1. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    description / dialogue ratio

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by erebh, Feb 17, 2013.

    Hi guys, I'm writing an adventure; sf & f and sometimes think I have too much dialogue (there are four main characters on the journey with different groups trying to sabatage them from afar as well as the challenges they meet on the adventure), Guessing I would imagine I have 65/35% dialogue/decription

    I am also reading King's Salem's Lot and I find he has little dialogue, maybe 30% but can sometimes drone on for pages about stuff not even closely relative to the main story. I may be wrong but I am tending to skip 2/3 pages at a time and don't seem to be missing much.

    So in essence - what kind of ratio dialogue / description do you prefer or is there an industry standard?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is no standard... what works, works... period!
     
  3. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    Don't get hung up on the ratio. I have an entire chapter (an arbitrary distinction as I don't use chapter breaks) that is pretty much just dialogue and an inane conversation at that. But I got a lot of mileage out of that chapter and without it the response would have been "meh, another death" and not "OMG! Why did SHE have to die?"
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Ditto what Maia said!
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    The more important thing is whether the dialogue/description is doing what it is intended to do. If the readers start thinking 'hey, there are too much dialogues or too much descriptions' in the middle of a chapter, than the writer has already lost it.
     
  6. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    thank you for the advice - I'll continue happy :)
     
  7. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Screw the ratio. Some people love little to no dialogue. Some love almost all dialogue. There's no way to please anybody. Work towards whatever works best for your story.
     
  8. Mauthos
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    Mauthos Member

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    I think I agree with what works, works.

    For me I always try and ensure that what I write, whether dialogue or description, is relevant to the story. Anything not relevant will possibly become boring for you to write and therefore boring to read. So, if your dialogue is interesting and entertaining to you and pertinent to the story, more than likely readers will feel the same way.

    Hope that helps :)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's something else to consider... sometimes dialog that seems irrelevant to the plot/story is used effectively to give the reader an insight into the character of a character... works better than burdening the reader with characters' thoughts...
     
  10. J.A.K.
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    J.A.K. Member

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    It is up to you as a writer to decide how much dialogue is necessary. Different readers like different things, so there is no gold standard. As long as the dialogue advances the narrative in some way (even if we're just gaining subtle insight on a character) and you are happy with the results, then let the characters speak to their heart's content.
     
  11. Elfin
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    Elfin New Member

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    Gosh I struggle with that.
    I tend to flesh out the conversation when it moves the plot forward, bring new information about the character or the plot and gloss over conversation when it doesn't. In that case I will say things such as "They discussed the choice of restaurant briefly as they navigated the crowded downtown sidewalks."
    But I get called on it by my editor and beta-reader.
    I'm told that if there is an exchange between character worth mentioning then it should be showed as a dialogue as it is more active and interesting to read.
    I'm not sure if I agree...or if I'm just lazy..
     
  12. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    They are mostly right. You're hinting that there is something happening with a potential for conflict, but then take a u-turn and leave the reader dangling. If you introduce something like that it has to propell the story in some way. You can have that example sentence in the story, but then something needs to change over the short scene. If they have been talking amicably and made jokes before and you tell the reader that she's huffing in annoyance and he's somewhat unsure about their evening out after the discussion, it is ok, even if dialogue would have been the better tool to transport the change. If there is no change, leave it out. If you hint at action and don't follow through, at least show a result, but it would be even better to have your characters act out the change.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with your editor and reader. What's the purpose of the mention of the discussion? If it's to fill a time gap, I'd say just skip over that time gap:

    John shook his head. "Not happening. It's just not happening."
    "Yeah, yeah." Jane locked the door and tucked her keys away before looking at him. "Let's talk. Dinner."
    He shrugged. "Fine. As long as it's Chinese."
    Ninety minutes and twelve cream cheese wontons later, his manner had thawed. "Explain it again. In detail."


    If the conversation itself is meaningful, it should be meaningful:

    John shook his head. "Not happening. It's just not happening."
    "Yeah, yeah." Jane locked the door and tucked her keys away before looking at him. "Let's talk. Dinner."
    He shrugged. "Fine. As long as it's Chinese."
    She headed for the elevator and pushed the Down button. "There's a new German place on Fourth and Arbor."
    "There's an old Chinese place three blocks down from that."


    Or if it's summarized, the summary should communicate something.

    They debated the choice of restaurant through fourteen elevator stops out of sixteen floors, and then through eight blocks of stop-and-start traffic. She started out determined to eat at Le Maison de la Casa House, but somehow found herself getting out of the cab with him at Royal Palace.
     

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