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Signalling a New Speaker

Here is another common mistake I see at the 7th grade level.

Let's see if you can spot it:

Nathan said, "Stop bullying me," and Perry replied, "Or what?"


Did you spot the mistake?

That sentence stinks, because the writer has failed to signal a new speaker by inserting a paragraph break. Properly written, that sentence needs to be broken up into two paragraphs, like this:

Nathan said, "Stop bullying me."

Perry replied, "Or what?"


The general rule is this: Each time someone new starts to speak, start a new paragraph!

This rule is faithfully followed by most professional writers, although, of course, you can find exceptions if you look hard enough.

If you follow this rule, your dialogue will race swiftly down the page, like this:

Nathan said, "Stop bullying me."

Perry replied, "Or what?"

"Or I'm going to tell the principal!"

Perry sneered. "Snitches get stitches."

"Oh yeah? Well, bullies get expelled."

"Not likely," said Perry. "Mr. Jenkins love me. I'll tell him you stole my iPhone."

"You're a liar!" said Nathan.

"Am I?" asked Perry. "I bet I can find some witnesses."

"That's ridiculous. The only way you can find a witness is if you bully someone into lying for you."

"Then maybe that's what I'll do," said Perry, smiling smugly.

"You're a jerk," said Nathan.

"You're a coward," said Perry.

"Bully."

"Whimp."


Sometimes students object. "It doesn't look right! How can you have a paragraph with just one word?"

"I assure you, that's correct," I tell them. "If it doesn't look right, it's only because you're more used to reading books. In books, too, most authors start a new paragraph each time someone else speaks, but it's not quite so obvious, because they're indenting the first lines of their paragraphs, rather than skipping a line, internet style."

"So . . . I really need to skip a line each time someone new starts to speak?"

"Yes," I reply, and then I challenge them: "Go to any website devoted to short stories, and see for yourself how the dialogue is formatted. I guarnatee you, the authors (or editors) are skipping lines between each line of dialogue." (Here is an example).

The student nods. "If I skip a line each time someone else starts to speak, that's going to add a lot of white space to the page."

And that makes me happy, because now I know that the student has understood white space. "That right," I say, "and that's good. Remember, white space is your friend."

Instructions for the Quiz

You will be given a long paragraph of diaolgue that is formatted incorrectly. Your job is to fix the mistakes.

Start by copying and pasting the paragraph into the answer box.

Now correct the formatting by inserting a blank line (a paragraph break) between each speaker.

Example:

If you are given a paragraph that looks like this:

Edith asked, "Where were you last night?" Cory answered, "I went to Jim's house to study." Edith said, "I don't believe you." Cory asked, "Why not?" Edith said, "Because I called Jim, and he said that he hadn't seen you all night." Cory said, "Okay, you caught me. But I only lied because I went shopping to buy you a birthday present." Edith asked, "Where is it?" Cory answered, "Well, I can't very well give it to you before your birthday, can I?" Edith asked, "Do you even know when my birthday is?" Cory replied, "It's January 24th, isn't it?" Edith said, "Wrong."

You should correct it by formatting it like this:

Edith asked, "Where were you last night?"

Cory answerd, "I went to Jim's house to study."

Edith said, "I don't believe you."

Cory asked, "Why not?"

Edith said, "Because I called Jim, and he said that he hadn't seen you all night."

Cory said, "Okay, you caught me. But I only lied because I went shopping to buy you a birthday present."

Edith asked, "Where is it?"

Cory answered, "Well, I can't very well give it to you before your birthday, can I?"

Edith asked, "Do you even know when my birthday is?"

Cory replied, "It's January 24th, isn't it?"

Edith said, "Wrong."

 

To skip a line between paragraphs, hit the Enter key twice.

 

Quiz