Narrative vs. Dialogue

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wilderness
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Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by wilderness » July 12th, 2011, 12:05 am

Narrative v. dialogue: how do you balance the two?

I tend to be dialogue-heavy. Whenever I have some information that needs to be conveyed, my instinct is to try to convey it by dialogue. Show don't tell and all that.

Yet, having narrative can even out the flow of your novel; if everything is a "scene" like in a screenplay, it can feel a bit choppy. Narrative creates a nice transition between scenes. Also, if there's a lot of explanation required, sometimes narrative can just move things along faster than a realistic dialogue would. Dialogue can read as much as an info dump as narrative in some cases (though maybe the best approach is simply to rearrange your scene so less is more).

Thoughts?

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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by Aimée » July 12th, 2011, 12:19 am

I'm the opposite in that my writing is very narrative heavy. I've been trying to use more dialogue for 'show, don't tell' and for balance, but I have trouble making the characters sound realistic. Plus with dialogue, you have to stick with character and voice and such, but in narrative you can get creative with tone, style, and form. It's just so much fun!

A balance between the two keeps the story from being boring or choppy. Balance makes the story well-rounded. Super important. Too bad I suck at dialogue...

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polymath
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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2011, 9:47 am

Narrative is a tricky word. It's the whole of a manuscript. It's the process of narrating--reading text aloud or a spoken commentary accompanying a visual presentation. It's a work in another medium that's similar to written word drama, notably emotionally stimulating. It's the parts that aren't dialogue. At least dialogue is reasonably well-defined. It's conversation, or perhaps soliloquy, or dramatic monologue. Dialogue is the parts of a narrative that report spoken words, written word representations of aural sensations.

Narrative, as it were, in the sense of the parts that aren't dialogue can be any of the writing modes. Description, introspection--though intropsection is also internal discourse--action, narration in the express sense of a narrator's direct report, emotion, sensation, summarization, exposition in the express sense of detailed information, conversation, recollection, explanation, and transition, DIANE'S SECRET. Though dialogue can be any of the above in many permutations and combinations as well. The weakest dialogue tells information that more artfully can be shown in one or more of the other modes. Tell is recitation, show is imitation.

Dialogue's strengths are it can have a faster pace and be more engaging than other writing modes; however, as in all things, purposeful variety keeps discourse from wearing thin. Dialogue also closes narrative distance closer than a narrator reporting away from a scene's immediate time, place, and situation, which is tell, when show is in a scene's immediate time, place, and situation.

Dialogue can be direct or indirect, tagged or free, like introspection when it's internal discourse. Direct speech is conventionally bracketed with quote marks, and marked with attribution tags more often than not of the he or she said variety. Indirect speech is run in without bracketing marks or special formatting, like, Ben said he'd go there by himself if he wanted. That's a tagged indirect discourse example from the Ben said tag. Indirect speech is narration in the sense of a narrator's report of spoken words.

Subtext turns otherwise weak dialogue into reader engaging conversation. For me, dialogue that's all surface meaning is the weakest of all. I believe dialogue should be playing badminton with live handgrenades and no one knowing when they'll go off and what they'll do when they do and not everyone knowing what they mean, and not quite clear what they mean until they do go off.

How much dialogue should there be in any given narrative is a matter of a conversation scene's reflection of real world experiences. Lots of chatter in a preschool class. Not so much in a tennis match, unless one of the contenders or commentators is John McEnroe.
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oldhousejunkie
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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by oldhousejunkie » July 12th, 2011, 12:45 pm

I tend to lean towards being dialogue heavy as well, Wilderness. I think it is because I write historical fiction; I feel the best way to convey the period is through the conversations the characters have. As a reader, I like dialogue better as well. I get very irritated when an author lapsing into endless descriptions.

I do worry sometimes that I don't spend enough time on fleshing out the scenery because I get so caught up in writing the dialogue. I guess I will find out soon--I got my first request yesterday; I'm hoping that I will get lucky and receive some feedback!

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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by trixie » July 12th, 2011, 2:39 pm

oldhousejunkie wrote:I guess I will find out soon--I got my first request yesterday; I'm hoping that I will get lucky and receive some feedback!
Oh! How exciting! Congrats, Caroline!

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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by GKJeyasingham » July 13th, 2011, 12:47 am

A balance of both is usually the best, but do what the story calls for. My WIP is strange in the sense that dialogue is non-existent until the very end (though there's a logical reason for it). It's actually good practice for me. I've always struggled at making description seem interesting, so my WIP is forcing me to develop a strong narrative and make the story interesting without relying on dialogue (thereby helping me strengthen my weakness). Also, since dialogue is sparse, I'm forced to really tighten and "juicify" any dialogue that I do have.

At the same time, I'm sure screenwriters get lots of practice at making their stories interesting without relying on description. Of course, if you can make both dialogue and description interesting, then you've got something.

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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by Leila » July 13th, 2011, 5:43 am

trixie wrote:
oldhousejunkie wrote:I guess I will find out soon--I got my first request yesterday; I'm hoping that I will get lucky and receive some feedback!
Oh! How exciting! Congrats, Caroline!
I'd like to add my congrats!

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Re: Narrative vs. Dialogue

Post by Leila » July 13th, 2011, 5:52 am

polymath wrote: How much dialogue should there be in any given narrative is a matter of a conversation scene's reflection of real world experiences. Lots of chatter in a preschool class. Not so much in a tennis match, unless one of the contenders or commentators is John McEnroe.
Ha! Good point, on all counts.

And I think Polymath also makes a good point about the use of the term narrative. In context with your question, I'm learning that sometimes narrative summary, especially if it's used for exposition purposes, can feel like you are giving the reader a lecture.

Of course not all narrative summary needs to be cut, nor can the whole story rely too heavily on dialogue. Too much dialogue leaves the reader exhausted, looking for a break, which narrative summary can provide. So to me that means that 'showing' your story through scenes is probably a stronger way to keep them engaged, in the story and keeps it moving along.

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