1. Luke Covack
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    Luke Covack New Member

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    Writing Long Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Luke Covack, Aug 23, 2009.

    Hi this is my first time ever on these forums so please bare with me. I have a couple of questions, but I need to explain some stuff first. I am writing a book where a character is taken out of his world and placed in another. He makes friends with one of the other characters who proceeds to be his guide. In doing so this means that basically the whole second chapter would be one of the characters trying to explain his world to the other character. This means that Characters B is doing all the talking while character A does all the listening. This is not only for Character A’s benefit but the readers as well as it exposes them to this new world of which the rest of the story takes place in. So finally my questions are:
    1) How would I write such a long near continues dialogue of just one character?
    2) With out cutting out content is there another/better way of writing this part?
     
  2. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    I think we had someone ask this question before? Maybe?

    I remember the general consensus being that if there's something that needs explaining you're better off demonstrating it through circumstance rather than dialogue.
    The reasoning behind this is that not only is it made more apparent instead of just droning on and on but it's more realistic as well.

    Example:
    Someone from another dimension where public urination is allowed appears in our world. They take their right for granted and we have no idea.
    No-one's about to tell an interdimensional traveller "Oh, by the way please don't pee in public" until they see the guy pulling his fly open, at which point it's more like "what the funny monkey are you doing?"

    Actions speak much louder than words - even it they're printed =)

    EDIT: Actually I think I'll quote Bill Bailey here because it's perfect: He was asked what Britain was like while traveling.

    "We're all right... you know.. we've got err.. nectar points (they're quite handy). We've got understatement, we're tough on slogans, tough on the causes of slogans. We have strong prevailing south westerly winds. 52% of our days are overcast so as a nation we are infused with a wistful melancholy, but we remain a relentlessly chipper population prone to mild eccentricities, binge drinking and casual violence. Breakfast is served seven till nine..... NOT A MINUTE LATER! (or you will be cast out). We have no national predators, though badgers can be nasty... four hedgehogs feeding on honey might fall in your eyes. A wasp could fly in your mouth on a summer afternoon, sting your bottom lip and it swells up, you ring up the nurse and say "unnghhh unnggh unnnn". She thinks your a pervert, you get arrested and sent to a secret Mars penile colony, gain the support of the workers and throw off the shackles of oppression.

    And on the upside? ..... we've got Little Chefs."


    Think he missed anything?
     
  3. Blaidd Drwg
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    Blaidd Drwg Member

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    Such grand exposition should really be fleshed out over the whole first act. If you can do that, it will also solve your problem of "too much dialogue." I would suggest the guide only really give the character information about that particular region of the world, rather than try to fit the sum of thousands of years of civilization into one conversation.

    Also keep in mind that he's going to forget to mention things. If I were explaining this world to someone who'd never been here before, I might forget to mention Christianity because it's just so ingrained in my culture.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with tcol and Blaidd Drwg that you shouldn't do what you are contemplating at all. It is the very worst kind of infodump.

    Even if you do decide to tell a story through narration, and that should not be backstory, it should be interrupted frequently to build reader interest.

    If there is a segment of dialogue covering multiple paragraphs, and you cannot bring yourself to break it up, you can format it as a block quote, as described in this blog entry: He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue
     
  5. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it becomes hard to force the MC into experiencing the things you need exposed:

    Have you considered adding a subplot with different characters that revolves around the topics you need to expose? Instead of having one character tell about things, cut to a couple of character who are experiencing those things.

    Like when Lucas put Leia on the Death Star to have her (and the audience) see its power demonstrated first hand. If someone had simply told Luke "The empire has a really nasty space station that can blow up planets" it would have seemed weak.
     
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  6. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Why must this new world be explained? Why not simply throw the main character straight into it and let him figure things out through experience?

    I like the Death Star description. Being told about its power wouldn't have had nearly the impact as showing it had. Talking about it and then showing it wouldn't have been much better, as the surprise is gone.
     
  7. Luke Covack
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    Luke Covack New Member

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    If you had a friend come over from lets say China would you not explain things to him??? I find it hard to belive that you would just pop him down in the driver seat of your car and let him find out how we drive by letting him take your car for a spin on the freeway. Tossing a character into the deep end of a pool who can't swim and told to just figure it out isn't real, would you toss your child, for instance, into the pool and tell him/her to figure it out? You ALWAYS have to explaine things and as one of the characters sole purpose is to do just that......
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That may be true, but it isn't the way to write a story. Good dialogue isn't a word-for-word depiction of what comes out of a charfacterf's mouth. Dialogue is a tool used by a writer to show aspects of the story. Very often, the content of the dialogue is not what the writer is revealing through the dialogue.
     
  9. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    Break it up with action. Lots of action. Give the guy explaining it all a reason to stop talking - maybe something else happened in the middle of the conversation to interrupt. Leave the reader with questions though, as you do this. Have the clueless character ask some of these questions at a later point when the action quiets again.
    The details of a new world is a lot to take in - if you try to explain it all at once, the reader will get bored, no matter if it is done in text or dialogue.

    If you sat down with someone IRL and tried to explain absolutely everything to them about your world - well, 1, you would have trouble trying to think of everything immediately in a list form - you would forget some things; and 2, the person sitting there trying to listen would lose interest at some point, probably due to information overload.

    So both the readers and your characters would need a break, somehow. How you do that, is of course, up to you. Have fun with it. Keep it interesting, keep it moving.
     
  10. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    No, you most definitely don't. Ever watch a tourist? We get a lot of them in Manhattan ... err I mean Paradise City. For every one that plunks down their money and lets a tour guide desrcibe everything there it to see and such (which is analogous to what you are planning, unless I am very much mistaken), there are atleast twenty just walking around, exploring, loooking, touching, and just letting the whole experience wash over them. Sure they may occasionally stop someone who is walkig by to ask a qustion, but generally they are much more interested in experiencing it first hand. If you look at those tourists on the tour buses closely, you'll usually notice they have begun to ignore their guide as they point and gape at all that is around them. More importantly, a lot of what you are proposing to write would end up being skipped by a savvy reader or cause a less savvy reader to decide the book is no longer holding their attention. Might I point out that more than some of the people who have commented on this topic already were once in your position and had to wrestle with it? Their advice isn't just a quick opinion shot from the hip, but rather the distilled wisdom of their experience coupled with the guidance of successful authors. I believe it was Cog whoonce said that a writer not only enjoys a book but analyzes why the book was enjoyable. (Cog if you didn't say this, then I want full credit. lol)
     
  11. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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    I'm going to semi-disagree with the majority of this thread. I think that if the dialogue is interesting in it of itself, long passages are OK.

    In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury describes a dystopian world in which society systemically burns books. The main character is Guy Montag, a "fireman" who burns these books. But he begins to feel his actions are wrong. He is not sure, though, because his society is all that he has ever experienced. Then he meets Faber, a former English professor who explains to him what society was like before society burned books. This explanation is lengthy--almost a chapter's worth--and is done all through dialogue. In this chapter, Faber talks about a wide range of explanatory topics, including the purpose of books, the essence of them, and the reasons they are important.

    Or consider George Orwell's classic novel 1984. The longest chapter in this book by far is Chapter 9 of Book 2. What it consists of is Winston reading from another book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. This chapter explains to the reader, after pages and pages of confusion, how this dystopian world came to be.

    I can list a few more examples (*cough* Terry Brooks *cough*), but I think I've made my case.
     
  12. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    You've got a valid point, but keep in mind that both of those things have a deep mental and philosophical foundation built into them - not only are they actually interesting to read, but writing them in any other way would be very difficult.

    Explaining another world that is different in function as opposed to philosophy requires demonstration instead of articulation.

    If you wanted an explanation of the origins of chocolate, then it would be possible to give a detailed and entertaining historical recount of its development.

    On the other hand if you wanted to teach someone how to eat it, a 5,000 word essay on proper mastication technique is much more cumbersome than passing them a piece and saying "bite down."
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    This makes me think of what I didn't like about Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, the pages of explanation as to the hows and whys Jesus' bloodline.

    I think about how I would be if I were dropped into an unknown world. Let's say I witness someone jumping ten feet into the air, I would be confused as to how they did that. I would then ask the guide how, they would simply answer "We just can." So that rules out special equipment allowing such a thing and either makes it a genetic mutation or less gravity, which might be the following question.

    To me an exploration of an unknown world by an MC should be coupled with curious questions to the inhabitants of the world, and speculative thinking and deduction on the part of the MC. Unless the MC is a dull knife who hasn't the wits to be curious.

    Regardless of the MC's brain power, a many page lecture on how their world works is an info dump no matter how you spin it. Even though those supposed "Great Novels" like 1984 employ such methods, doesn't mean everyone can pull them off, in fact, very few writers can pull off an info dump with some semblance of style. Best for amateur writers to just avoid it until better experienced in writing.
     
  14. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    Completely agree.

    Let some things be left unexplained, let the reader use his/her imagination to fill in the gaps. Does Phillip Pullman explain what Dust is? Does it make his novels any less enjoyable?
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's the mysteries, the unanswered questions, that keeps a reader reading. Don't kill that by explaining everything from the outset. Explanations are deadly boring to begin with. But you also take away the reader's chance to be an explorer, discovering the hidden truth and history from the hints and clues scattered throughout the book.
     
  16. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    While I'd have to agree that avoiding unnecessary info. dumps is a good course of action, sometimes it just feels necessary—and fits.

    I just finished reading Nine Princes of Amber and The Guns of Avalon, both of which had a couple of multiple-page "info. dumps," but they fit well, and satisfied exactly what I felt I needed to know.

    Explaining everything seems like it can always be avoided, but to say info. dumps are always bad isn't a good rule to follow (just mostly ;)).
     
  17. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ghosts in Latin,

    Excellent series by Zelazny! One of the things about the information is that the main character, Corwin, picks up bits and pieces and then adds through conjecture. That then is matched to what others explain to him as he struggles to find his way without his memory (until he walks the pattern, of course).

    Avoiding a chapter of infodump (such as in chapter 2) would be something to avoid if at all possible, but if it cannot be, check out some of the books mentioned in this thread, including the Amber series by Zelazny.

    One thing to remember is that unless things are discussed in dialogue in such a way as to anchor it in the reader's mind, much of what is 'discussed in dialogue' will be forgotten when it is important. That is why action and memorable events in the plot coupled with revealing things about the world are important when writing. You, the author may get and understand all the bits and nuances, but the reader won't--and very well could get bored.

    A final thing to remember is that unless you're self-publishing, your first readers are going to be agents and editors. Most agents you have to query, and then if they like what you have to say, they ask for a partial (usually the first three chapters and a synopsis). If a publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, often it is only the first 3 chapters + a synopsis, or something along those lines.

    With that in mind, how well will an entire second chapter infodump go over with them? Even if they have the full novel, with all of the other submissions in their mound of slush, I suspect they'll be more likely to pass than press on.

    I posted this elsewhere today on the forum, but I think it works here too explain the point with a picture:

    Tor's Slush Pile

    Also recall, authors like Zelazny had already established themselves before writing the said Amber novels with the long strings of information. Established writers have an audience already and usually they are cut a bit more slack because the reader (and technically the agent/editors) know there's going to be a big pay off in the overall quality of the story.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
  18. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I don't have a lot of paragraphs after paragraphs of dialogue. The only time I did put them in was near the end because my characters are not who they seem to be so they have to explain the truth about themselves. I put little but of action into it, but I think this is not such a big deal to a hypothetical reader who is enjoying the read. If he/she has come that far, the four paragraphs broken down slightly and interrupted every now and then aren't that bad, in my opinion. I think the paragraphs of dialogue are dangerous at the beginning of the novel where you should be grabbing the readers' attention.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Besides the advice already given, just remember to transport them to the new world at about the 25% mark, so if it were a 100,000 word novel, they would enter the new world at around 25,000.
     
  20. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    ^ Any reason? Or were you being ironic and the internet is just hiding it? Cuz that seems like the kind of arbitrary instruction you would see in a recipe book, as opposed to a useful general guideline...
     
  21. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    No, because it works. You need time to develop the characters and show their regular lives before transporting them to a new world.

    If you are transporting your characters to a new world in chapter two, I would hope chapter one is long enough to set up the daily lives of the MC(s).

    So, yes, it is a helpful guideline. There is a reason most every good story has a change occure at around the 25 percent mark.
     
  22. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    First of all, consider character personalities, the situation and how pressing each bit of information is.

    Consider: In real life, if someone was telling me all of this stuff, I would interrupt every couple of sentences to insert a question or my two cents. This could be potentially comedic to the reader, as the one explaining everything would grow frustrated with my shot-gun blast of questions.

    If he is explaining why the character appeared there, then that could be interesting. Describing the history of the planet-- why? Also, is this person a scholar? Does he KNOW the history of the planet?
    If a dimensional traveler appeared, I certainly wouldn't tell him the history of America unless he asked, and even then, I would have little to say since I didn't study much history.

    So while everything that everyone is saying is all well and good, it is all conjecture and assumptions based upon the modicum of information you provided.
    Perhaps if you go into more detail. . . .
     

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