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When a new speaker starts a new line of dialogue you start a new paragraph at the same time. Does this rule still hold true if the sentence before the dialogue starts relates directly to the dialogue?

For example, can you write:

Simon stared at her.
"Are you serious?"

like this:

Simon stared at her. "Are you serious?"

instead?

Is this a simply style choice or an error?

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It's a stylistic choice. Possibly you're being confused because there's a convention that you often write alternating paragraphs of direct speech for a two-way dialogue, and in such circumstances you can dispense with the need to identify the speaker on each utterance. –  FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 13:22
    
So, in practice you could actually choose to have multiple speakers in a single paragraph, as long as it was clear who was speaking at any given point? –  Pete McPhearson Mar 28 '12 at 13:28
2  
Certainly no rule of grammar prevents you doing that. I'm sure some style guides will suggest you shouldn't, but nothing says you have to take their advice (unless it's a condition imposed by your publisher, obviously! :) –  FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 13:40
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I believe the conventional rule is that you start a new paragraph when the speaker changes, not when any quote starts. You may have other text before the quote, as long as it's not a quote from a different speaker. You may or may not start a new paragraph when a quote follows non-quote text. Indeed we routinely precede quotes with text identifying the speaker, like "John replied" or "Mary paused for a moment before speaking."

So by the conventional rules:

Simon stared at her. "Are you serious?"

"I certainly am," Mary replied.

Do not normally run multiple speakers into one paragraph:

Simon stared at her. "Are you serious?" "I certainly am," Mary replied.

This rule can be counterproductive when you have two or more short quotes within a block of narrative. I sometimes ignore it in such cases, but I'm sure an English teacher would mark it wrong. Like:

We had a long discussion about which way to go. John said, "Let's head north." But others in the group where not sure this was a good idea. We argued for a long time. Finally Alice said, "Okay, let's go north."

I'd prefer to write it like I did above, one long paragraph, but purists would say that "Finally" should begin a new paragraph.

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It is a style choice. However, I would say that the first example with the new paragraph is stylistically inferior, because it dissociates the speech from the speaker; with the break, the expectation is that someone new has started talking. If the two actions (the staring and the talking) are connected, then putting in the paragraph break causes the reader to have to stop and re-evaluate who's saying it, distracting from the flow. I think you want to either write it as

Simon stared at her. "Are you serious?"

where the actions are implicitly connected to the same actor, or

Simon stared at her.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

where they are explicitly connected.

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