Ask Daphne! About style

April 26th, 2013 • Kate

starfishI love when people ask my advice, which I’m more than happy to share here on the blog. So thanks, Callie, who emailed me with this question:

I’ve recently been working with a new critique partner who has a style of writing I haven’t previously come across. Basically, she separates her dialogue from any action or dialogue tags. She always puts dialogue on its own line. To give an example:

Jake scratched his hand.
“I can’t believe I have this rash.”
Joe smiled.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have been rolling around in the grass.”

My CP says that this is a way of keeping the focus on the dialogue rather than the action preceding it. Is that true? Because I’ve never seen anyone else use this method. As an agent, I’m assuming you’ve seen about every writing style there is, so I hoped you might be able to answer me.

Thanks very much for your help with this.

Personally, I think the quotes do more than enough to keep the focus on the dialogue, and I know more than one agent and editor who would say pulling out the dialogue tags like the example above just highlights an overuse of everything but the basic “said.”

But if I have to get all Shrunk-and-White on her ass, I think it’s just WRONG. It reminds me of the authors who query me without following a single submission guideline, just because they want their work to stand out. It does, but not in the way they want.

The best idea is to use standard formatting, grammar, and punctuation, and let the story and your writing be the stand-out factor.

Photo above is by Flickr user Royce Bair, of The Stock Solution, and is used under a Creative Commons license
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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About style”

  1. Callie Says:

    Thanks very much, Daphne! That was really helpful. I'll make sure to let my critique partner know what you said and I appreciate you taking the time to answer!

  2. lexacain Says:

    I think this is typical for British and Aussie writers. They have different rules about commas and giving dialog its own paragraph. But all the ones I know have switched to American rules because most of the book-buying public is American (as are the agents and editors).

  3. Amy Sonnichsen Says:

    ha ha ha! "…all Strunk-and-White on her ass…." ha ha ha!