1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Dialogue-first technique of writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by essential life, Jan 19, 2010.

    I like dialogue. I don't like description. I don't like action. Of course, I have to use them in order to write coherent stories. But they're not what interests me. They are not why I write. They are basically secondary concerns.

    But what I'm saying is that when I write a short-story, I come up with a plot, and then I write the dialogue and introspection first and then I fill in all the action and description after. Is this a normal practice among writers, or am I out to lunch?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it works for you, perfect. I tend to follow the flow of the narrative, and insert dialogue when it is called for.

    To me, dialogue is a way to show characterization instead of telling it. If I can show a character's feelings, or ambivalence, or hidden agenda, etc, through dialogue, it's well-placed.

    I don't like to use dialogue as a substitute for exposition, unless it can also serve to show something about the characters. But dialogue also takes me longer to pound into shape than narrative, because I'm usually working harder on subtext than text.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as cog says, if it works for you, then of course it's ok... but i've never come across any successful authors who write in such a patchwork fashion... and i can't imagine doing so myself...
     
  4. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I do it once in a great while if a scene is being stubborn, but not as a general practice. Writing the dialogue essentially functions, for me, as a sort of outline. Often, the dialogue I wrote separately doesn't even make it into the finished scene.

    But, as Cognito and mammamaia said, if it works for you, go to it.
     
  5. Destin
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    Destin Senior Member

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    As everyone else has said, every method has it's place in a complete story...

    It would be easy to get into a "telling" way of writing using dialogue for almost the entire story. I can't say I would be enthralled to read this:

    "Bob is running a marathon," Dianne said, "He's in first place right now. Another runner is right on his tail. Bob is giving it all he's got. Bob wins!"

    I suppose if you were writing a dialogue based story you wouldn't use an action based plot though...
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm the exact opposite. I put in dialogue at the very end. But if you are comfortable with writing dialogue first, then go ahead and do it, regardless of what other writers do. Chances are that if you are uncomfortable writing a certain way, then your writing is going to suffer.
     
  7. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I tend to be heavy on the dialog too. I've often thought I should just write screenplays, but that field is even harder to break into than the novel writing business. I hate exposition, but often it is a necessary evil, so long as it is showing and not doing too much telling. I do like my action though.

    I tend to write in a linear fashion, from start to finish. I write it narrative and dialog as I go along within each scene. Since I tend to write more in the first person pov, sometimes dialog is the only way for the story telling character to find out information. This has to be done carefully though, no, "Well you know..." crap. It has to come out naturally with the correct emotions for that scene. And since the MC doesn't know everything in a fp pov narration, the reader has to find out along with the MC what the heck is going on, through interaction with other characters and situations. That's the way uh-huh,uh-huh...I like it...uh-huh, uh-huh. lol

    The order in which you write things is totally up to you. The only thing I see that could pose a problem, would be in writing all the dialog first, you may get confused when adding in your narrative and action. It's always best to follow the KISS rule...the easier you make it for yourself in writing it, the easier it is for the reader to follow.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This can be enlightening as an educational exercise, but I don't recommend it for a serious piece of writing. The result is almost guaranteed to be horrible.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Being different just for the sake of being different is foolish. Instead of decrying "the box", you need to understand that it exists as a database of the experiences of thousands of writers.

    If you're going to be a rebel, know what you are rebelling against and why. Otherwise, you're just like the Doctor Pepper jingle: "I'm part of an original crowd."

    As George Santayana said, ""Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You're probably not out to lunch, but if dialogue is your forte and the only aspect you really enjoy, why don't you write screenplays (or stage plays) instead? There, the only thing about description and action you have to focus on is how to communicate these things clearly to the directors and others involved in the production, and that's not typically done with fictional prose. Folks I've talked to who read screenplay (and stage play) manuscripts tell me that finding someone who understands how characters actually speak to each other in scintillating dialogue is not easy.

    Of course, you'll need to work on that introspection thing (but that's true even for short stories).
     
  11. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    But it has been done. :) And it has to be one of the hardest ways to master writing. It's a lot easier to use narrative description, but to rely purely on dialogue to show and tell...? Hard -- very hard.
     
  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Also pointless -- very pointless. Would a builder throw away his hammer? Would a chef give up the grill? No one would voluntarily give up something they know they could use to improve their work, regardless of what that work is, especially when doing so is guaranteed to result in a poorer final quality.

    If you really want to write without narrative exposition and description, write for stage or screen.
     
  13. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Well, when I first tried my hand at creative writing, I actually did try writing screenplays (or at least partial ones) and I enjoyed it. But I also like writing things that people will read, and nobody except a movie exec is going to read a screenplay. Plus, I'm not in it for the money, it's just a hobby. Furthermore, I like to write fanfic. So screenplays aren't really an option there.
     
  14. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    A builder, no. A chef, no. But people who write using purely dialogue do so for a specialist market all of their own - so, using your analogy, why would builder carry a grill when he's been taught to be builder by trade?:)

    People have and will continue to be paid for that genre.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since you want to write something that people read, perhaps you should ask yourself how many people want to read a story that consists almost exclusively of dialogue. And maybe you should think about the function of description, and all the other elements that the reading public like to have in a story...
     
  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    What specialist market? Besides plays and films, which are not what are being discussed, where has there been a succesful work featuring nothing but dialogue?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I am completely in favor of experimental writing exercises. It you take them seriously, they are a great way to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of certain aspects of writing.

    Such exercises are valuable for self-discovery. But that is a far cry from recommending that writers turn their nose up at rules and guidelines. The purpose of the exercises is to better understand why a rule or guideline exists.

    When you are a master writer, maybe you will choose to break away and blaze new trails. By then you will understand the rule you choose to smash well enough to be successful. Or you may fall flat on your face even then. But the fact remains, breaking rules should not be done blindly. The great artists who set new trends have done so after mastering the conventional techniques of their times.

    Back to the topic, all-dialogue pieces, or pieces that are predominantly dialogue with insufficient supporting structure, are often referred to as "talking heads" pieces. It is not an expression of praise.
     
  18. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    I'm not at home now. Give me a day or two and I'll PM you some of the authors I've studied. They're an eye opener. And you're right, it's not on topic. But when someone says that people shouldn't throw narrative away, and the main person who started the thread is saying he find dialogue easier, well, you wouldn't be playing nice if you didn't suggest an alternative system when one is there. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. :)
     
  19. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    I never said that I write stories that consist almost exclusively of dialogue. I merely said something to the effect that dialogue is what I focus on the most within the writing process. Though, quite frankly, when I read a story, I do tend to find the parts with dialogue to be the most entertaining.
     
  20. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You're right about the reading of scripts (I find it pretty tedious, myself, and mostly because of the stage direction, which feels more like an interruption to the story than part of the story, per se, like in fiction). I've written one short story that was all dialogue, and that was kind of challenging and fun. Haven't tried to publish it yet, but it did receive some comparatively positive feedback in the forum where I had it reviewed (nothing negative about the dialogue being the only driver of the piece). But, if you're just launching your story by focusing on the dialogue, I don't know why that would be a problem for readers, so long as you use the same kind of care and pay the same kind of attention to how to glue it all together.:)
     
  21. ArckAngel
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    ArckAngel Member

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    That's REALLY not writing outside the box. That's mostly called a play. In fact it's like writing in a much much older box.
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course, that's why Alan Bennett called his series of monologues "Talking Heads" -- written as scripts but wonderfully readable on the page, too. Mind you, he's a "great [artist] who set new trends" having "done so after mastering the conventional techniques of [his] times", so I'm not disagreeing!
     
  23. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    re. the OP, That's always been the process I've used to write, and it works wonders for me. I actually started writing dialogue first after reading up on a successful author that showed up at a SBWC (Santa Barbara Writer's Conference) ages ago who used the some process.

    I'll have to dig up his name. Don't want to point out the wrong guy.
     
  24. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    It's great to know that I'm not alone on this.
     

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