. The action before dialogue is only for the actions that modify the first line of dialogue or set the mood for the speech. You can have characters start off one way and collapse in the middle of the monologue and describing that before the actual collapse would ruin the impact.

In terms of "said" I find it useful sometimes to establish the actors of the dialogue exactly for its invisibility to the readers. It isn't used often but sometimes you want just their voice to be heard without any actions associated with it. and for these moments it works flawlessly. A good example would be an oblivious POV or a character that tries to hide their body language. Or simply unseen by the POV.
 

OokamiKasumi

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Okay, read through it. Now I see the drama potential :D
I thought you might! LOL!

That said, I also would disagree with two points in some cases.
Goodness! I didn't expect that at all! LOL!
(a) The point about talking heads/not using tags: While I mostly agree with the idea of using actions instead of "he said", there is also one point, where it makes a lot of sense: long dialogue. There are chapters - the usual talk over coffee chapters - which are mostly just one long dialogue.

We had a similar discussion about the value changes in the romance genre (still have to answer on that one^^), where repeating one thing one too many times while escalating makes things comical. The same can happen with character actions in dialogue, when you have a lot of short sentences back and forth. It feels less like body language and more like two people dancing on their chairs, always shifting, looking, moving, etc. It can distract from the actual topic of the conversation.

So I would not disagree directly, but add: action should only be used and added when it helps getting the point of the dialogue across (though body language, etc).
We are definitely going to disagree on this topic.

Body language isn't just movement of the extremities; shifting and sipping coffee, it's also Facial Expressions. A lift of the brow, a narrowing of the eye, a slight lift at the corner of the lips, a tucking of the chin, a glance away, a dropping of the gaze to their cup...all of which give the reader clues as to what those individual characters are thinking.

Note: Only the POV character of that scene should label what they think those facial expressions mean, and some of those guesses should be wrong.

There are also times, where action can shift the focus from important words/sentences. If the function of the action is only to "remind who is talking", a short "XY said"-tag is a lot better, because readers will generally filter them out while reading.
My editors (I have four,) will disagree with you -- loudly and at length. 'Said' does NOT get filtered out by the reader. They just put up with it because they want to read the story more. I certainly do not filter out 'said.' In fact if I see too many 'saids' in a story, I stop reading it. I have no interest in reading any story that takes work to comprehend.

Do an experiment:
Write one whole chapter (2500 words,) without using 'said.'​
Write the same chapter including the word 'said.'​
Get three test readers, or beta-readers. DON'T tell them anything about the experiment.​
Ask all three, "Which chapter reads better?"​
☕


(b) Each new action needs to get a new paragraph: Same as above, I would disagree in some situations.

The goal of the rule is clear: make it as clear who is doing what or who is speaking. But such thing can - at times - also be achieved with passive voice.
Dude! I realize that JP, KR, and CN fiction ARE written in passive voice, but English fiction Is Not! In those languages, it's actually considered Rude to speak or write directly -- in Active Voice.

Passive Voice --Telling-- is a huge no-no in English fiction! You're supposed to Show --Active Voice-- a story! Who told you it was okay to use Passive Voice in fiction?! They need to be slapped!

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By Zombies Meme.jpg

If we go with your example:

"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised, and Becky's blush grew brighter, creeping down her neck. Her reaction was adorable and he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."​

If we want to the talk be together in a paragraph instead of in 3, we can turn Becky's action passive as a result of his actions.

"You named a stuffed animal?" Toby raised his eyebrows, surprised. His teasing words deepened the Blush on Becky's face. A sight so adorable he couldn't resist needling her some more. "I thought you hated stuffies."​
Sigh... NO. Whether an action is passive or active, it's still an Action that Becky did, not Toby. Therefore it goes into Becky's paragraph.

If you don't like short paragraphs, add more description.

It is a bit off because the example isn't that great for it (and I don't have the mind to come up with a good one right now).
It was the example the guy sent me to work with. Shrugs...

...there are some cases where the beginning of a speech and the next sentences should appear together in one paragraph to reinforce each other. In that case, passive speech (which of course shouldn't be used too much) can be used to make clear, that the speaker is still the one "in control".
I want an Example.

Once more, it isn't really against the rule, but more something "to add", because a lot of people tend to stick "too close" to rules, which can in turn also make their writing a bit stiff...
Well, it's not like you guys need to really worry about the rules at all. You don't have to make a publishing editor happy.

You do however, have to make your Reading Audience happy.
-- BTW, I'm in that reading audience, and so are several other authors I know of. (How do you think I found ScribbleHub?)

One more point besides that to add about paragraphs: the tutorial itself is mostly about how to use paragraphs to make the reading flow better.
Not just reading flow -- reading comprehension.

If you don't make things perfectly clear, Readers can, and will be easily confused, especially in fiction because fiction relies very heavily on the readers' imaginations. They do not appreciate having to Stop Reading to reread paragraphs then recreate whole scenes of their mental movies just to keep things straight. I certainly don't.

One more interesting use of paragraphs of writing is also, to break the reading flow. If there are scenes where the time flows really slow or if there is a certain moment where the author wants the reader to notice something specific, "more paragraphs than needed" can also change the flow of the reader.
ON this I do agree!


Again, one rather easy example from Overlord, but I don't want to thing about my own example:
View attachment 9624View attachment 9623

In both cases, the usual flow of the paragraphs was knowingly destroyed, to achieve a focus on some part of the writing. To get an information across, or to change the flow of the reader to influence his focus.
This a story I am actually following.
-- I'll DM you.

It's not against those rules, but more of a "if you know the rules, you know how to break them" kind of thing. And I really enjoy such things, because it (a) makes reading more entertaining and (b) gets information across without repeating it four times to make sure, that all readers really have understood the words.
Breaking the rules of writing is like stunt driving.
-- Only experienced professionals should do it. Anyone else will just cause a wreck.
 
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