1. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    A whole chapter of dialogue?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ulramar, Aug 10, 2014.

    So one problem I'm having is that my story is complex(ish). There's a lot going on and a lot of it requires lots of conversation, sometimes leaving me with almost a whole chapter of dialogue. There was a presidential debate, a council meeting, etc.

    How much can a reader bare before they get bored? I've never really seen this anywhere in books I've read so I'm concerned. Is a whole chapter of dialogue too much?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with using a lot of dialogue. I only get bored if the writing is bad; dialogue vs. narrative has nothing to do with it.
     
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  3. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alright that works, thanks. I'll check it over and make sure it's not bad dialogue.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not necessarily boredom that's the problem with pages of dialogue. It's that the reader cannot see much of what's going on if you leave out anything about the rest of the scene.

    The scene gives the reader more investment in the dialogue. It also enriches the dialogue if we can see the speakers' faces, body language and so on.
     
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  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like dialogue, too, but it can be a problem in that it focuses too much on the dialogue. I recently had this same problem and my critique group suggested adding in more of the characters' thoughts before he or she speaks or in reaction to what is said.
     
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  6. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like if there's something shocking that's said or done there'll be a reaction and we'll get to see their faces, but for normal dialogue that's just informative and plot progressing it just kind of happens.

    “If you think Vitam is our ally, you haven’t been paying attention.”

    “Watch your tongue, boy,” the High King growls. That’s it. There’s the father I know.

    “You asked my opinion and I gave it to you. I’ll leave if you’d like.” I stand and push my chair in.

    “Sit back down.”

    I smile while facing the door, but wipe the smirk from my face before I take my seat once again. “Fine.”

    Things like that, I'll describe faces and reactions, but it'll happen like once every other page or so, and I'm concerned I'm not having enough action happening and the reader will get bored.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is a short story, but if you want an example of almost all dialogue, check out Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants."
     
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  8. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alright I will, thanks. I think I've got two chapters of straight dialogue, so I am nervous of how it'll turn out. There's bits of action at the ends of both, but I don't feel like it's good.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    There's a lot more there besides dialogue. It looks fine. :)
     
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  10. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well that's one little segment of a 2,500 word chapter that's all dialogue, minus the start and finish. There are small breaks in between at points, but more or less it's all conversation. So if I have a few relief points in between it will be alright, or do I not even need relief points?
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's no right or wrong amount of dialogue or narrative. You can theoretically have a novel with all dialogue and a novel with all narrative, and both could be equally good. So my advice is to go with your instincts.
     
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  12. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alright I guess that works. Thanks!
     
  13. jannert
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    I think that pretty much works, although I'd make sure to group the thoughts and actions with the speaker, and not leave them dangling at the end of a paragraph spoken by somebody else.

    "Watch your tongue, boy," the High King growls.

    That's it. There's the father I know. "You asked my opinion and I gave it to you. I'll leave if you like." I stand and push my chair in.

    "Sit back down."

    This passage is choppy, though. This works perfectly well for short stretches like this, and you've portrayed the prickly nature of this encounter very well, but I would get tired reading a whole chapter that was presented this way. Dialogue. Dialogue. Short action. Short thought. Dialogue. Dialogue. Short action. Dialogue. It's always an idea to break the rhythm of any kind of writing. A short exchange like this might be followed by a narrative paragraph of more detailed action, or some kind of analysis. Then another few lines of pertinent dialogue. In other words, give the lines of dialogue time to sink in, and make sure they really matter. Your lines here do seem to matter, but if they carry on in this vein for too long, they will become difficult to assimilate.
     
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  14. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    What do you mean by choppy? And what do you mean by the last line, "Your lines here do seem to matter, but if they carry on in this vein for too long, they will become difficult to assimilate."?

    And I usually put thoughts with the last set of dialogue but have actions before the next set of dialogue. But if that looks better how you fixed it I'll start doing that.

    And yeah I'll try to put in more narration in between speakers, that does make sense. I'll be fixing that later.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That 'choppy' remark I made wasn't meant as a criticism, by the way. You've written quick-fire dialogue in this scene, and it works very well. There are a couple of sentences that are medium length, but two that are just three or four words, and one line of spoken dialogue that is just one word. In other words, neither of these people is talking at any length. This is excellent in this scene, because it's prickly and confrontational. However, if any scene goes on too long with nobody saying anything longer than a few words at a time, it can get tiring to read. I wasn't making any judgements about this scene, but just cautioning to vary the way dialogue is presented, so it doesn't come out

    "Rap rap."
    "Boo,"
    he said
    "Rap rap," she retorted
    "But, boo boo boo—"
    "Rap,"
    she said
    "Boo. Boo?"
    "Rap."
    She walked to the window.
    He stood up to leave. "Boo boo."

    for pages and pages. I've seen this done. It does make for quick page turning, but sometimes for the wrong reasons!
     
  16. Catrin Lewis
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    Yes. That's what I was going to point out.

    The rule is that if they don't merit a separate paragraph, thoughts go with the speech and actions of the one thinking them. The reflection about the king's personality, the statement about the rejected opinion, and the pushing in of the chair all belong to the POV character. They stay together.

    :)

    @jannert has given you more detail on what she means by "choppy." It's a matter of varying the lengths of the speeches and/or the lengths of the reflection and actions. Make sure you're not falling into a machine-gun rat-a-tat pattern or an exchange of snappy one-liners.

    Personally, I didn't find what you posted to fall too much into that trap. It fits the situation. But then I'm somebody who has to be careful about doing the same. Ditto with having mostly talk and not enough action. I posted a novel segment on the Workshop and had one critter ask me if it was a screen play! o_O
     
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  17. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I know it wasn't criticism I was just confused. And yeah I wrote like that here but the rest of the scene isn't like this. It pretty much goes back to "As I was saying....." And then they continue on. It's usually full sentences; only when there's tension will I write choppy like that.

    And I guess I'll fix it to have the thoughts in the other paragraph. That works. But I guess I've got to go fix it then in this and my full manuscript (yet another reason to do a rewrite, I guess). Thanks!
     
  18. jannert
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    I think if you concentrate on getting your readers to SEE as well as hear your scene, you're on the right track. Let it be like a movie, only with thoughts thrown in as well. If the characters make faces, or move a certain way, or feel a certain way about the other characters, or react to something that's been said ...all this helps in creating visuals to accompany the dialogue. If you wait until you can see the scene happening inside your head when you write it, this kind of detail will just flow.
     
  19. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I try that a lot but it always ends up being the exact same reaction (he looks to me, eyes widened. He looks to me with a horrible look on his face. He frowns at that statement. I can see the rage boiling inside him). After a while it became repetitive and I decided to try and make the dialogue speak it. "Watch your tongue, boy," the High King growls." Well we don't exactly see the anger in his face but we hear it in his voice. But yes I'll try to mix it up a bit.
     
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  20. Mckk
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    The danger with doing that is - the reader might not know what to take away from the dialogue. However, if you're certain every turn and twist of the dialogue is actually important to the plot and character development - then sure. If it's just there because you don't know how else to write it, then maybe think on it some more.
     
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  21. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Just want to say Terry Goodkind has like 3 chapters consecutively of non-stop dialogue.
    It's really badly done, but he did it so you can too just make it good :3
     
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  22. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well I'm not sure because in my insecurity I feel like it's bad, so I don't know! But I'm making it up for it with two chapters, each with two huge battles so I think I'm okay.
     
  23. A.M.P.
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    Don't worry over it.
    Every writer does different things and every reader will like or dislike different things.
    Just do Ulramar things and fix them until they feel like the story you want to tell.

    Personal Anecdote: In my current work, I have a chapter dedicated to a council meeting that I plan to use a foreshadow of future events and to give some insight on the workings of my world. None of the characters are there to experience it but it's not uncommon for me to have a PoV I don't use all the way through the book (I never do the whole bad guy random PoV thing) and I like how it works.
     
  24. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll do my best to do Ulramar things :D

    And yeah, one of the chapters is critical for world building and character building for the bad guy and his timeline. It's so much fun writing the bad buy for me. So for this book he's got a PoV and he's got like 6 or 7 PoV chapters, which is cool.
     
  25. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I read, I eat 2,500+ word dialogues for breakfast.
     
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