1. The Peanut Monster
    Offline

    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2013
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Zealand

    Dialogue-heavy passages

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by The Peanut Monster, Jun 28, 2013.

    Hi fellow writers,

    I'm making some progress on my book. Slow and steady wins the race, heh.

    I'm noticing that I have a tendency to focus on dialogue as the crux of a scene. I really like writing dialogue, I feel that it flows well out of me, and I like the results. Scenes without that though, are a bore and a chore, and I struggle to give these scens focus, or even get the words on the page. I struggle for vocab, and find it difficult to express my ideas. One scene, I'm writing a scene at the moment, with a MC walking through a city square alone - I'm using to set the exposition of the story a bit and explain his feelings toward the society in which he lives.

    What are people's thoughts on dialogue-heavy work? Is it normal for new writers to find this easier/more natural? I'm reading Wool (High Howey) at the moment which is a whole lot of internalising and description, and I'm personally not a fan. Can anyone suggest some good dialogue-heavy novels?

    How can I improve my ability to write non-verbal scenes?

    Thanks all!

    Mike
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I started with a lot of dialogue. It works. You can 'show' a lot of story with dialogue, done right. In my critique group the comments frequently included, "I can't see the scene" so I've added a lot of description (sounds, smells, sights, actions) to my story. I'm not worried that I wrote a lot of the core story with dialogue. But I'm adding a lot more setting now that I'm learning more how to write it.

    For help on scene and setting I've found going to images in Pinterest extremely helpful. I can describe what I see better than I can produce a description from thin air, even though I have a lifetime of exploring the world to draw from.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    While I agree that a story needs something other than dialogue, this scene actually sounds like it would be much better if it did its job with dialogue--if he were taking this walk with another person, for some purpose, and having an everyday conversation that "leaked" information about those feelings.

    Edited to add: It occurs to me that your suggested scene is a sort of passive exposition scene--it's not dialogue, but it's not action, either. It's all thought--in a way, it's dialogue, or at least verbalized thoughts, it's just dialogue with only one speaker.

    What if you set yourself to try to write your characters _doing_ things, things that involve lightweight conflict or frustration, even if they're not scenes that would end up in the book? Trying to buy a suit for a funeral and being frustrated that nothing affordable and appropriate will fit. Getting to the deli part of the grocery late at night and discovering that they've already packed up the food. Trying to find an address in a new city.

    I dunno. It's a thought.
     
  4. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    My first thought: if you really like writing dialogue and dislike descriptive narrative, maybe you should try writing a play or a script instead of a book (I assume it's a novel). In fact, I would suggest you try it, just to see what it's like to have to do all exposition through dialogue.

    While there is no rule about how much dialogue is too much, most novels I've enjoyed have not had real long stretches of it - even Allan Drury's Advise and Consent, a novel about the US Senate that included stretches of legislative debate, never went on for too long without something to break things up. I tend to think that page after page of unbroken dialogue would be somewhat tedious to read, and I myself tend to get uncomfortable if dialogue stretches on too long - I often find myself using a variety of techniques to break it up. I also find that extensive dialogue slows the action to a crawl. I like using "telling" to telescope action where I need it.
     
  5. circ
    Offline

    circ New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2013
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    1
    Think about how you engage in a conversation. You know the context for that conversation, you know what you're thinking while it's happening, etc. But if you overhear a conversation merely, it becomes old before too long unless the topic has some pretty high stakes. The same strikes me as true with fiction. I tend to agree with edfromny here: long long periods of dialogue are better suited to other forms of storytelling.

    That said, if the conversation is crisp and it's happening in a quick-paced portion of the story, I think it can work fine.
     
    jannert likes this.
  6. A.L.Mitchell
    Offline

    A.L.Mitchell Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2011
    Messages:
    100
    Likes Received:
    3
    Dialouge has its place in fiction as you are able to show by the way the character is talking, but I don't think you could do a novel with two or more characters talking; as it is hard to do and without any stakes in the novel, it may become boring. So if you do bit of everything but if you struggle with the action, narration then it may best to have more dialouge. I wish you good luck with your writing.
     
  7. Ann-Russell
    Offline

    Ann-Russell Member

    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    8
    I agree. Since you said yourself that you find writing scenes without dialogue "boring and a chore", you may need to punch up those scenes a bit, add some tension. Because honestly, if the scene/passage bores you out of your mind, how do you think a reader will respond?

    I also agree with EdFromNY. If dialogue is your strong suit and its what you really enjoy, why not try your hand at scriptwriting?

    Personally, I'm not a big fan of books with large chunks of dialogue, unless is broken up a bit. I like action and to feel the story progress.
     
  8. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I'll third EdFromNY and point at GingerCoffee's post a lot. If only I could install flashing lights on it...

    I, personally, find it unnatural to have long stretches of dialogue in writing. Do people really just sit there and stare at each other like statues while they spew words at each other? No. They interact with their environments, they make expressions and hand motions, nod, laugh, et cetera. In the scene you described, you could easily mention your character walking down a bike path, taking a turn, walking off the path to avoid a puddle or pile of doggie poo, cars driving by and making noise and spewing exhaust at him, and all sorts of things. Consider the environment, the setting, and how it and the character interact. Splice that into the dialogue to help cut it a little. I love writing dialogue where it's interactive with the environment, though I think I'm still not as good at it as I could be. It's also a great way to indicate who's talking instead of adding a litany of "s/he said/asked"s.

    There are a few Hemingway stories that have a lot of really long stretches of dialogue. It's been a while, but I think The Old Man and the Sea had some parts that were really heavy on dialogue (I can't stand how that man could go half a page or longer without indicating who said what... even if there were only two people, I had to often re-read to get things straight). "Hills Like White Elephants" (full text available here but the formatting looks iffy) did the same thing. This still isn't quite what you're looking for, though...

    To improve on writing non-verbal scenes, I highly recommend reading. Look at how others have done it. Pay attention to how they do it and your own reactions to what you're reading. Don't just read for entertainment, but analyze it. Figure out what words they used to evoke what reactions in you and try to figure out how you can do the same thing. I love reading stuff for the sake of learning from it. I've gotten so much from that.
     
  9. TerraIncognita
    Offline

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    Joined:
    May 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,339
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Texas
    I agree with this. It's important to have balance and it's not necessary to include every minute detail just the ones that would be relevant to the character or the story. As to what is relevant to the character that really depends on their personality and mindset. Different people notice different things.

    Body language is an excellent way to express what is going on with the characters. A huge amount of human communication is nonverbal.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    So a little off topic. I'm working on a scene, it's a tournament and I found the actual contest not contributing that much to the story. The point of the chapter was some other conflict. So I write the conflict up, it's dialogue heavy, naturally, there's a festival going on and then I finish up with the contest.

    Doesn't work, I almost feel like I wanted to summarize the tournament outcome and be done, but that wasn't right. But if I just wrote the the contest scene, it was boring, predictable, and it didn't move the story forward.

    So, I'm sharing my solution. I moved the contest into the middle of the conflict dialogue. A little contest, a little dialogue, a little contest, more dialogue.

    I am very pleased with the result. It works! Yay!
     
    jannert likes this.
  11. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,815
    Likes Received:
    7,336
    Location:
    Scotland
    Action tags

    I would put flashing lights on THIS. Interspersing dialogue with frequent action does three good things:

    It helps set a scene
    It can help develop character (what characters are doing while they are speaking is often crucial to understanding them)
    It keeps the tedious 'saids' at bay

    It can also help to break up a long glob of dialogue spoken by only one character, which is especially useful if the character is not speaking to him/herself, but is 'telling' something to another character.

    Whenever there is a new paragraph in a scene with dialogue it is natural to assume the speaker has changed. Even the correct punctuation marks ...no end quote at the end of a paragraph and a start quote at the beginning of the new one ...can be confusing. So, if you've got a character going on and on at somebody else (and no, this is not always boring!), by all means break up the speech into paragraphs, but make it clear who is speaking with action tags at the start of each one.

    What @circ said makes sense to me:
    What @heal41hp said about Hemingway brought back memories of why I never enjoyed reading those stories. Hemingway's considered a 'master' but I found his sparse style irritating at best, and totally confusing at worst. In my mind, a reader should never have to backtrack to figure out what is going on or who is speaking. I had to do this while reading Hemingway all the time. He did not have the gift of sucking me straight into the world of his story and keeping me there till he was done telling it. I kept coming out of it all the time, thinking: whaaa?
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
  12. UnrealCity
    Offline

    UnrealCity Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2013
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    Australia
    I'm much the opposite way - I have been writing poetry for a few years but I have only just begun to write stories. I find that it's much easier for me to describe a scene than write dialog naturally.
     
  13. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Breaking dialogue at key points builds interest, and can also focus the reader's attention on what was being said at the interruption. You leave the reader hanging for a spell, and the reader anticipates the resuming of the discussion.
     
    jannert likes this.
  14. The Peanut Monster
    Offline

    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2013
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Thanks everyone for your suggestions and thoughts. I think I'll play around a bit more with interspersing dialogue and action, as well as practicing a bit of writing non-verbal scenes. I think (and these comments have reinforced) that having a mixture of scenes - some dialogue, some action, some both, some pensive, is probably best to keep variety, and I will try and be aware a bit more of that when I'm writing (and reading).

    As for screenplays, that's an interesting idea that I hadn't really thought of before. My sister is actually studying film and screenplay writing, I might talk to her a bit about that. It's funny, I really get a lot of creating the world in my head (and brainstorming on sheets of paper, notebooks etc), but find that when it comes to writing it down, I can't find the words! It's a surprising challenge. At least I'm learning about myself and the way I like to work!
     
  15. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    I just wanted to say I've found this thread to be very useful to me. I want to say thank you to all the participants.

    As I progress I find my scenes tend to be extremely dialogue heavy. I keep my dialogue fast and tense, with plenty of conflict. I include plenty of body language, facial expressions and actions. I'm also careful to break up long conversations with small paragraphs or sentences of description, usually environmental, rather than exposition. But the fact is the majority of scenes in my stories are dialogue scenes.

    So far, no one has complained about it. But none of my early readers are skilled writers or editors. I can tell simply by picking up any book in my library that my stories have far more dialogue than most books. I don't want to change formats (switching to screenplays for example) right now but I would like to figure out exactly how "dialogue-heavy" a book can get without becoming boring.

    Do you think being dialogue-heavy is something I can get away with as long as I break it up at intervals with good action and keep the dialogue tight and interesting?
     
  16. Leigh Silvester
    Offline

    Leigh Silvester Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2013
    Messages:
    69
    Likes Received:
    14
    Have stumbled on this after having recently splurged out a section that had a lot of dialogue.

    It is interspersed with some introspections by one character triggered by comments from the other character.
    Some physical actions and movements along with a few scenic descriptions help (I hope) to place the moment in time and place.
     
  17. jwatson
    Offline

    jwatson Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2009
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    canada
    I think I improved as a writer once I found my "dialogue niche," which is a term I just made up.

    "Short, meaningful dialogue" is one of my writing mantras.

    I've been working on a novel for a few years now, and it's sort of stream of consciousness style. So at times, I'd say there's barely any dialogue. It's all in the character's head. What he sees, what he thinks, what he feels.

    But then, I'll throw in a giant paragraph of dialogue. I also have a lot of back and forth conversations. The style I like for my current project, when it comes to these back and forth conversations, is to simply avoid dialogue tags until I find a place to build some tension (as per Cog pointed out). After back and forth dialogue for a while, I'll throw in some description, or a character's physical reaction, before continuing and/or ending the conversation.

    It's obviously hard to comment on dialogue. It's just hard to comment on every aspect of writing. If your writing works, it works. That goes for dialogue, too. I will say that you shouldn't feel discouraged about your dialogue, or whether or not you're using too much or too little. However much you use, use it well. That's what's most important.

    Good luck.
     
  18. Siena
    Offline

    Siena Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    249
    Likes Received:
    51

    No problem with it. Lots of screenplays are dialogue heavy.

    It all comes down to the story. If the story's interesting and flows, it's fine.


    Just write it all out as action. Or minimal dialogue.
     
  19. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    That's called monologue.

    As a general rule... ALL screenplays are dialogue heavy. It's the nature of the beast.

    That depends almost solely on how skilled you are at delivering that dialogue. The key factor in any passage of manuscript, whether fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, whatever, is to keep it flowing toward the resolution and keep the reader involved.

    And that, my friend, is the key, isn't it? Yes. If you can keep your story interesting, regardless if it is through dialogue/monologue, exposition/narrative, or whatever, the key is to keep the reader engaged. And, whatever the 'tools' you might use to accomplish that are up to you. If writing were nailed down to one "right" way to write, we'd all be writing essentially the same book. It's the vision and imagination of each individual author that keeps writing, and therefore reading, interesting.
     
    TDFuhringer likes this.
  20. M. B. Wright
    Offline

    M. B. Wright Member

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2013
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    United States
    A lot of this has to do with building your vocabulary. In the beginning for me, dialogue was the easiest part to write. I realized after a while that dialogue is supposed to be harder because you're struggling to give each character their own voice. Non-verbal description of events can become easier with time, practice and building of vocabulary. Once you know how to put pertinent details down and describe them well, you'll find your voice and it will flow more naturally.
     

Share This Page