1. Youniquee

    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

    Nov 18, 2010
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    Under your bed.

    Narration to dialogue ratio?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Youniquee, Sep 25, 2013.

    Hi all,

    So I've been reading a lot of 1st person novels as I am writing one atm. And what I notice is that most of them have pages and pages of the narrator just talking to themselves a lot of the time and not pages of dialogue.

    Now, I won't say my novel has pages of dialogue but I feel that my novel has quite a bit (Most conversations with important characters that add to the plot)...I only have a few times where there's pages and pages of my MC just talking to himself and about his feelings.

    It makes me wonder: Am I doing this whole first person thing wrong? Am I doing exposition through dialogue too much and not enough through the actual narrator?

    I feel that this could be because my character is new in his setting and is meeting a lot of new people, thus why there is quite a bit of dialogue. But I'm not sure that even with that, there should pages of dialogue sometimes...hmm.

    Sorry if this is hard to understand! But thank you in advance for any advice given. :)
  2. Steve Day

    Steve Day Member

    Jul 6, 2013
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    You say you have been reading lots of 1st person novels.
    Therefore, do it exactly the way they have done it. (Is there a price inside the dust jacket? $25.95, for example?)
  3. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY
    Is that really "pages of the narrator just talking to themselves" or is it pages and pages of narration? They are not the same thing.

    Also, there are different kinds of 1st person novels. You can have a 1st person narrator who is the main character (or one of the main characters) as in Moby Dick or The Stranger or A Farewell To Arms, or you can have a 1st person narrator who is a very minor character in the story, such as in To Kill A Mockingbird or That Night or The Great Gatsby.

    As I recall, dialogue was rather sparse in Moby Dick but certainly plentiful in A Farewell to Arms. Also seemed rather a lot of it in Mockingbird. So, I would question how representative the novels are that you are reading.

    To answer your broader question, there is no one right answer. It all depends on how you make it work. Michener distinguished between "carry" (narration) and "face" (dialogue and detailed action or descriptions) and aimed to keep a roughly 50/50 balance between the two.
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    From a non-expert who is also writing 1st person narrative:
    First person POV can be told in past or present tense. If you are narrating past tense, it doesn't seem like you need a lot of inner dialogue or talking out loud to oneself. You can have some present tense dialogue of course, but I don't know how large sections of dialogue would read without seeing it.

    If you are writing present tense I would think you could more easily put a lot of dialogue in the story. It's hard to say without seeing it, but maybe thinking about past and present tense will help.
  5. JayG

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Sep 27, 2013
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    Philadelphia PA
    I've often thought that first person novels should carry the disclaimer: This novel was written by a trained professional. Do not try this at home without the proper safety equipment.

    Some thoughts:

    • First person pronouns do not magically convert telling to showing. Never lose sight of the fact that we are not explaining the story or listing the events. Our goal isn't to inform, it's to entertain. Your reader is looking to become emotionally involved by personally being made to experience the scene in real-time, in that tiny slice or reality the protagonist calls, "now." That is a very different thing from narrating a slide show and telling the reader about the plot progression—and what they might see if only they could see the slides playing in your mind.

    • The term first person, third, etc, refers to the personal pronouns used. It's how the writer chooses to present point of view. It's not what point of view is. So when you—dressed in a mask and wig and pretending to the the protagonist talking at some time after the events take place—talk about the events that took place, that's not placing the reader in the character's POV. It's someone who's in a time and place other then where the events take place talking about the story. And that's telling, not showing. Stories can be presented that way, of course. The Last Unicorn is a wonderful example of exposition as a storytelling method. But that style of story has its own unique set of norms and techniques the writer should be aware of.

    • for every line in which you, the narrator, are talking about anything other then what's directly related to the action in progress, nothing is happening in the scene and you've become a "talking head." For why that should be avoided, try this: http://movieline.com/2010/03/23/david-mamets-memo-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/

    As for the answer to your question on exposition vs dialog heavy prose, the answer is: it depends. Narrative can be entertaining, as can dialog. What matters is that it draws the reader in. Conversation is good, but unless it's building tension it's boring. Exposition can end up being too much like a report, if we're not careful. It's a matter of the needs of that scene and the skill of the writer. There is no formula. If there were, we would have to sign a contract not to reveal it, in blood, and pay a lot of money to learn it.

    My personal suggestion: cheat. I steal all my best ideas. You can do the same. Lots of really successful writers have written on what works for them. Of more importance they wrote about what didn't work. Knowing that can save a lot of time. Your local library's section of fiction writing can be a great resource. Seek the name Jack Bickham and you can't go wrong.
    killbill likes this.

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