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In creative writing (US English), what is the most appealing way to insert a bit of narrative within dialog in a single sentence? For example:

“The unified kingdom of my childhood,” Lucy hoped to avoid discussing the reasons for its disintegration; the children carried the blood of the traitor, and she carried more than her share of the scars, “had one councilor for all the districts.”

Should I use dashes or em dashes to indicate the break and resumption of Lucy's dialog that was interrupted by her thoughts? Do I capitalize "had" when Lucy's dialog resumes? How, precisely should this sentence be formatted?

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  • Hello, mfrancis. I'd say you need dashes at least, to aid scansion / parsing, especially with there being other commas. But I'd choose ellipses if forced to retain the single-sentence structure. // As a style choice, probably better asked on Writing.SE. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 15:54
  • Thanks... crossposted to Writing. SE is huge!
    – mfrancis
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 16:23
  • Perhaps like this: “The unified kingdom of my childhood,” Lucy said, hoping to avoid discussing the reasons for its disintegration (the children carried the blood of the traitor, and she carried more than her share of the scars), “had one councilor for all the districts.” Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 17:19
  • Can you clarify what you're trying to convey here: Lucy hoped to avoid discussing the reasons for its disintegration; the children carried the blood of the traitor, and she carried more than her share of the scars? Are the reasons for the disintegration 1) that children carried the blood of the traitor and 2) that she carried more than her share of scars? Or does she hope to avoid discussing 1) the reason for disintegration and 2) the fact she carries scars? Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 1:43
  • @TinfoilHat These are two things she absolutely does not want to talk about: the blood relationship of the children to the traitor and the ways that the traitor had harmed Lucy. My example sentence is overly clunky, and this clause ("the children carried the blood of the traitor, and she carried more than her share of the scars") should probably be elsewhere.
    – mfrancis
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 13:40

1 Answer 1

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Should I use dashes or em dashes to indicate the break and resumption of Lucy's dialog that was interrupted by her thoughts?

Yes, paired dashes would probably work better than your paired commas to surround Lucy's thoughts. (The reader might confuse those commas with the one after "traitor", and commas have a greater variety of uses than dashes. Thus, dashes make the structure a bit clearer to the reader.)


Do I capitalize "had" when Lucy's dialog resumes?

No. There is no way in which "had" could reasonably be considered the beginning of a sentence, so there is no reason to capitalize it.


How, precisely should this sentence be formatted?

When a semicolon connects two main clauses, the first clause is usually everything before it and the second is usually everything after it. Furthermore, in this case the second clause itself consists of two coordinated main clauses. I think that it's unlikely that a reader would be much confused, but why take chances? I'd probably write the sentence so:

“The unified kingdom of my childhood”—Lucy hoped to avoid discussing the reasons for its disintegration, as the children carried the blood of the traitor and she carried more than her share of the scars—“had one councilor for all the districts.”

Parentheses could also work:

“The unified kingdom of my childhood” (Lucy hoped to avoid discussing the reasons for its disintegration, as the children carried the blood of the traitor and she carried more than her share of the scars) “had one councilor for all the districts.”

Of course, because this is creative writing, you have more leeway than the author of, say, a scientific journal article. My suggestions are only suggestions.

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  • I think the dashes work better than the parentheses; somehow, it looks "wrong" with the latter. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 18:13
  • @JeffZeitlin I also prefer the dashes. I was only trying to offer another option. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 18:15
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    Thank you... @MarcInManhattan I believe I like the em dashes too. I think it pulls the reader out of the dialog and exposes them to the speaker's mind, and then slips them back into dialog.
    – mfrancis
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 18:43

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