1. Storm713

    Storm713 Member

    Oct 14, 2017
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    Balancing Narrative with Dialogue and Action

    Discussion in 'By Writing Form' started by Storm713, Jun 12, 2018.

    Hi everyone, as usual I have no idea where this post goes so I just stuck it in general writing—feel free to move it.
    Recently, while reading many other works of writing and then coming back to my own, I have found that the central problem with my writing is the lack of narrative. It is not balanced with the amount of dialogue, action, and physical descriptions I have. I do not have any paragraphs that allow my character(s) to think in monologues and such, I don’t have an abounding amount of background information, and my writing is certainly lacking. Does anyone know of any ways that I can practice writing these narrative-like pieces? Actually, backtrack—how do you write them?
    I hope my wording in this isn’t too confusing! Thanks to everyone!
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2018
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    Puerto Rico
    You're not alone. If left to my own devices, my writing ends up being pretty much all dialogue with the most barebones of connective narrative to get you from one thing that gets said so the reason for the next thing that gets said. Part of the problem for me is that as a reader, when I see expanses of narrative, I tend to skim because too often it's woolgathering. Not always, obviously, but often enough that the habit has formed for me as a reader.

    My answer is to just be patient with myself and write it the way it comes to me and then go back and think long and hard about what would be going through the person's mind and to remember that what may feel inane to you is the detail other readers crave. That's not much of an answer, I know, but... know you're not alone! ;)
    Andrew Wade and Storm713 like this.
  3. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

    Sep 30, 2015
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    There is a delicate balance between dialogue, narration and interior monologue, and that particular mix will emerge as your style. My advice to you is to do as @Wreybies said, write what feels best to you, and don't try to make the first draft perfect ... you can't, no one can. When you finish the story, you go back to do your first revision, and some of the narration may become dialogue, some dialogue may become narration. A lot of times in my first draft, I include a lot of narration at the beginning establishing the setting, weather, etc. That is "scaffolding" for me, it puts the scene clear in my mind so I can write the chapter. When I go back to do the first edit, I may keep the scaffolding and polish it a bit, get rid of it as boring unnecessary background, or turn it into narrative. Whatever happens to it, it served its purpose of helping me write the chapter.

    As an example in my Eagle and the Dragon, a Roman senator takes two Roman soldiers to visit his ship in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt (2000 years ago). The first draft opened with an overview of Alexandria, how the harbor was laid out, where the lighthouse was, even a bit of history. Good for me, but BORING! So why not see Alexandria through the eyes of the soldiers, as the Senator drives his carriage through the very wide central highway of the Canopic Way? Let them see the lighthouse in the distance, and wonder why it flashes brilliantly periodically in the daytime. Drive by a white sandy beach and watch little sailboats flitting in the harbor among big pleasure yachts, men and women lounging in the sand, swimming or playing ball, some of the women in two piece bathing suits (based on a thrid century mosaic I have seen) almost like San Diego Bay. THAT got the centurion's attention, and the reader feels like he is visiting the city with them, rather than getting a history lesson.

    I don't know if the Pharos lighthouse actually had a rotating beam but I had a plausible explanation from the senator, who had been to the top and seen it in operation, involving mirrors catching the sun, turned by a man leading a donkey around the top floor, and at night much better than moving wagon loads of whatever they burned up forty floors to the top ... I put the fire at the base, and reflected it from the top with the same mirrors.
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    I tend--not always--to insert the narrative later. Fairly frequently, a scene will go:

    First sweep: All headless dialogue, with the occasional absolutely mandatory action.

    "More beets?"
    "No. I'd take more chicken."
    "Mm." He tipped his head at the server, and the chicken that she was carrying toward the window table was deposited at theirs.
    "How do you do that?"
    "I express my appreciation. Reliably."
    "So you're nice, but to your own benefit."
    "Of course."

    Second sweep: Add tags, beats, a few actions bigger than beats, sometimes more dialogue.

    He put his glass down and surveyed her near-empty plate. "More beets?"
    A grimace. "No." She waggled her fork, considering the plate. "I'd take more chicken."
    "Mm." He tipped his head at the server, and the chicken that she was carrying toward the window table was deposited at theirs.
    She looked at the plate, then at the server's retreating back. Moving a crisp-fried leg to her plate, she said, "How do you do that? How do they always see you?"
    A shrug. He picked up his glass again. "I express my appreciation. Reliably. And in the form of hard currency."
    She frowned at the chicken, and stabbed it with her fork. "So you're nice, but to your own benefit."
    "Of course."

    Third sweep: More narrative. Let's assume that the rest remains the same. It may be at this point that I figure out why I'm writing the scene in the first place.
    She frowned at the chicken, and stabbed it with her fork. "So you're nice, but to your own benefit."
    "Of course."
    She cut off a crisp-skinned bite--with a fork, as always galled by the need to follow his standard of table manners. Chicken should be eaten with the hands. She studied him as she chewed. What, then, would make it to his benefit to be 'nice', to cooperate, with her? Not money, of course; that was all on his side. He seemed immune to flattery. He--ah.
    Cutting off another bite, she said, "Do I recall that you're almost out of that brandy?"
    "Mm? Yes. That vintage seems to be altogether unavailable."
    She nodded. "I've got a friend." Then the bite, and she made him wait while she chewed.

    I don't think I'm able to write it all in one sweep.
  5. GB reader

    GB reader Senior Member

    Apr 18, 2017
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    Uppsala, Sweden
    Magic by example.
    Chicken, you are so good with examples.

    Amazing, you must have a story-mind that is several laps in front of your author-mind, mine is helplessly after.
  6. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

    Jan 16, 2018
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    Those are not separate things outside the "narrative". They are the narrative... You can practice by trying to tell a good story. Can you tell a joke? Telling a story is the same, only longer. There are writers who use a lot of dialogue, and writers who don't do much "character monologues" either. You can read more and read widely, various books and let it all sink in. Or you can start by reading books on how to write a good story, how to write descriptions, emotions, etc. Or, you can pick a book that you enjoyed and start analyzing it. Take notes. You see a description, try to find out what that description does for the book, why is it there, what does it add. Then you see a character monologue, or an action scene. Try to analyze how it's written, and why it's written that way. Compare it with other books. Hemingway is very different from Danielle Steel, for example. They are both great but they are also very different in everything, dialogue, descriptions, etc. The narrative of Lord of the Rings is quite different from the one in Lord of the Flies. And then we have William Burroughs, and William Gibson who do things very differently, too. They all do the narrative in their own way, so you don't have to worry that your way of writing books does not resemble somebody else's, that your writing has more dialogue and action and less of something that some other author may use. Those are not things to worry about. But you can work on things like how to write good dialogue and how to write good action scenes, or when to include character monologue, or even if you need it at all. Start with Google ;)
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  7. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

    Feb 12, 2015
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    Seat 29e, Air Gradia 452
    Thanks for this example, never looked at things that way before.
  8. MikeyC

    MikeyC Active Member

    Sep 9, 2013
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    What chicken said. Sometimes it takes a friend to read the chapter and say, 'You need to plush it out, a lot!' or leave it a while and you when you re-read it, hopefully it will come to mind that you need to expand on that section.

    Good luck with your writing.

  9. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Member

    Jan 2, 2019
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    One way to think about it is to imagine the pace dictated by the moment. If, for example, I am going to have the viewpoint think or get emotional, it will be at a point in the work wherein situation fits and space allows. When it is appropriate for the character to sit back and think, "Oh my God. That was so wrong. What am I going to do about Henry?"
    Otherwise the tendency is to spend entirely too much time in the head TELLING what the novel is otherwise SHOWING.
    The flip side of this is the writer who is basically writing the video game. Well of course that is going to be bad literature, and nothing more than choppy action and words. The solution to that is usually stopping the habit of writing like a video game and actually figure out who the main viewpoint is, limiting oneself to a closer view.

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