1. andrewdj
    Offline

    andrewdj Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0

    Lengthy Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by andrewdj, Aug 4, 2011.

    I'm a reading a novel at the moment, "From the dead", by Mark Billingham, and noticed something interesting about dialogue.

    Sometimes the writer would do something like:

    "How are you?", asked Bob.
    Mike said he was fine and thanks for asking.
    "So, do you have the money?"

    Seems odd, when Mike's line could just as easily be done as dialogue as well, but I guess it breaks up the text, rather than having lots of dialogue, which is what I appear to be guilty of in my first writing project.

    The question I then have is: how do you decide which bits should be left as dialogue, and which bits could be narrated? There are lines that obviously have more power when said as dialogue but in some cases it doesn't look like it would make much difference if you swapped the dialogue and narrative elements around; it's used purely just to break up dialogue.
     
  2. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    Sorry for such a copout answer but with me, I just go with my gut. lol
     
  3. beaver777
    Offline

    beaver777 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2011
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    1
    Looks like the author is just doing it for variety's sake.

    I do that myself too, though, in that particular example I would've written "fine, thanks", instead of the longer, clumsier way to put it.

    Sometimes it's also hard to find a natural expression, so avoiding dialogue like that is a simple workaround.
     
  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
    I use this technique sometimes as well, usually when I think that continuing in dialogue would be too lengthy and I want to condense what one character is saying. I also do it when one character is speaking to another about something that I have already described elsewhere in the story.
     
  5. Islander
    Offline

    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,542
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    Sweden
    I don't see the point of doing it for variety. I think quoting the dialogue directly feels more natural and immersive, and also allows you to develop the characters through how they speak. It may make sense to do it if you want to condense a large block of uninteresting dialogue, though.
     
  6. beaver777
    Offline

    beaver777 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2011
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    1
    Yes, that's what I actually meant by "variety", sorry if I was a bit unclear.

    Anyway, if the reader notices it, then it's probably being overdone. It should be subtle...
     
  7. VM80
    Offline

    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2010
    Messages:
    1,211
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    UK
    I think it's done sometimes for 'small talk' that doesn't need to be explained further.

    That example though seems to break the flow of writing, to me.
     
  8. James Scarborough
    Offline

    James Scarborough Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2011
    Messages:
    77
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica (Central America)
    Good answer, Ed. There aren't any hard and fast rules for this but my general guideline is to try to make my dialogue as interesting as possible, not only to move the story along but are also to reveal character. Frequently I'll write a passage in narrative style initially, then go back and re-write all or part of it in dialogue.
     
  9. JimFlagg
    Offline

    JimFlagg Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Messages:
    375
    Likes Received:
    6
    Is this even grammatically correct?...

    Shouldn't it be...

    Mike said, "fine and thanks for asking."
     
  10. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,322
    Location:
    California, US
    ^This is my view as well.

    I've seen authors do this sort of thing quite a bit, and I think it works well. Michael Connelly and Robert Crais come to mind (pretty sure they use it to good effect).

    Sometimes summarizing it in narration keeps the flow of the writing, where dialogue might interrupt it. At other times, having three or four lines of dialogue where an exchange is easily summarized in a sentence is more than you need.
     
  11. andrewdj
    Offline

    andrewdj Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    I made a mistake in my example..a better example would have been:

    Mike said he was fine, and thanked him for asking.

    My point was that he narrated his response rather than just using dialogue which would have been just as suitable. Mark Billingham's writing does tend to drift into present tense at times though, which was what I had badly attempted in the first post. If I can come across an actual excerpt from the book I'll repost. This was just a quick post in the style of the original, rather than something I'd actually taken from the book.
     
  12. andrewdj
    Offline

    andrewdj Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree it's a good technique when the point of the dialogue is rather long winded, and opting to state that they discussed the subject at length before jumping into dialogue at the most important part, especially where it's covering old ground that the reader is already aware of, but this particular book/author has used the technique at least once where I didn't think it benefited much.

    I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I wasn't attempting to write a novel myself, and picking up on little things that most readers wouldn't.
     
  13. JimFlagg
    Offline

    JimFlagg Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2011
    Messages:
    375
    Likes Received:
    6
    I shy away from that because it become confusing as to whether the character thought it, said it out loud, wrote it or what. Yes the word "Said" makes it clear that it was spoken but when you get into complex dialogs you will want to remove the saids and that's when it become confusing to the reader.

    Also, when you write it usually done in past tense and when we use dialog, it is usually in present tense; because this is naturally how we tell stories. This does not mean you did not write your story different, but if you did it this way, then be aware this and how awkward this style of writing may be. If you are confident in your writing style then go ahead and use it but I personally would steer clear.
     
  14. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    Totally agree with you, it looks a bit unnatural this way, it would disturb me more than a long dialogue would do. How long can a dialogue go on without it being too heavy? Does action tags count as a way of breaking it up a bit too or is it to be considered a part of the dialogue?
     
  15. Seye
    Offline

    Seye Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2011
    Messages:
    74
    Likes Received:
    2
    I have used the technique you gave an example with before. For me I do this to break the dialogue but not use dialogue tags(which tell often more than show a reaction needed)

    Sometimes the reply to a question is just a setup for an answer the writer wishes to give, so 'dialogue' is un-needed and would take away from the scene.
     
  16. art
    Offline

    art Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2010
    Messages:
    1,159
    Likes Received:
    113
    It does a little more than simply provide variety, I think (or provide a digestible summary).

    Here, I assume on purpose, Mike is made to appear still more uninterested in conversational platitudes than he might have been, had he been shown responding directly.

    He has been gently pulled from the centre of the action...the distance allowing the narrator a little more wriggle room in which to perhaps pass sardonic comment on the dialogue.

    A technique that might sit pretty well with comedic writers/ ironists etc

    I like it. Don't care much for dialogue. The less of it the better.
     
  17. andrewdj
    Offline

    andrewdj Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    You raise an interesting point, as the author of this book was actually a standup comedian and an actor, prior to becoming an author, so perhaps this was his intention.
     
  18. spklvr
    Offline

    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2010
    Messages:
    734
    Likes Received:
    36
    Location:
    Sarpsborg, Norway
    In the examples you provided I would consider it poor writing, but as most others here have said, it's useful if a character needs to say something the readers already know.
     
  19. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Dialogue is not conversation. Dialogue should do more than present what teh character is saying. Dialogue should reveal character or advance the story, preferably in a better or more concise way than narrative alone.

    Dialogue can reveal a difference between the literal message conveyed by the words, and the true attitude of the speaker.

    Consider the difference between:

    and
    and
    The first is quite neutral. The second carries a possible hint of brown-nosing. The third sounds bery ambiguouus, possibly some thinly veiled aggression.

    By writing it as narration, you're telling the reader, "This part of the exchange isn't crucial. Just take it more or less at face value."

    But fully realized dialogue clues the reader to pay attention not only to what was said, but how it was expressed.

    Your choice within a conversation helps guide the reader to what is important.
     
  20. Sundae
    Offline

    Sundae Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Messages:
    362
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    Astral Weeks
    Practice, practice, and more practice = write, write, and write some more.

    Writing is extremely intuitive in my opinion, and the more you write, the more you learn and "just know" when to use one form over another.

    Write, and have it critiqued. Read over your work again, and gauge the feeling each section gives you. You feel that it's dragging? Shorten it and make it more concise. Feel that it's too abrupt? Find a way to lengthen it and exaggerate it.

    Confidence is also something that helps. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Feed your strengths and starve your weaknesses, this is when you learn to trust yourself and "just know."
     
  21. JSLCampbell
    Offline

    JSLCampbell Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2011
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    East Sussex - United Kingdom
    Mario Puzo did this a lot in The Godfather. Narrating conversation. It didn't work for me, especially since he was doing it after stretches of narration or infodumps anyway, in which it probably would have been a good time to get in some dialogue to freshen the text up a little.

    Cogs advice seems sound though. I'd look at it that way if you're having trouble deciding. Does this passage need to convey more than its literal meaning? Then it should probably be quote marked (most dialogue will probably be doing this anyway.)
     
  22. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Just about. It's a form of free indirect speech which is perhaps a bit archaic but otherwise grammatically unremarkable. Jane Austen did it a lot, and it did her no harm.
     
  23. Darran
    Offline

    Darran Member

    Joined:
    May 7, 2011
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hi,

    Well I guess, it's all down to you. As you write you feel what flows better, don't you? Write both then compare :)
     
  24. Radrook
    Offline

    Radrook Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2010
    Messages:
    236
    Likes Received:
    14
    I agree 100%. The reader naturally expects an immediate dialogue reply and is abruptly surprised to "hear" the narrator or writer. In this case it's an unnecessary interruption that tends to slightly break the spell of suspended disbelief so necessary for the enjoyment of fiction. IMHO
     
  25. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,322
    Location:
    California, US
    Maybe if it is handled poorly. But that's true of any writing that is handled poorly. I've seen this technique used plenty of times by writers who know what they are doing and it doesn't have that effect at all.

    Any time you are talking about these types of techniques, or any mechanics or writing, you have to differentiate between an effective use of the technique and an ineffective use. Ruling out an entire technique because you always think it is going to be ineffective and interrupt the reading is foolish, because pale guy with a big nose (nod to Morrissey) is always going to emerge from the shadows of the bookshelves and have an example to prove you wrong.
     

Share This Page