Question: What is the lexical technique for expressing sudden interruptions in written, narrative speech?

For example:

I was walking down the street when— wait! Look at that!

In the example above, I use an em dash, but the interruption does not contain the magnitude that I was going for.

The mind almost never processes text in linearity, and this makes it difficult to create sudden events in written narrative speech.

Speaking however, is a sequential process that allows employing speech devices such as intonation and inflection in order to achieve a desired magnitude.

Is there a formal writing technique for expressing an interruption with a magnitude greater than that of in my example, in written narrative speech?

  • I think an em dash is used for this. Please see here and here. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 4:18
  • the em dash is used to indicate interrupted speech, you are writing in the past tense, so the speech is not interrupted your will have to describe what happened. "...when suddenly" / "when Bang! A gunshot." / "when darkness enveoped me, I found an open manhole."
    – Jasen
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 10:15

2 Answers 2


"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"

"Look! Up in the sky!" "It's a bird!" a woman cries. "It's a plane!" a man shouts. "It's SUPERMAN!"

The above may mean nothing at all to you, and most users, and it certainly says something about my age.

Younger users might (I hope) remember this from the early SNL (Andy Kaufman).

All that to say, it's not how you type it, it's not the punctuation you use, it's what you write that will impart impact to your dialogue.

I think the standard approach in writing to express an interruption is the em dash. If you don't think that's enough, you can go nuts.

  • I was walking down the street when— wait! Look at that!
  • I was walking down the street when— Holy SHIT! Will you LOOK at that!?!
  • I think bold text / italics is impractical with handwritten text. You make a convincing answer, but I'm looking for a technique to express interruptions, not emphasis. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:41
  • That was the point I was making, @VatsalManot. There already is a punctuation for that, and I believe it's the em dash. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:42
  • I do acknowledge the existence of the em dash in my question. But when read, it does not offer the magnitude that I am going for. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:46
  • @VatsalManot - that might be because there isn't a lot of magnitude in that written line. But, if yoou stick to punctuation, you have an answer (others might come along as well). If you want more than that, it becomes writing advice. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:48
  • I do want writing advice. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:52

I was walking down the street when suddenly it hit me, "Wait!" I said, "Look at that!"

"There are seven dwarfs and one... wait, where's Sleepy?"

"Take one more step and I'll— Halt!" (gunshot)

I think the important part is where and what word you cut off. You can't stop at when and have the effect you're looking for.

"If you're going to build a time machine why not do it with some style. Besides, the stainless steel construction made the time flux dispersal— [wrist watch beeps]... LOOK OUT!" -Doctor Emmett Brown

A short narrative containing interjections:

I was walking down the street when -out of nowhere- this dude comes flying down the pavement -obviously drunk, mind you- and slams into the building at the corner.

  • I'm looking for solutions that do not involve direct speech. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 7:30
  • @VatsalManot Is the narrator getting interrupted in the real world? Is this a story in a story... I don't get it.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 7:48
  • Narrators don't interrupt themselves, they interject.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 7:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.