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She sidled up beside me and, with the boniest of her fingers, began to poke me in the chest as she spoke.

"And let"—poke—"me tell"—another poke—"you another"—poke—"thing, young man"—poke, poke.

She paused, no doubt wondering if she had lost count of her word-to-poke ratio. Apparently deciding she was well within acceptable proportions, the old lady continued with her single-digit assaults.
Okay, that's really bad, I know, but it illustrates how you can interrupt dialog in interesting ways.  That's what I'm wanting to talk to you about today, if you please. The Interrupter!

The beautiful thing about the Interrupter (not an official term, by the way) is that it's fairly easy to understand, once you realize that there are no ally new about the grammar rules associated with it. It's the ultimate expression of writing-as-music (specifically, rhythm), which is why I like it so much. It gives the writer a bit more control over how the dialog and action should be parsed by the reader. Not could—should. 

Now, I'm a firm believer that you should try and leave as much as possible up to the reader to flesh out for themselves, without being so vague or ambiguous as to leave the sentence inert. But there comes a time when you, the writer, will want to specifically denote a series of actions and the dialog that's happening around it. It may be plot-related, for comedic effect, whatever. That's what a well-placed Interrupter comes in handy.

Take this sentence, for example. This is how you might normally write dialog and action.

"And let me tell you another thing, young man," the old lady said, wielding her bony pointing finger as though it were a jousting lance. "I will not have a young whipper snapper such as yourself telling me my what-fors and how-to-do-its." And to emphasize her point, she poked my sternum with every third word.
Barring quality, there's nothing wrong with that image, from a grammatical standpoint. But it's not as funny, unless you particularly liked the finger-as-lance analogy, and it certainly isn't as visual. And it's not quite as rhythmic.

Slight Change in this Entry's Sequence:
Originally, I was going to have a quick summary of the different methods for interrupting dialog at the end of the entry. For the sake of not boring some of you, I decided to switch it and place the summary first, allowing you the choice of continuing. If the summations make sense without explanation, and you've no interest in real-world examples of the Interrupter, then don't worry about reading on. If the summations do not make sense and you would like an explanation, or they do but you'd like the real-world examples, or you just like to hear me ramble on, then continue reading after this bit right here:

Interrupting Dialog with Action
"Look—" Marlene tugged her long fringe, pulling them behind her ears, "—she didn't mean what she said to you."

"Listen"—Gabe grabbed Marco by the shoulders, flung him around—"to me! I'm talking to you!"

(NB: The punctuations. It plays an important role in interpreting, or parsing, the scene.)

Interrupting Dialog with Action Containing a Pregnant Pause
"What time is it?"
"It's..." he looked at his watch, "... five o'clock."

Interrupting Action with Dialog
I fired off a blast of energy—"Take that, ruffians!"—and stood my ground, which in the end probably wasn't the best thing to do; the ground had turned to quicksand.

Interrupting Narrative with Dialog
Today was a horrible day. First my mother got mad at me ("You're grounded, young man!"), then my sister took my last $5 ("You still owe me ten, jerk!"), and then my dog pissed on my homework ("It was either that or eat it—at least now you have dog-piss proof."). I didn't think the day could get any worse—I was wrong.

That's it in a nutshell.  If you need further explanation or just would like the real-world examples from published fiction, read on...Collapse )

Edit: thanks to drgaellon for catching two errors, which have been corrected, and reminding me how much I hate mass nouns. ;-)


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