Answering a question with a command

This snippet is tricky because it has dialogue and action combined.

"So sending him off to middle school like a lamb to the slaughter ..." Dad answered angrily, but he didn't even finish his sentence because he saw me in the mirror looking up.

"What's a lamb to the slaughter?" I asked sleepily.

"Go back to sleep, Auggie," Dad said softly.

"Everyone will stare at me at school," I said, suddenly crying.


Grammatically, the dialogue 'tag' (he said, I said, said Amelia, etc.) is part of the sentence with the dialogue. It turns the whole thing into a statement because it's giving you information: who said what.

But for the purpose of functional analysis, it's more useful to highlight them separately.

“The door at the end of the corridor...” I whispered urgently, but I trailed off when I saw a shadow flicker on the wall.

“What’s wrong?” asked Cali, her voice barely audible.

“Back away, slowly.” I hissed back.

“There was another door leading out of the ballroom,” Cali said, grabbing my hand.

“Eternal life, or a lifetime’s supply of maltesers...” I mused.

“How much longer is this going to take?” the genie asked, despondently.

“Be patient!” This was my last wish and I didn’t want to waste it.

“I’m going to wait in my lamp,” it said, vanishing in a puff of smoke.

What do you think the effect of answering a question with a command is in these examples?

Answering a question with a command will usually sound dismissive—one character is purposefully avoiding giving the other the information they want. Exactly how that comes across depends on the relationship between the characters and the context of the situation.

In the original snippet, Auggie's dad is avoiding having a difficult conversation with Auggie. He tries to use his authority as a parent to get Auggie to leave ("Go back to sleep, Auggie").

While his intentions are well-meaning—he wants to avoid causing Auggie more anxiety—we get the sense that he is dismissing Auggie's current emotions (i.e. Auggie is already anxious, and his dad isn't addressing that).

The first worked example is a bit different because of the context (being in a dangerous situation). The narrator isn't being dismissive of Cali—rather, by calling for immediate action, they are signalling that there isn't time to answer the question. (But notice that the result—avoiding a conversation—is the same. It's the motivation that has changed.)

Try describing the second worked example by yourself (or discuss it in a group).

  • What is the "commanding" character trying to achieve?
  • What does this say about the relationship between the two characters in the snippet?
Write your own variation.