1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Narrative or dialogue?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Sep 9, 2016.

    I remember reading once that a writer shouldn't rely too much on dialogue for telling a story. Because of this the technique has always been something that plays on my mind whenever I use it to get information across.

    But how do we know when to use it and when to use narrative? If, for example, I wanted to give a little back story or history to a character, what dictates whether I do this through dialogue or narrative?

    I find it infinitely easier to do this through dialogue, but for this very reason I often force myself to do it through the narrative where I'm less comfortable.

    So, what's the rule of thumb? When is it okay to give back story through dialogue?

    Is it fair to say it's acceptable only if such a conversation would take place in the real world?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    When the characters stop to tell us stories about their world that would never be conversations that would naturally occur, that's a kind of authorial intrusion. Even though Krag the Mighty might technically be the charecter talking, it's not really his conversation anymore. It's yours, the writer. It's you using the character as a mouthpiece to infodump through dialogue.

    My example is greatly exaggerated, obviously, for sake of making the point. ;)
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Why not? I think that's bad advice. There are many examples of works that are mostly dialogue.

    How much does the narrator know about the character? Does the narrator know the backstory of every character? Or does it have to be revealed to the reader through dialogue?
     
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  4. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quite a lot, for it is he. I write in first-person.

    I'm quietly confident that in the instance which prompted this thread the dialogue is not only justified but probably preferable, because I can accentuate the MC's feeling and emotions through beats.

    Being in first-person I suppose you could argue the entire thing is one long dialogue, but I do find myself stopping to ask if I'm using dialogue because I find it so much easier than exposition.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I guess the next thing you should consider is whether the information the narrator is sharing is important for another character to know. If yes, then dialogue is a good way to share that information.
     
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  6. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I always just write my stories the way that comes naturally, without worrying about dialogue vs. narrative. If it's natural for you to tell a story with a lot of dialogue, then write your story with a lot of dialogue. Different writing styles are part of what makes reading so interesting.

    Just try to avoid the issues Wreybies pointed out.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that the dialogue needs to be something the characters would actually say, or else it feels really awkward and exposition-y.

    Other than that, I think this is kind of related to the show-vs-tell balance. If something's really important and you want to show character reactions and whatever, then dialogue's the way to go. If it's not that important/impactful, slap it into the narrative and get the show on the road!
     
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  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, it's fine to use dialogue to get information to the reader, but the fact that you're doing so shouldn't be obvious to the reader.

    Mary asked, "They want how much?"
    Jane grimaced. "Sixty-three hundred. Just for the transmission."
    "Glurgh. Wish I could help."
    "Mom offered to pay."
    "Whoah. Did you drug her?"
    "And to get that body work done, too."
    "What's she want from you?"
    "Andy got another DUI. She wouldn't want me driving her son around in a piece of junk."
    "You're going to chauffeur Andy?"
    "Hell, no. But I was thinking, does Mom have to know that?"
    "Fantasy."
    "Oh, shut up."

    A few bits like the above, tied to the plot (the reader should feel as if he's reading about the problem solving around the car) and you'll know all about Jane's relationship with her mother and brother, without any obvious, "As you know, Mary, my controlling mother has always favored my younger brother, Andy, over me..."
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that if he's avoiding thinking about it, it's reasonable for it to not come up. But that means that he would resist it coming up in conversation, too.

    "Jane!"

    I looked up. It was a moment before I recognized her. "Mary! How long has your hair been pink?"

    "Fuschia. It's called fuschia. Since the last color went horribly wrong. I had it all taken off and started afresh. So how'd it go with your mom?"

    "Yeah, I wondered about the buzz cut. You eating?"

    "Ate. Wish I'd seen you--I really wanted to know about the big confrontation with your mom. Knock down drag out or just icy stares?"

    I pushed the menu toward her. "Have some dirty fries, anyway."

    "Jane?"

    "Or the chicken fried corn. Hard to tell if you're supposed to eat it with your hands or a fork. I went with hands. Mom would be horrif..."

    "Jane?"

    Dammit.

    "Jane?"

    "No meeting. Mom let Andy do the driving, to 'show her faith' in him."

    "Oh, God, another DUI?"

    "Yep. And vehicular homicide this time. Or some such thing. Not sure what they call it when your driving kills someone in your own car."

    "Wait. What?"

    I got up. What kind of hostess would let Mary just sit there, foodless? Mom would be would have been horrified. "I'm going to get you some of those dirty fries. Be right back."
     
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