Interruptions. We deal with them all the time. The phone rings. A family member pops into our writing space to say hi. The dryer timer buzzes.
These, however, are not the kind of interruptions I’m addressing today. If you thought I had some great tips for dealing with such intrusions on our time, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Another kind of interruption can be just as annoying. We’re speaking, and someone cuts us off. Or, we get so eager to respond to what someone’s said that we cut her off.
My characters interrupt one another. Some are worse than others. My heroine has an outspoken nine-year-old daughter whom she interrupts at times in order to avoid embarrassing situations.
Interruptions add an important aspect to our stories. Punctuating them correctly ensures that we get the maximum effect.
This is one time when the em dash is our friend. The em dash is the l-o-n-g dash (—) that used to be shown as two hyphens back in the dark ages when I learned to type on a typewriter. These days, I’ve activated a feature in Word that takes the two hyphens and turns them into an em dash automatically.
When one speaker interrupts another, the line of dialogue of the one being interrupted ends with an em dash, as in the following example, taken from my work-in-progress. Note that there is no space before or after the em dash.
“Mama, you were right. He is a nice man. And I think he’s handsome, don’t you? I know you were afraid he’d be—”
“Yes, Tildy, he’s, um, a fine looking man.”
A speaker can interrupt him/herself as my heroine does in the next example. She intentionally cuts herself off, which the em dash shows.
Jane’s friend Lucy stepped to the front of the group. “My mother said she heard you ask when you could meet with him. Please, say you did.”
“I don’t think—” She looked from one woman to the next, all wearing expectant expressions. “Yes. I set up a time to discuss my music with him.”
A character’s internal dialogue can be interrupted as well. Such is the case below when my hero’s thought is interrupted by something he hears. I used the em dash to show the abrupt ending of his thought.
Two sets of footfalls made their way up the wooden staircase, one heavy and one light. Almost sounded like—
A soft peal of laughter drifted through the open door. Female laughter.
I wanna know . . .
Do any of your characters have a habit of interrupting other characters?
Can you think of other examples of interruptions I didn’t mention?
Do you have a fun example of an interruption you’d like to share?