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Timing of a verbal response

Crumbly Writer

Ran across this in one of my stories, and was struck by how awkward it sounded:

"My sister?" Taylor's voice broke.

Should the "his voice broke" go before or after he speaks (before he's spoken, or after he's finished)? Is is there some other way to indicate someone's voice cracks mid-speech I haven't thought of yet?

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Taylor's voice cracked as he cried out, "My sister?"

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Taylor's voice cracked as he cried out, "My sister?"

Isn't that like pre-announcing what's about to happen? "Taylor was about to punch someone in the nose, before he did."

The Slim Rhino

@Crumbly Writer

The voice cracking and his crying out happen at the same time, don't they?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@The Slim Rhino

The voice cracking and his crying out happen at the same time, don't they?

OK, so we agree that I can't include the action (his voice cracking) within the dialogue. So is it better announcing that his voice cracked before or after he speaks? Which sounds more natural (since neither sounds terribly natural in this case).

docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

OK, so we agree that I can't include the action (his voice cracking) within the dialogue.


What would the sentence or paragraph look like if the phase "as his voice cracked" was substituted or better yet placed at the end.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Isn't that like pre-announcing what's about to happen?


Don't you want to know his voice cracked while speaking? If you had it afterwards, you'd read the dialogue and then find out his voice cracked. My guess is his voice cracking is important.

The Slim Rhino

@Crumbly Writer

Well, it sort of has to crack while he's talking, be cause neither before nor after talking he is using his voice. Why not associate the cracking of the voice with the emotion that caused the fact, something like :

"My sister?" he cried out, his voice cracking as the shock set in.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@The Slim Rhino

Eventually went with:

"My sister?" Taylor asked, his voice cracking.

Taylor was shocked, not upset, so his was a quiet response, not an angry retort. A moment of betrayal revealed, rather than a time of shouting announcements.

Replies:   Daydreamz
Daydreamz

@Crumbly Writer

It's a tricky one, but for me 'asked' conveys a certain normality already, like a normal enquiring tone. So then the 'cracking' comes a bit late, especially after the comma.

I reckon you need a verb like 'croaked' or 'gasped' or something, to do it in one hit.

Or even: '"My sister?" his voice broke' - speeds it up a bit.

Or the modern way: "My SISter?"

Not quite the same, but depending on the context you could trade off conveying that exact behaviour against a more fluent read I guess.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Daydreamz

Or even: '"My sister?" his voice broke' - speeds it up a bit.


Or even:

"My"--his voice cracked--"sister?"

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Or even:

"My"--his voice cracked--"sister?"

Or, eliminate the cracking entirely, hinting at it with: "My ... sister?"

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Daydreamz

@Switch Blayde

Or even:

"My"--his voice cracked--"sister?"

Yep good one, especially with italics sister?

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Or, eliminate the cracking entirely, hinting at it with: "My ... sister?"


No, the ellipsis would indicate a pause. That's different than his voice cracking.

I once saw this usage in a article on the uses of the em-dash. At the time it seemed so weird, but it fits this situation.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I once saw this usage in a article on the uses of the em-dash. At the time it seemed so weird, but it fits this situation.

That's why I'm hesitant to use it. Rather than picking up the meaning immediately, I'm afraid it will stop readers dead in their tracks as they try to decode the em-dash usage. It gets the timing right, but it's like winning the battle but losing the war.

I think I'll go with the ellipsis. Yes, it indicates a pause, but it's easier to read his shock with the pause than trying to figure out the odd em-dash use.

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