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How would you correctly punctuate dialogue that trails off, but then picks up again?

A:

"Something about the way she smells ..." The man breathed in deep, a smile spreading across his face. "... just drives me wild."

B:

"Something about the way she smells ..." The man breathed in deep, a smile spreading across his face. "Just drives me wild."

C:

"Something about the way she smells—" The man breathed in deep, a smile spreading across his face. "—just drives me wild."

D:

"Something about the way she smells—" The man breathed in deep, a smile spreading across his face. "Just drives me wild."

Note: I'm not looking to rewrite this particular example. I'm asking specifically how to punctuate this type of example correctly.

Thank you for your time and any insight on the matter!

  • Here's another idea: "Something about the way she smells," the man breathed in deep, a smile spreading across his face, "just drives me wild." – Yosef Baskin Jul 14 '17 at 21:38
  • The punctuation in your example would be incorrect because commas are used to offset dialogue tags, not actions. The correct wording with commas would be: "Something about the way smells," he said, taking a deep breath as a smile spread across his face, "just drives me wild." Edited to add: The issue isn't this particular sentence, which is why I don't want to rewrite it completely to include a dialogue tag; the issue is that I've come across this style of writing (trailing dialogue that later picks up) several times, and I want to know the correct punctuation for this type of example – user137928 Jul 14 '17 at 21:40
  • ... What you say in your comment might seem to have merit, but you're asking about a peripheral usage here, and commas have many uses – including the offsetting of parentheticals. But admittedly 'breathed' might be first construed as a quotative verb like 'whispered', giving us a garden path scenario better avoided. And the parenthetical here really needs something more heavy-duty than commas. I'd be tempted to use three paragraphs (short, yes, but traditional formatting around dialogue sometimes requires even shorter ones). With your second version. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 14 '17 at 21:49
  • I don't think "breathed" in this example is being used in the same context as "whispered" would be. It's clearly an action. Whereas in "He's wonderful," she breathed, "breathed" here is obviously a dialogue tag. Also, the action in the example isn't parenthetical in nature. (The man, tall and good-looking, breathed in deep. "tall and good-looking" would be parenthetical information in that example.) So I'm not sure how to apply your comments in the context I'm talking about. – user137928 Jul 14 '17 at 22:02
  • I misunderstood the invitation for any insight to mean you wanted punctuation ideas, not a chance to call out comments as wrong because you now have a better idea. I stand corrected. – Yosef Baskin Jul 14 '17 at 22:44
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I would suggest writing this in either of the following ways:

"Something about the way she smells . . ." The man breathed in deeply, a smile spreading across his face. ". . . just drives me wild."

Practically identical to your A, except most advice would suggest that the ellipsis should be written with spaces before, after and between each dot, except where other punctuation occurs. Alternatively, there is an ellipsis glyph (…).

"Something about the way she smells"—the man breathed in deeply, a smile spreading across his face—"just drives me wild."

Almost like your C, except the em dashes are outside of the quoted material.

Also, on an unrelated note, I would prefer the use of deeply here. Using an adjective where an adverb belongs is very American and while not strictly incorrect—especially when used informaly—I would avoid it.

These suggestions are in agreement with this article, which uses a very similar structure in the section What advice did I give to the reader who emailed with the question about ellipses? Although, that article avoided using the ellipsis a second time and reinserted the subject as a pronoun for the second half of the quote as, for example, "She just drives me wild", but that seems to change the sense of the breakage somewhat.

I admit I hesitated over the first suggestion here and edited multiple times, which leads me to prefer the second.

  • Thank you so much for taking the time in explaining everything in detail. I'm definitely familiar with the punctuation in your second example; from what I've read, the em-dashes outside of quotation marks are used to show an action happening at the same time as the dialogue, rather than the action interrupting the dialogue like it does here (though it does have the same effect). I think your first example will probably work. I've noticed that the spaced ellipsis is mostly used in print, whereas the glyph is often used in ebooks. I'll definitely be reading that article. Thank you again! – user137928 Jul 17 '17 at 6:53

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