Writing [Tutorial] The Secret to Proper Paragraphing and Dialogue

CrazyGrimReaper

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This was what I was missing in my writing. I was always confused about adding dialogue tags and had no idea that action tags were a thing. I played around with dialogue tags as I knew only using dialogue tags was extremely boring and not recommended. That was basically a weird amalgamation of a dialogue tag and action tag combined. For Example: She squeaked out, "I didn't do anything" while her eyes darted about the room. I never knew about action tags so this was extremely helpful.

I also know that you are waiting for that one gripe from me. Well, here it is. My gripe is that I have none...

Amazing lesson!
 

OokamiKasumi

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This was what I was missing in my writing. I was always confused about adding dialogue tags and had no idea that action tags were a thing. I played around with dialogue tags as I knew only using dialogue tags was extremely boring and not recommended. That was basically a weird amalgamation of a dialogue tag and action tag combined. For Example: She squeaked out, "I didn't do anything" while her eyes darted about the room. I never knew about action tags so this was extremely helpful.

I also know that you are waiting for that one gripe from me. Well, here it is. My gripe is that I have none...

Amazing lesson!
I am so glad you found the information useful!
-- LOL! You're one of the few, the proud, and the brave -- that didn't have a complaint! Thank you! 💐
 

CrazyGrimReaper

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TLDR:
I don’t know why this discussion turned into web novel style v professional style. Or gatekeeping, like a statement of this is how you should write it! This is my common sense that one should know the best of both worlds.

A lot of people are misunderstanding the “rules” that professionals make. Professional rules aren’t actually rules. They are basically guidelines that are proven to work MOST of the time. And like you know, they don’t ALWAYS work. However, to better your craft in anything, it is always best to take the knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.

I am not saying to always use the “rules” professionals as heavily like OokamiKasumi. Nor am I saying to disregard them heavily like most people. Lost Librarian gave good suggestions on why professionals do not always use it. (At least this is how I think Lost Librarian framed it too in his but most people don't get!) What I am saying is to at least understand and know the rules of professionals. So that when YOU feel it is necessary to utilize these rules, then, you can use them properly to help tell your story better. AND when YOU feel that these rules are unnecessary in certain times then you can choose to forgo them!

Understanding and knowing these professional rules will allow you to understand what MOST people find appealing and WHY they are pleasing to them. As professionals created these “rules” because THEY WORK and have been proven to work over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Thus by knowing them, you have a new perspective on how to better your craft.

Whole Essay to Torture Yourself:
I just want to add my common sense to this discussion. If you reach the end and have read all the comments before my post, there are three things to note.

  1. You are a psychopath like me.
2. Wtf, why are people so smart and can seemingly take out great pieces of literature and reference/guide it right away

3. This turned into web novel style v professional style. Or gatekeeping, like a statement of this is how you should write it!

Although I may not have the qualifications and experience like OokamiKasumi or the sheer amount of literary knowledge like Lost Librarian. (Props to both of you for being so cool in different ways!).

What I have is that I know how to learn. I am a student and have been one for a long time. I have also tried to learn a lot of things outside of classes such as editing, programming, writing, acting, drawing, and more.

What patterns have I learned through learning different mediums and why does this matter? Well, one of my most favorite quotes is from Ethan Becker. A professional in the animation industry, “You can never create anything pro unless you’ve seen something pro. And to take it a step further. You can never create something pro unless you’ve broken down something pro.” What does animation/drawing have to do with anything? Well, there is the stigma of style and defense of drawing styles.

This heavily mirrors the gatekeeping of writing rules that professional publishers have! This also goes into Podcasting or Movie Editing as scenes also follow “rules” of chronological order and how a scene should flow or be set up. However, as we’ve seen with Lost Librarian’s examples, there are professionals who break the rules. Now you may be thinking. Since even professionals break the “rules” and make masterpieces, then so can I! WRONG! They break the rules because they know the rules. They know what works and how it works and push that understanding to the extreme, to the point where it sometimes breaks the rules.

That is how Picasso made art. If you look at his early work, It is not Cubism, however, if you look at his most recent ones. They are cubism. Picasso clearly understood the “rules” of drawing. He could create beautiful realistic paintings. However, he created cubism in contrast to push the rules he knew and understood to the limit. Thus creating cubism!

A lot of people are misunderstanding the “rules” that professionals make. Well, I’ll get into that after I explain why I am putting quotes around rules. I do that because professional rules aren’t actually rules. They are basically guidelines that are proven to work MOST of the time. And like you know, they don’t ALWAYS work. However, to create better writing it is always best to take the knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.

I am not saying to always use the “rules” professionals as heavily like OokamiKasumi. Nor am I saying to disregard them heavily like most people. Lost Librarian gave good suggestions on why professionals do not always use it. (At least this is how I think Lost Librarian framed it too in his but most people don't get!) What I am saying is to at least understand and know the rules of professionals. So that when YOU feel it is necessary to utilize these rules, then, you can use them properly to help tell your story better. AND when YOU feel that these rules are unnecessary in certain times then you can choose to forgo them!

All in all, understanding and knowing these professional rules will allow you to understand what MOST people find appealing and WHY they are pleasing to them. As professionals created these “rules” because THEY WORK and have been proven to work over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Thus by knowing them, you have a new perspective on how to better your craft.

I am CrazyGrimReaper. A random person from the internet. Thank you for listening to my TedTalk.
 
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LostLibrarian

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Lost Librarian gave good suggestions on why professionals do not always use it.
I think that is important, to underline: I WON'T argue against these rules for published novels, especially for new writers. They are in place and should be followed. A lot of them even when people don't want to go to a publisher. People should study and understand those rules, even if it is only so they can break them better.

I "only" argued against the "ultimate wording" on some of the points made, as - to me - there is a difference between "writing good fiction" and "writing fiction that is good for publishing". But it wasn't about the core points of these rules/guidelines/whatever one wants to name it...

So if you want your book at "barnes and noble" you better go and follow all these rules to 99.999%.

All in all, understanding and knowing these professional rules will allow you to understand what MOST people find appealing and WHY they are pleasing to them. As professionals created these “rules” because THEY WORK and have been proven to work over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Thus by knowing them, you have a new perspective on how to better your craft.
I think an important thing is also that these rules are based "on the past". So the publishing market is often years behind the actual trends of readers. (This can also be important, if you write in a new/developing genre like LitRPG. It can take a lot of "fixing" to sell a manuscript to an editor, that would work just fine with the actual readers). We also see that, when publisher X throws out a book that is more unique and sells like crazy, and all the publishers start throwing out clones of that book.
Publishing (especially the usually wanted mass-publishing) is about making money first. Creativity, story, etc, comes later.

While "grammar/formatting rules" are more long-lasting as new readers are trained towards accepting a certain standard, those same rules also apply to content. So - as writers - it is always good to keep that in mind, that these rules are temporary and can (and will) change from time to time.


If you want to get published by X, it can really help, to just get a list of new releases of the last years and look through the free chapters/etc to find out, what that publishing house accepted/threw out.

Especially things like "passive speech" or "amount of description" can really differ between publishers, especially with "genre-specific-publishers". Epic Fantasy or Sci-Fi publishers often allow a lot slower and more descriptive novels compared to YA-publishers. On the flip-side, YA-publishers often allow for more used tropes or "copied stories", as the target audience is "less experienced".



So, just to add to that: it's good to keep in mind, that there isn't "one set of rules for all writers at all times". Even in published writing. It can change between publishers. It can change between genres. It can also change between editors.

So if you enter your manuscript, you want to fix it, so that it is written for those publishers/genres you aim for...
 

ForestDweller

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Oh yeah, I want to ask, when is it acceptable to add a line break between an action and the following dialogue.

By that, I mean something like this.

(A character does/thinks something in the middle of a dialogue). "Then their dialogue comes".

Vs something like this.

(A character does something in the middle of a dialogue).
"Then their dialogue comes".

I usually use the second if the action/thought is really complicated. Or if I need the extra emphasis.

I don't have a hard rule myself. I only choose according to which one I feel is the most right for the occasion.
 

OokamiKasumi

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Oh yeah, I want to ask, when is it acceptable to add a line break between an action and the following dialogue.

By that, I mean something like this.

(A character does/thinks something in the middle of a dialogue). "Then their dialogue comes".​

Vs something like this.

(A character does something in the middle of a dialogue).​
"Then their dialogue comes".​

I usually use the second if the action/thought is really complicated. Or if I need the extra emphasis.

I don't have a hard rule myself. I only choose according to which one I feel is the most right for the occasion.

I was taught Not to break dialogue away from a character's actions or thoughts because those actions and thoughts identify who is speaking -- instead of "said."

My editors prefer that I put dialogue In Line with the actions and narration chronologically -- when they actually happen.

Example:
Michiru blinked. "He says it's a nick-name that Miss Koume came up with." She frowned at the tiny man. "Why would she do something so mean?"​
The doll-sized reaper rolled his one visible eye. "Because she hates my guts. Why else?"​
I also tend to put facial expressions/body language before dialogue because most people's faces/bodies reveal their emotions before they speak.

On Paragraph Breaks: REPOSTED

Paragraphing IS supposed to be divided by character --actions+dialogue. However sooner or later one will run across: Run-On Dialogue.

Run-On Dialogue is when one character talks, and talks, and talks...for whole paragraphs at a time.

Oddly enough, this problem isn't all that common, but it can happen to new writers who still haven't quite figured out how to break up their dialogue with actions and descriptions.

Far more common is the creation of whole paragraphs of Internal Dialogue and Introspection, especially when one writes in First Person POV, or Third Person Close POV.

When only one character is acting and talking, or acting and thinking, this can make for walls of text the size of a skyscraper. So, how do you break all that up?

Well hopefully you're breaking all that talking up with body language, action, and descriptions.

So, that's what you do first: Break up your lines of Dialogue with Actions, Description, and Body Language.

Next! Sub-Divide those lines of dialogue into paragraphs by Change in Action -- Change in Location -- Change in Thought or Ideas.

Example: Change in Thought or Idea
Did you know that you're supposed to write someone arguing with themselves as two different people having an argument complete with paragraph breaks, even though they're the same person?​
I sure didn't.​
Then my editor sent me that particular manuscript page covered in red ink.​

Example of all three in 3rd Person Close POV:
Standing with her back against her room's closed door, Michiru clutched her bathrobe to her throat and gasped for breath. She'd known that Koyomi and Aso were...dating, but she hadn't quite realized they'd gone that far.

She winced. Idiot...! Of course they've gone that far. The Yomi half of Koyomi's personality was openly lecherous, at least around Michiru, and Aso was a known womanizer. She'd had more than one run-in with his openly adoring and half-naked harem.

Michiru sighed heavily then turned to her right to set her bath things on her battered dresser next to her aged brass bed. It was beginning to look like she was the only virgin in the dorm. In fact, according to the gossip her classmates shared, she was very likely the only virgin in the whole senior class.

She was seriously beginning to feel rather...left out.

Michiru scowled and jerked opened the middle drawer of her dresser to yank out a pink flannel nightgown. Stupid virginity! She flung the night gown on the neatly made bed and slammed the drawer closed. It wasn't that she was saving herself for marriage or anything. She doubted she'd live that long. She just wanted to give her virginity to someone she liked - that liked her back.

However, the way things were going, she sincerely doubted she'd live long enough to go on a proper date, never mind get the chance to lose her virginity. Damn it!

Michiru stomped across the room to pull the heavy curtains closed. It was too damned cold at night to leave them open. The cracked windows did little to keep heat in the room. She then moved to the fireplace opposite her bed and knelt to light the paper covered fire log in her fireplace, then added a few actual wood logs. The aged fireplace was the room's only source of heat and the paper coated fire log only lasted a few hours.

Once the log was well and truly lit, she slipped out of her bathrobe and pulled her night gown over her head, tugging it down over her nudity. Stupid zombies! Why were they all in her town anyway? If it hadn't been for them, she'd have been able to live a normal life and gotten herself a normal boyfriend.

Michiru flopped back on her bed to stare at the cracked, water-stained ceiling. So what should I do? She didn't want to die a virgin! That would be completely pathetic.
Note how the character's Actions and Mood Swings (the back and forth in Thought,) allowed for paragraph breaks.

☕
 
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ForestDweller

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My editors prefer that I put dialogue In Line with the actions and narration chronologically -- when they actually happen.
Yeah, I already do that.

Michiru blinked. "He says it's a nick-name that Miss Koume came up with." She frowned at the tiny man. "Why would she do something so mean?"

But it doesn't always work. Like this for example What if I want her to frown right from the get go?

Though for this example, it still won't be long enough that it justifies adding a line break. Now, if she starts to think deeply about what she's going to say before she says it, then I might add that line break.
 

OokamiKasumi

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[It] doesn't always work. Like this for example What if I want her to frown right from the get go?

Though for this example, it still won't be long enough that it justifies adding a line break. Now, if she starts to think deeply about what she's going to say before she says it, then I might add that line break.

Look at the spoiler section near the bottom of the post right above yours. I posted an example of what you're asking about:

Caption: Excerpt from Death & the Maiden.​
 

CrazyGrimReaper

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Idk why I am typing this but it irks me whenever I have something and I need to get it out. If you ever feel that OokamiKasumi's advice to kill dialogue tags is awful and decide to not change and always use said. Then at least change up which dialogue tag you use. There are, in fact, tons of different dialogue tags.

Quick link to the source which probably explains better than I do

For example:
Squeaked
Whispered
Yelled
Shouted
Reprimanded
Questioned
Uttered
Declaimed
Asked
Exclaimed
Interjected
Begged
Indicated

What you can also do is write a little description (adverbially) at the end.
Example:
Squeaked nervously
Whispered indicatively
Interjected annoyingly
Shouted happily

However, the above still can be boring. So just make OokamiKasumi a little happy by describing an action afterward sometimes.
“Stop it!” Jenny said, angrily becomes “Stop it!,” Jenny said. Her hand slapping the table almost drowned out the sound of her voice.

You can also remove using the little description at the end (adverbially) by using the dialogue itself to display the character
Example:
“Goodbye” Viktor said, unconcerned becomes “Adios. Don’t let the door hit you, etcetera,” Viktor said.
“Really?” Yumiko said, excited
becomes “Ohmigod! Really?”

Don't forget to also mimic natural speech to make dialogue sound real to maybe and helpfully connect readers more. Also, try to think about what kind of speech/voice your character would have and try to connect it to the way a real person speaks. Find an example of a person who would speak similarly to yours and draw parallels to help yourself in bringing the character's voice to life.

Examples:
“Seriously, Johnny, don’t open the blue door. There’s a monster behind it,” Ahmed warned becomes “Seriously, Johnny. Don’t open the blue door,” Ahmed warned. “There’s a monster behind it.”

“Let’s take a look. It’s not so bad,” the doctor said as he examined the wound
becomes “Let’s take a look,” the doctor said. He examined the wound. “It’s not so bad.”
 
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