1. Jason Govender

    Jason Govender Member

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    Starting a novel with dialog

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jason Govender, Nov 2, 2017.

    Greetings! As I journey through my first chapter I have noticed that there is quite a bit of dialog. I am not sure how well that will fair with other readers so I would like to ask the question: How do you feel about opening a novel with dialog? If you feel like there's good way and a bad way please share it. I want to make this opening chapter as interesting as possible.
     
  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think dialog is the worst way possible to start a story. I absolutely hate it. I know it has been done, but I also know editors who will reject based a dialog opener. I would just say think about it and see if you can't come up with a better way to start your story. IMO anything would be better than dialog.
     
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  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    If you browse writing advice articles online, you'll see "Don't open with dialogue" come up frequently. It's not inherently bad but it's often done badly. What you want to avoid is 'white void' syndrome. When you start with dialogue, the reader has no idea who is speaking or where they are, so all they can picture is a white void with a characterless voice speaking into it. Not a great mental image to start with, right? And because they have nothing to anchor the words to, the words are much easier to forget.

    I think it's nearly always better to put in at least one line of narrative first, to give the reader something to picture. If you desperately want to start with dialogue, then at least try to paint a picture with it. "Hey, Jane, can you stop shoving me closer to the stage?" or... something better than that. At least then we know they're at some kind of concert, and we can picture Jane.
     
  4. Jason Govender

    Jason Govender Member

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    I should mention that my first paragraph is an action scene with a humorous conclusion. In that I tried my best to describe the location and the protagonist. I definitely disagree with an opening line of dialog. Do you feel that a lot of dialog is okay as long the setting is well placed and the characters well described before-hand?
     
  5. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Definitely! It's only really when the very first line is dialogue that you have to be careful.

    One thing to keep in mind is that dialogue is faster-paced than narrative, and you'll need to play with both to control the pacing of your novel. If you have pages of dialogue on end, it might start to feel a little manic and rushed to the reader. As with most things, balance is key. :)
     
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  6. Poetical Gore

    Poetical Gore Member

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    If it fits do it. There have been great books that started with dialogue. In a way, it has to encapsulate a book. Don't just have two people shooting the shit.
     
  7. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I did it with my first book, though it was a single line of dialogue and not a back-and-forth communication. I wouldn't have started the book any other way, and it didn't do me any harm as far as I can tell. Relatively speaking that book was very well received.
     
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  8. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Member

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    That's good to hear, because that's how the opening of my WIP begins. It's one line of dialogue that unfolds into the setting. The way it's structured sets up the entire structure of the book, as well as the ending, so changing it would make it a completely different book.

    There are no hard and fast rules...only guidelines.
     
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  9. Senko

    Senko Member

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    I personally like it when a novel starts with dialog. For me, it feels like you are taken right into the story.
    As some of you have already pointed out, there is the risk that you may confuse the reader. But, anyway, I think it's not something bad at all starting with some dialog, or using it somewhere in the first paragraphs.
     
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  10. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    @Jason Govender : I should mention that my first paragraph is an action scene . . .
    Plus what Senko said, particularly : I personally like it when a novel starts with dialog. For me, it feels like you are taken right into the story.

    I like my interest to be captured right away with a punch in the face in an action piece otherwise I find myself saying, "please, please, get on with it."

    On occasion a short prologue is fitting although that can often come off as a workaround if it's not well done but from your description that the dialogue unfolds quickly into the setting and forms the structure as well as the ending of your WIP I can't see why it wouldn't work well.

    As Tenderizer said, dialogue is faster-paced than narrative and balance is the key, but if you piece is naturally fast paced yet still delivers the content I'd say go for it. Personally I love to read a story that is chock full of good, snappy dialogue that adds a fast-paced feel to any action based piece so long as (as has been pointed out) I as a reader never feel lost or unsure of exactly what's going on in the story. Great dialogue includes nuances of almost every element of the story. Elmore Leonard, Jay Bennett, Shakespeare and of course many others wrote dialogue heavy stories and they didn't do too badly :)

    A good, and I think, germane quote from Elmore Leonard in his essay on Ten Rules of Writing : "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
     
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