1. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Dialogue & Description?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by funkybassmannick, Sep 8, 2012.

    Hey all,

    I feel like I'm getting a good hold on the actual dialogue: using good tone, adding tension, getting to the point, etc., but I struggle whenever I try to break out of the "White room," that is, whenever I try to add description. It just feels forced. Any suggestions?
     
  2. Tolsof
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    Tolsof Member

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    I have this problem too. Some of my older stories are almost 90% dialogue with little to no description. I found the best way to break out of this is to either

    Force yourself to write a description or other non-dialogue based text between conversations (this will make the story seem awkward of course but there is always editing and it WILL help you get the hang of breaking dialogue)

    Or you could do writing excersises that use no dialogue and only description. It isn't an exact solution to the problem but it does help.
    Then of course there is always reading books. I find it very helpful to open up a random page of a book and just read the differences between dialogue and description.

    Anyways hope this helped
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Link description with action & dialogue.
    example -
    Benny was meeting Earl at a new restaurant. One of Earl's picks so he came prepared with
    Rolaids. Earl waved a beefy hand from the torn vinyl booth he'd saved, and Benny weaved his
    way through tables that rocked when he brushed past, causing the regulars moored at them
    to grab their drinks. A waitress was snarling at a customer to hold his horses while a baby pelted
    bypassers with scrambled eggs.
    "Well, it's busy so it must be good." Benny said.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the best way to learn anything about writing good fiction is to see how the best writers [doesn't mean the most popular, since some of them are terrible writers] do it... just take a good look at novels by really good writers and study the ways they do this...
     
  5. J. Blake
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    J. Blake Member

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    Balance is the key. Describe the most important things (and/or sensory details). For instance, "The room was smoky and dimly lit. A moose's head was mounted on the wall and the smell of barbacue sauce hung heavy in the air."

    I've given enough description to give you an idea of what the room is like, but not too much that you feel bored and overwhelmed. At the same time, I'm giving my reader the chance to imagine, giving him/her some of the power and freedom in the story. So as the scene progresses maybe they'll imagine the Barkeep wiping beer mugs with a dirty rag, or a muted television playing, or the red neon sign outside. Etc. Etc.

    When I write description (an area I'm still learning myself) I tend to think to myself, "What's the most interesting/powerful object or feature in this room?" and whether it be the moose head on the wall or a fish tank or even the smell, I base all my other details around that one and find some way to link them together. Imagine a camera focusing on the fish tank and then slowly zooming out and panning around the entire room.

    Hope that helped. Good luck.
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    True, and I have been doing that. If you would like to share any advice from things you have learned, I would love to hear them.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue and description are very different writing skills. Description is probably the more mundane one to most people, because we are used to using description to answer questions.
    Dialogue is trickier for most people, because good dialogue shows character and relationships, often by what is NOT said. Dialogue operates on multiple levels, of which the literal text is often the least important.

    But good description also has techniques that are often overlooked. Metaphor and simile can liven up a description if not overdone. The narrator's attitude can also inject itself in description:

    Narrator 1: She wore colorful, cheerful clothes that brightened every gathering she joined.

    Narrator 2: She wore garish, slutty clothes that screamed "Look at me," desperately grabbing attention wherever she went.

    Also, keep in mind there is a relationship between the depth and intricacy of description and the pace of the story. The more detailed your description becomes, the more you slow the pace at that point in the story. A slow pace is not always a bad thing, though. Just be aware of the pace needed at that point in the narrative, and choose your descriptive approach accordingly.
     
  8. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    My opinion is that description works best when it is selective rather than exhaustive.

    Let us suppose that our scene is set on the steps of one of those wonderful brightly-painted post-earthquake houses that help make San Francisco so visually appealing. If one were describing the house, one might be tempted to give us a comprehensive architectural description of the thing, complete with precise color names pulled from a Sherwin Williams paint swatch, details from an Architectural Digest story, and a complete botanical analysis of the flora, right down to the scientific names of the plants.

    Don't do it. It's too much.

    Instead, pick out one or two details that stick out in the character's mind. Overlay those details with how they play into the character's current state of mind, and tie them back thematically to the conversation or action that is taking place.

    Because the fact is that we as humans don't take in all the details of the world around us. We focus on a few things that seem relevant to us at any given time, so the same should hold true for your characters.

    And as readers, if we are given a few relevant visual cues carefully selected and crafted to fit the moment, we have a knack for filling in the rest of the picture ourselves based on the cues we have been provided. Give the reader a few well-chosen descriptive dots, and they will connect those dots and color in the picture themselves.
     
  9. Zombie Writer
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    Zombie Writer New Member

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    Try this... open a blank document, look about your room where you're at right now and think about what you see then describe what you see, give details then "write/type" them down, simple description, the color of the walls, blue. The size of the desk, large. And so forth. If you have a window, then look outside and describe what you see, keep adding details then when all that is done write your impression of it. "The walls are a faded shade of blue that had probably seen better days." "The desk is huge, taking up nearly a third of the wall that it rests against. It looked heavy and stood out from everything else in the room." and so forth. Then think about how each made you feel, "The faded blue walls lent an air of melancholy that made it rather depressing to be in there." "The huge desk that dominated the room impressed itself upon me/her/him/them, causing an air of uneasiness and tension." Then combined all the elements. "The room was bleak, with faded blue melancholy walls that did nothing to cheer me up. Alongside one wall was a huge imposing desk that dominated everything else including me, which made me inexplicably nervous." Something like that... hope that helps.

    By the way I made up the room and the desk and do not write under such conditions.
     
  10. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm glad that wasn't addressed to me. It would be very embarrassing to have to admit how messy a place we live in. The word "cacophony" might come into use.
     
  11. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Something that has always helped me. Imagine whatever you're trying to describe in your minds eye, like you were literally looking at it. Then imagine that you have to tell someone about it. But more than tell, you want to show it to them as you see it. Then write that down. I've used that exercise to help my description, also the one mentioned by Zombie Writer. Those are both very helpful to developing descriptive ability.

    Remember describe it like you want to show it to people.
     
  12. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    I have the annoying habit of not describing settings at all. I just don't think to do it until I've written several thousand words. I mean it; without fail I always do this! I can see the environments clearly enough, and I somehow assume that someone reading what I wrote will have a clear picture in their own head.
     
  13. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was reading about this problem in a "how to write" book I was reading on the way into work. It described it as the "white room" problem.
     
  14. TrinityRevolution
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    TrinityRevolution Member

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    Guess, starts with M...

    Describing a setting only requires one to two paragraphs max imo. The setting i think works well if trickled out through narrative and dialogue tags.
     
  15. Padfoot
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    Padfoot Member

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    Stephen King I think has too much description at times. I love his books but I know more than once I've been screaming "GET TO THE ACTION ALREADY".

    There's got to be a balance between it. I tihnk TrinityRevolution is right, having it spread out through the dialogue is best. No one needs to know the exactly lay out of the room as soon as the scene begins.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i share advice from all i've learned in well over 6 decades of reading/writing here on the forums every day... it's certainly way too much to list in a single post... :rolleyes:

    but you can browse my posts, to get a sampling... and if you have any specific questions, you can email me any time...

    dm...
    'cacophony' refers only to sound, so wouldn't work well in re a messy room... ;)

    hugs, m
     
  17. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I meant it as a metaphor, and if I was actually describing the room, I might go through objects and list the metaphoric "sounds" that they make. Being careful to indicate that I'm describing a visual scene with sound. Pretentious? Moi? :)
     

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