WoW: Handling Interruptions

Welcome to Wordsmithing on Wednesdays, when I share a tip from my days as an editor.

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?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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6 Responses to WoW: Handling Interruptions

  1. Wendy says:

    Oh this is awesome. Early on I used to write…

    This makes perfect sense and yes, one of my characters is going through a harrowing time and wants answers so though she’d normally not be one to interrupt, she’s doing it frequently now.

    ~ Wendy

  2. What I like the most about this “feature” is that is allows us to write dialogue realistically. In normal conversations we are always finishing other people’s sentences, anticipating what they wanted or rushing to get our own thoughts out before the other person finishes …

    Personally, it drives my kids crazy.

    Here is a way I used it recently in a WIP mystery/romance

    “Other than he thought she was weird, I’m afraid not.”

    I took a deep breath for the next question. “And what about Muffin’s remains?”

    “She died as a result—”

    “Don’t you dare. I’ve seen too many of those cop shows.”

    He laughed. “What does that mean?”

    “She died as a result of blunt trauma to the head.”

  3. Anne Barton says:

    Hi Keli — Thanks for the great tips. I love how Elenora interrupts Tildy before she says too much. 🙂

    Here’s a longish (sorry!) example from my wip:

    Mrs. Starling fanned herself and rambled on. “The sisters are quite homely, are they not? Gads, the one with the freakishly enormous forehead—”

    “Lady Olivia,” Miss Starling offered helpfully.

    “—bounded out of the bookstore like an untrained puppy. And the younger girl with the wild, orange hair—”

    “Lady Rose?”

    “—is so meek she can barely string two words together. Don’t ask that one about the weather unless you’ve a pair of forceps to pull the answer out of her.”

    I’m not sure if I used the em dash correctly when the first character continues speaking (after the interruption). But you get the idea! 🙂

  4. Julie J. says:

    Great tips on writing these correctly!

  5. Great post, Keli! Punctuation is essential for good dialogue., so writers have to craft it carefully so that the reader automatically gets the intended effect. Styles of punctuation can enmesh the reader in the story. I think of writers as the stage prep hands, making the show run smoothly. The watcher/reader is unaware of what went into making it flow.

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