1. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Narrative-dialogue ratio

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Leonardo Pisano, May 6, 2011.

    As a beginner, I wrote a lot of dialogue and I saw some advice that's it -- amateurish. I feel that dialogues bring the story more to life and gives deeper insights in moods and characters. So, what is a sensible ratio, and what is the reason behind the advice? Is it boring to read many dialogues? Or does it make your story longer than necessary (narratives are often a short cut)?
     
  2. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    With Dialog you add one more level of depth to your character, that is the way they speak. You can make each character distinct by what catch phrases they use and when they cut in to a conversation.

    You could write a story that is entirely a narrative but it would be boring.

    As for how much you should have is entirely up to your writing style. I like dialog so I usually go 50/50.
     
  3. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too much of anything is a bad thing. It's all a matter of finding that happy medium. Though depending on what your story needs and the typical ratio for your targeted audience, that ratio can be skewed in both directions.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    don't waste precious time and energy trying to find stats to write by!

    just constantly read and study good novels by the best writers, to 'absorb' how it's done and then write yours as it wants to be written...
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's a question with a definite answer - isn't it something that changes from novel to novel?

    Write what feels like the right amount. When you read it back and it feel like there's too much/too little then that's the time to condense/add to it.
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Richard Bausch has written two stories that were only dialog, one widely anthologized. So hey, the world is your oyster cracker.

    Keep in mind the only important ratio is how much good writing there is to bad.
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    *like button*

    Write all the description you need for a scene to make sense. But stop before you write and think how much that is. It's often more than a writer thinks. With all the foreshadowing, plot-related description, and the important parts of describing characters and settings to make sure a reader can relate to them, even though I've always thought of myself as using a lot of dialogue, when I stop and look at it, my scenes are usually full of descriptive parts. I re-read my older stuff, and it always strikes me how I need to put more description in. Even stuff I wrote in the last few years, there are bits I think are fine, but a lot of it, it still reads as being too light on description so when I look at it with relatively strange eyes I know there's something lacking.

    But yeah. Practice and reading.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Statisticians cook books. They don't write them. :)
     
  9. auntiebetty
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    auntiebetty Active Member

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    When I read a book with multiple characters from different backgrounds, the way they speak gives a level of authenticity to their purpose for being there, and adds interest to the way they think and act. The key may be that the author has a familiarity with the characters' backgrounds to write convincing dialogue for all.
     
  10. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Sometimes the surgeon calls for a scalpel. Sometimes the surgeon calls for the forceps. Use the tool that does the best job at the time you need it.

    I have one chapter (okay, it's a short one), in which the entire chapter is not only dialogue, it's one-sided dialogue. All the reader sees is the villain's side of a telephone conversation--they don't even get to see the other side's responses. (Heck, I don't even give explicit attribution, although it's completely clear who's talking.) And you know what? It works beautifully for that specific situation in the story.

    I've got other chapters (also short) with not a single word of dialogue. They also work well for what they need to convey.

    Go with whatever is working best at that point in your story.
     
  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I don't believe there is an hard fast "rule" as to how much dialogue needs to be in versus narration. It depends on the story your writing. I am in a chapter that began with narration, then did dialogue for a particular reason in the plot, narration again to describe an action, then back to dialogue. It depends on your story and the pacing you want to use. I'm deliberately speeding up and slowing down, because the next chapter is pedal to the metal.
     
  12. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Senior Member

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    The way I see it, authors who make ground breaking work most likely don't look up stats like dialogue-narrative.
     
  13. dlaiden
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    dlaiden New Member

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    There is no ratio. Writers need both dialogue and narration; some are better at one, some are good at both. Personally, I let my characters talk or observe the environment in accordance with their personality: are they talkative, or quiet and introspective? Write what suits you, not according to some guide someone else is talking about.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sure there's a ratio. It lies between not enough and too much dialogue. That ratio varies from story to story, and a good writer will instinctively home in on "just right."
     
  15. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Are you sure they meant that you are writing too much dialogue, and that the practice is amatuer-ish, or did they feel the dialogue you wrote was amatuer-ish?

    Because the former is subjective, but the latter would be objective.
     
  16. Program
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    Program Member

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    Dialog is useful in telling more insightful things about a character. It's usually ineffective when the writer tells a story with dialog. As for the best ratio, there's none really set in stone. It's up to the writer to figure out what works best, which will come with practice and reading other writers' works.
     
  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    If there is any advice that is worth repeating it is this line here. :) This is the best way to put it. Good writing isn't dictated by a ratio of prose to dialogue or anything like that, but a balance or action reaction, progression, and writing skill. The only ration that is worth our attantion is how much of the writing is good and usable ;)
     
  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I want you to look at some movies and how this is done. Particularly, "GoldenEye." The only times you see James Bond, outside of action, having dialogue is with M and a scene that sets up what the GoldenEye is, which advances the plot. Everything after that is part of the action; however, those two, as slow as it seems, are key to explaining the key issue of the plot, until the plan is fully exposed during the climax.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, ck, but i can't see any sense in using a movie as a paradigm to decide how to write a novel... they're beyond apples and oranges... more like apples and broccoli...
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    True enough. Didn't think that one through fully :) Getting harder to get this old brain in gear in the mornings. :)
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    your brain, my poor old body!... wish my bod was as movable in the mornings as my gray matter... ;)
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Besides, brain in gear sounds messy. Even the CSIs are turning green and looking for a barf bucket.
     
  23. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    The story itself dictates how much dialogue to use. If people on a ship, stuck in a ships hold with nothing to do but talk to each other, there will usually be a bit more dialogue. If a lot of action is needed to tell the story, that is usually told in sequences or narrative. If people are sitting at a poker table, playing cards, the eye twitches, slurred speech, a card slipped from a sleeve, that would be a mix of dialogue and description. Its up to the story and how you tell it.
     

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