A friend emailed me with a question related to the following three sentences, and she has graciously agreed to let me post it here. Here are the three sentences:
“So do you see why I need your help?” he asked.
“You need my help?” she asked.
Although her features remained subdued in the way of most mourners, a small note of eagerness had entered her tone.
The question was whether the third sentence should be a stand-along paragraph. (Dialogue tags were added to clarify the he/she speakers, but we can assume they would not survive editing. We're in "his" pov.)
Right away, I noticed two things about that final sentence.
First, the Progression of Ideas
The second and third sentences progress like this:
tone of voice
The tone is separated from the dialogue by a lot of words. These two pieces, tone and dialogue, do fit together. So it might be work to put both sentences into the same paragraph, but the intervening words were a little disruptive of the link between those pieces. Speech, facial expression, tone of voice.
This, in fact, is probably what led my friend to think of this as a paragraphing issue. Does she attach "his" impressions to "her" dialogue because of the tone of voice reference? Or should those impressions be set off on their own? She was approaching the matter as a pov question, which at first blush makes sense. We wouldn't normally attach a dialogue beat of internal monologue from the pov character to the dialogue of the non-pov character.
So my first thought was to reverse the order of that second sentence, something like:
A small note of eagerness had entered her tone although her features remained subdued in the way of most mourners.
But before I even went so far as to think through whether that sentence was any better, a bigger second problem showed me a different solution.
Second, the Abstraction
her features remained subdued in the way of most mourners
What is this? You might be tempted to call it description, but what does it describe? I bet if we ask ten people what subdued mourning features physically DO, we would get a range of answers. Is the mouth downturned or held tight? Are the eyelids held open or dropping down? What is happening on the forehead and in the jaw? Is the angle of the head affected?
We don't know, and the reason we don't know is that this isn't clear description. It's his conclusion, his interpretation of the meaning of her expression. He sees something on her face, and interprets it as subdued mourning. We don't know what he sees, though. We only get the conclusion.
So is it interior monologue? No, these are not his direct thoughts, his brain's chat reel. It's a summary statement of his conclusion but it's not presented in interior monologue.
This is "telling," in other words, a very small-scale intrusion of narrative summary -- very small, so small that I nearly missed it. And I am a dragon about this sort of break in the narrative, so that's saying something.
So here is what I wrote to my friend:
I suspect what's throwing you off is the leading adverbial clause.
IOW, the pov in that clause is diluted because it's summarizing his conclusion rather than reporting what he witnesses. What do subdued features look like? Is she droopy and mournful or stoic and grim? How can we tell the difference when we look at someone's face? What actions or physical conditions key the emotion?
So for example --
Although her lips tightened with the mourner's effort at self-control, ...
Although her eyelids drooped with the customary mourner's sorrow, ...
But the point is that you would be shifting the verb toward a physical action (tightened, drooped) and away from the abstract summation (remained).
Once you do that, I think you'll realize that the paragraphing choice here has more to do with emphasis than with logic flow. (Because you'll be tightening the logic at the small scale.) So then you can decide whether you want to link the dialogue to the actions as a supplement to the dialogue, or offset the actions for more emphasis on the actions.
My recommended fix accomplishes two things. There's no longer the impression that a character's thoughts are being attached as a beat to another character's speech. And the clause is now firmly in the realm of action, something that makes a much better beat.
Because it's set up like a beat now, she can attach it to the dialogue or not, as she chooses, to create the emphasis she wants.
Yes, I left the main clause alone. And yes, there were things I wanted to tinker with there, too. Two things. Anyone care to guess what those two things might have been?