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I tend to write stuff like this a lot:

(dialogue)

They remained silent for a while. “Where is my mind” by Pixies was now playing in the background. Eri stared at her palm beneath the Heineken neon sign next to her. Its light made her skin look greenish, like that of a traveler from a far away civilization.

(dialogue)


(dialogue)

The room fell silent. An ambulance could be heard at the distance. Its sound grew louder and louder, then gradually faded into the silence of the night.

(dialogue)

The reason I added the bolded part was to make the transition between dialogue and action smoother. Are they unnecessary? Would it be better if I write this instead:

(dialogue)

The background song changed to “Where is my mind” by Pixies. Eri stared at her palm beneath the Heineken neon sign next to her. Its light made her skin look greenish, like that of a traveler from a far away civilization.

(dialogue)


(dialogue)

The siren of an ambulance blared in the distance. Its sound grew louder and louder, then gradually faded into the silence of the night.

(dialogue)

Maybe the actions imply (or give the feeling) that there is a pause in the dialogue?

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"The remained silent for a while. " The Who? –  SF. Jul 31 at 10:04
    
Oh, a typo. 'They.' –  Alexandro Chen Jul 31 at 10:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you want to indicate that they've stopped talking, you should do so. There are many ways: you could spell it out as you have, or you could describe their actions, indicating that they are doing something and not talking. In your first example, Eri stares at her palm, but it's not clear if she is doing that while talking or instead of talking. In your second example, there is almost nothing to indicate the passage of any time, but a careful reading would let you guess that at least enough time went by for that ambulance to pass. That takes, what, a few seconds? Maybe a minute if they're in a quiet place and can hear the ambulance from far off - but in such places ambulances often don't use their sirens because there's no need.

So I'd say you need to put something there to define the silence, if it's important to you that there be one.

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1  
I think the key in this answer is "if it's important to you." If you want to mention the silence to indicate tension or something along those lines, then it's not necessary to do it specifically. You could say that Eri stares at her palm and starts rubbing it nervously, for instance. You thus invoke your readers' imagination, who will then fill in the blank on their own and imagine silence, or anything else that might not be crucial to your story. A long break in dialogue to introduce narrative does just that: break up the dialogue. It's implied that the characters stopped talking for a bit. –  Phong Aug 1 at 21:24

The[y] remained silent for a while. “Where is my mind” by Pixies was now playing in the background. Eri stared at her palm beneath the Heineken neon sign next to her. [...]

In this first case it is redundant, as the rest of the text implies the silence between them already.

The room fell silent. An ambulance could be heard at the distance. Its sound grew louder and louder [...]

In this second case it is useful to show that they were not interrupted by the sound, but heard it because the room fell silent.

That's my opinion.

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