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  1. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    How important is it...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jupie, Jan 12, 2018.

    To add dialogue in early on?

    I am conscious that in the latest edit of my opening manuscript there is very little dialogue. That's not deliberate, it's just happened to go that way, but it does raise a few interesting questions.

    Do you think we need dialogue early on to hook readers, especially if we're aiming for a mainstream audience? Perhaps I'm being silly, or not giving readers enough credit, but a lot of books I read don't wait long before introducing some form of dialogue.

    My prologue is roughly four pages but it's almost all description and interior monologue. Chapter One is shorter but again there's very little dialogue. It's not until I'm about 4 or 5,000 words into the story that we see some dialogue, and by the time we get to 7,000 words I dedicate a whole scene which is largely dominated by speech. The thing is, I think what I have so far is a decent read, and I wouldn't want to interfere with the tone or change too much my approach... however, it would be good to hear people's thoughts on dialogue and the expectations we have when we pick up a new book.

    A lot of it I think comes down to how well the writing engages its readers. I don't think my opening chapters are too slow in pace or a slog to get through, but you do have to stick with it a little before the dialogue begins. This probably all comes down to personal taste, but I'd like to hear the way other people approach their openings and how patient we are as readers. After all, reading is by no means just about speech but this is a big part of it.
     
  2. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    I think you're making a huge mistake.
    My feelings on Prologues are pretty well known around here, that they are never necessary. And if you've gone 5,000 words into a story with nary a whisper from one of your characters I must assume that you're telling a story, as opposed of course, to showing a story.
    I'm leafing through the first chapters of most of the books around me, and whether it be classic literature or popular fiction, by and large it's one or two paragraphs of exposition followed straightaway with some sort of minor action and dialogue. It's a formula that works... use it!
     
  3. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    In principle, it's absolutely fine. There are great novels with little or no dialogue, albeit most written from the first person perspective or as epistolary works in which one might consider the entire novel a single piece of dialogue. It is certainly not uncommon in short stories for there to be little or no dialogue.

    Some writers like Jose Saramago lower dialogue to the status of any other action, refusing to approach it in the normal way (speech marks, separate paragraphs for separate speakers, etc.).

    In practice, it's going to depend on what you're writing and who you're writing for. If it's entitled 'Horror in Mime City', you're probably good. If it's popular or genre fiction, too much deviation from the norm might raise your readers' temper.
     
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  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I think it all depends on the execution. A potential issue is pacing - dialogue tends to fasten the pace and narrative slows it, so there is a risk that your first 5k words could read a little sluggish. But its not a given by any means, as long stretches of narrative can definitely be engaging.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Do any of those early words contain scenes with more than one character? Do the characters interact in any way? Are there scenes at all?

    There’s no reason why a few thousand words without dialogue, or even more, couldn’t be fine. But it does make me want to know what’s happening in those words. It makes me worry that you have thousands of words of unbroken narrative summary.
     
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  6. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

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    Since this is your first draft, I would say press on. I tend to use a lot of narration in my first drafts. I call it scaffolding, because I am really writing for myself, focusing my mind on the setting, character's background etc. Then I get the picture in my mind and write the story for that chapter. These are partially back story and world building... some writers keep them in a separate file, others put in these extra paragraphs in the story as I do. When I go back for the edit, I determine if the scaffolding still serves a purpose, can be converted to dialogue somehow, or or should be deleted.... It told me what I needed to know, helped hold the story together while I wrote it, but the reader doesn't need to see it.
     
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  7. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin There's no basement in the Alamo. Contributor

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    I'd say there's nothing inherently wrong with a dearth of dialogue up front, but like @ChickenFreak said, if it's a symptom of a deeper issue (lack of scenes, character interactions), you might have problems. It all depends on how it reads. Betas should catch that fairly easily given it's the first 5k words or so. You write well so I imagine it'll play fine so long as the reader can put a face or personality to the story without needing those easy dialogue cues. Doesn't hurt to have a plan B, though.
     
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  8. Quanta

    Quanta Member Supporter

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    If the internal monologue you mentioned provides characterization and moves the story along, I would be fine without dialogues early on.
     
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I would be more worried that you have a prologue longer than your first chapter and also not that you go so long without dialogue but that you then jump into a large chunk of it after going to long without it. And what you have may very well be a decent read like you think, but writing is something that can always be made better and when we, as writers, think there could be a problem with something, I would say we're usually right.
     
  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    There is nothing wrong with going pages without dialogue. Many books do. There is nothing wrong with starting with dialogue either. Many books do. And there is nothing whatever wrong about starting with a Prologue. Many books do.

    If the Prologue you're speaking about is the one you let me read a while back, it's an excellent start to your story, because it establishes the framework from which it's being told. Which, in the case of your story, is important to do. And yes, prologues can be long chapters. (Four pages isn't long, by the way.)

    None of these labels matter. What matters is how the story actually reads.

    I'm with @Lew on this one. Get it finished and then see what it's like. Don't overworry your beginning at this stage. You can change your presentation any way you like afterwards. Just keep going.
     
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  11. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    Thanks everyone for your comments. There's a diverse mix of opinions here, just as I hoped.

    Sorry, bit of a long post below. I've replied to most of you but to those I haven't it's just because a reply wasn't necessary. You all made great points :)

    I'm with you that Prologues aren't always necessary. I definitely think they're overdone and in the wrong hands it can really put me off a story. That said, in this instance my Prologue (hopefully) helps set the scene and establish the tone / mood of the story. It basically starts with the main character as an old man, reflecting on his life as a prince in the castle he grew up in and the fact he's still living with many regrets. Although he is the narrator, the Prologue is in present tense and describes much more his feelings and his immersion into his environment (he's sitting by a lake at this point) so hopefully it still feels like show instead of tell.

    It may help if I show a small passage of my Prologue just to set the context and style I've used. I know this isn't the workshop, so don't want to bore you all here with it, but a hundred words or so may make sense here. It is very introspective in this passage, but gets across his state of mind.

    *

    When I look into the grey membranes of their eyes, I see cold and stark emptiness that penetrates into my heart. The low murmur of the wind is like a long drawn sigh that anchors me to the moment. I find myself becoming a boy again. I take a deep inhale, breathing in memory as if it were dust, and begin to feel a painful swelling inside.

    I realise then that I’m afraid. It surprises me at first, because I thought I had already let go of it, but the fear has been inside of me all this time. The ghosts are real, their spectral bodies merging with the water’s surface, the shadows from the trees bristling noisily with the wind.

    Then my focus changes and I find that I’m rooted to the spot—unable to move—the world muted and ceasing to matter. When silence pulls me in with its persuasive hold I feel the first blast of nostalgia.

    That’s when the loneliness hits.


    My aim for the Prologue is to establish why this person has so many ties to the past and why he can't let go. Because he's an old man here and the rest of the story only a young boy, it felt like a Prologue was the best way to fit in this gap. But there's always room for an alternative too! :)

    The good news is there is no narrative summary. It's much more personal and internalised, establishing mood and character as the MC sits by the lake and starts to remember his past. He's old at this stage, and almost ready to pass on, but then he starts to imagine he can see the faces of his past coming out from the water. Though he is the only character in the Prologue, he does see the ghost of his father and hear his brother's voice (it's left open whether this is real or imagined) and so there's some interaction in that sense. Mostly, it's quite introspective and goes moment to moment, as opposed to trying to set up some big backstory that reads like a summary.

    That's great advice, thanks. I've done a similar thing where I wrote the first draft but after writing that decided to start again with the same characters. Because all the scenes are new, it's practically a different story, so I don't call it a second draft but I'm using what I learned from last time and some of the same characters from before. Scaffolding is a good way of putting it. When I originally began I got to know the characters and the 'voice' of the narrator, so it helped me understand the style that I wanted. It's just the plot and the logistics needed a great deal of work, so I decided to strip it all down and start again.

    Good point, deadrats. I think you should always listen to your gut and if something doesn't feel right it's important to think why. In this case, I think it's more a case that I took some books off the shelf and worried that mine followed a slightly different trend. However, the way the Prologue's written does feel right for this story, so I'm hoping it's the right thing to do. Chapter One is around 1500 words, whereas the Prologue is 2200, so there is a difference in length.

    Luckily, this isn't too much of a big job. I made the first few chapters short because I thought it would help with pacing, but I can always combine some of the chapters together if need be to make them longer. It might not be necessary to make Chapter One so short at all, I just felt like there was a good place to stop and to move onto the next Chapter, but that can be changed. You're right about always improving, too. I agree wholeheartedly with that one. I used to say I'd love to get published on my fourth try, but now I say maybe my sixteenth. Chances are, it may be never, but I like the saying: 'I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work!'


    Thanks Jannert, good advice as always. It's still the same Prologue, only I've extended it a great deal, so instead of 700 words it's about 2200. It's also cut into two segments, so you have the opening that you read, then it changes to Andrew sitting by the lake and remembering his time as a young boy. I was just slightly worried that the first few chapters have minimal dialogue but it's still very character-led and with some interactions (even though there's little speech) so hopefully it reads well.

    Like you, when I pick a book I tend to look at it in isolation. I don't compare it too much to other stories, not at first at least, because I'm happy to go with the author's vision and trust in her/his approach. Of course, I don't always end up liking it, but if they've written it well then it's the right fit for that story.
     
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  12. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Senior Member

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    @Jupie

    Nothing like an example. You worry about lack of dialogue but your example is speech all the same. A monologue, but it's speech. So I don't see what you're worried about. It sounds fine to me.
    Not that there needs to be speech to start with. (Maybe you're just reading too much theory and you're second guessing yourself.)
    And psychological action is action too. The way I see it, what goes on inside the characters' minds is almost always a lot more interesting than what goes on outside. This is totally up my alley and I like it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2018
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  13. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    Thank you, Rosacrvx. That's really encouraging. I'm with you, what's going on inside is usually a lot more interesting than outside.

    I hadn't really considered the monologue to be speech, but you're right. It's spoken all the way through, at least in his head. My hope is readers will feel more intimate and closer to him because we know his thoughts. I like what you say about psychological action, too. There's a lot of that in the prologue, a lot of fear and memories rising to the surface (literally). The challenge for me is setting the rest of it in the past, but hopefully this will work if the Prologue interests people about the story he has to tell.
     
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  14. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    According to the inside... ;)
     
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  15. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    Alright, you write well, so that you have going for you.:)

    Still though, something isn't working in the sample you've posted. When I encounter these sort of introspections in literature, especially Classic Lit, they tend to be poetic in nature, but also quite visceral. What's missing in your piece, in my humble opinion, is the meat of life.
    What you have in mind is a soliloquy that sets the story into motion, but I'm not getting past the poetics of his regret and past life. If you're up for some friendly advice, I'd tell you to write not a soliloquy or prologue, but a monologue that runs no longer than two pages, and I rather think that one page would suffice. It would force you to include only those remembrances that matter most, the ones that best represent his current state of affairs. Leave the reader some guessing room. Indeed, leave your readers guessing to why these ghosts from the past still have their hooks in him.

    If it were mine to be done, I'd have your narrator drinking, and heavily so, on the edge of drunken recollection as it were (the very best kind!). And I'd have him start by lying to himself, as we so often do in real life. By the last lines of the monologue his thoughts have sobered him... and the story begins!
    Your passage seems to relate a man who has ended a long journey and come to some hard and fast conclusions. I want a man who isn't finished making himself yet.:)
     
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  16. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    That's a very good point about being more visceral and I like what you said about the meat of life. Although it's meant to be fairly sombre and reflective, I don't want to come across as overly pessimistic -- it's more a case that the narrator thinks his life is done, but there are a few more surprises left to him. He does achieve some kind of resolution, though he is old and nearly at the end of his life, and in the end he may even achieve a new sort of beginning. It's more of a going back to the start and seeing what occurred through different eyes kind of thing.

    I especially like what you say about getting the MC drunk. That's certainly what I would do if it were me, and drinking does change the senses / make everything more surreal. Also, I like the spirit you have in mind for the book, a sort of Man La Mancha / Don Quixote unwillingness to give in, a great generosity of spirit and willpower. That optimism is something I definitely want to inject into the book, but it's also weaving that in with all the trauma / sadness the narrator carries. Currently in the prologue the water and the ghosts offer a more lucid and dreamy slide into the narrative, but when we do go into his past, we see how he gradually begins to see life in a different way. I'll have a think over what you've said and see what I can do, it's good to have a different take :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  17. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    You've just done a much better job describing the purpose of the monologue than the actual rendering of the monologue itself.;) Perhaps in this case a monologue is warranted and all you need do is find the hook in it and start anew. I like that idea, patterning your MC after Don Quixote. That feels right to me. Perhaps he revisits one event in his life that says it all, and in doing so he gives the reader just the right amount of backstory.

    On a related note, the most important character in my WIP, besides the three 12 year old girl protagonists, is a French Courtesan by the name of, Valerie. All the threads of the story begin and end with her, and it was one, Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame, that inspired her creation. I dispensed with the prologue I had originally planned in which Valerie recounts a misspent life. I instead devoted a chapter to her character in which she has a conversation with Rosemarie (one of the 12 year old girls). It took my writing partner a month to produce the first draft, and another six weeks for me to edit and expand it... but it was worth it! The ultimate purpose in portraying Valerie this way was allowing her to remain an enigma.

    You may want to consider open dialogue in your monologue... perhaps your MC has a small portrait he keeps on his person, in a locket of some sort... of a woman from his past? He's been drinking and opens the locket, and talks with her. That he's lost in memories and rum, the woman in the miniature portrait speaks to him in turn.:) It's what I would do... get supernatural with it!
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
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  18. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    Your story sounds really good and certainly shares similarities to what I had in mind as well. The beautiful thing about storytelling is that there are so many directions you can take and every decision you make takes the story down another path. It's like life in that way. Sometimes you think what if I'd taken the other job or gone travelling instead, or what if I'd taken that risk instead of staying put? All these alternative paths could really change the way your life pans out and it's the same with writing a novel (although a lot less consequences I guess...). I have all these ideas but I then I think there's no need to cram them all into one novel. I think one writer said it's good to use only one or two big ideas per book, that way you can do it really well instead of getting distracted with trying to force the story along.

    For some reason in this novel I've decided to venture into the past and remain there for almost all of it, save the beginning and end. Not totally sure why I did it that way, but it seemed right for this story. For another, I'd like to do something totally different. I like the idea of the miniature portrait speaking back to the MC and adding a more supernatural flavour to the text. I can never resist bringing in more ethereal and metaphysical elements to stop the story from being too grounded. I recently just wrote a character into the story who is basically a ghost and only the MC can see her. She's actually a young princess and one of his ancestors who knows more than she lets on, but I enjoyed writing her in because she gives him the shove he needs to start finding courage to stand up to his father.

    Thank you for the encouragement. It's good to know other people's thoughts on these things. Also, utterly shameful, but I haven't read Treasure Island yet (it's been on my list to read for this year). I know the story itself (Muppets perhaps has the best portrayal...) but it'd be great to finally read the original. And I know I'm just gonna love Long John Silver, who's arguably one of the greatest villains of all time, up there with Fagin.
     
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  19. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    That's the spirit!
    My only advice to you, if you follow through and add a supernatural element to your story, is that you make no hard and fast line between the real world and the supernatural realm. And also, you find a unique way to conjure up the ghost, one that hasn't been done before. My writing partner was keen on having a ghost. Me... not so much. But I found a way to conjure one up that I don't believe has been done before... and that it's done in crude fashion without pretense or ceremony makes me happy.
    Valerie (French Courtesan) has a locket around her neck, that one might think contains snuff, but in actuality it's the last mortal remains of Joan of Arc, that is the ashes of a suspected witch. I thought, why not have Valerie snort the ashes of Joan of Arc and by doing so go on a supernatural high. Valerie is in for a very bumpy night.:)

    Valerie took the locket and flicked the tiny latch. The delicate lid sprung open. “So, you think me a common murderess?” She pinched a generous quantity of the fine gray powder and put two fingertips snug under one nostril, and in one sharp sniff inhaled the powder. She wrinkled her nose and repeated the gesture once more and finished by licking her fingers clean of the ashen dust. She shut the lid and flicked the latch closed. “See, completely harmless. Just tobacco and spices.”
     
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  20. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    Haha, that's a pretty neat and inventive way to get her to communicate with ghosts. I like it. Drugs / substance use are always intriguing because they take our minds to places we don't even understand. A bit like dreams, really, only your high and everything is trippy. I enjoyed reading that little passage, as well. You have a style that is very easy to follow!

    I've not yet decided how to explain or justify the ghost's appearance in my story. So far, she just kinda appears, but only when the MC, who is a young boy at this point, is in the room. Children are good to write for this sort of thing because although he's a little nervous by her being a ghost (she is hiding under his bed when they meet) he's also a very placid and accepting child. From what I know of children generally they are less freaked out by things and more open to the unknown. If something unusual happens, they don't always overthink it... they just sort of go with it. I'll probably only offer a light explanation as to why he can see her... the first hint of magic is the MC comes across an enchanted coin that makes him 'lucky' but he uses it to simply check on his brother who he is forbidden to see. The ghost turns out to be the owner of that coin, and she had it given to him for a reason. That probably doesn't sound original in itself, but it's not a trinket that's overplayed, the coin just happens to be the first insight into the world of magic that runs alongside the medieval setting.

    Most readers of the Fantasy genre won't mind the presence of a ghost as long as I don't summon every cliche known to man. Her role in the story, though, is important. She acts as a motivator for him and also helps him to understand why he is crippled.

    The unique aspect is that she appears as a child but is obviously very old. I know that sort of thing has been done before, but I like the timeless quality to it and how she is both a guide and a playmate to the MC at the same time.
     
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