Friday, September 18, 2009

narrative vs. DIALOGUE

I struggle to balance them. Both are crucial, I admit. But for me, one's weight does not match the other.

I've learned I write with less narrative. My nature is to keep it at a minimum, to manipulate the words so that less narrative gives the more powerful effect I'm looking for. Because if I try to flesh things out, just for the sake of more, I lose the meaning and feel I was after.

Dialogue tips my scale the other way. I feel like so much of my story is told through characters' words. Details unfold, inflections and nuances hide. In longer works, I'm most comfortable in and around dialogue.

How is it for you? Is one heavier than the other?

Is there a "right" way, a perfect balance? Or, as with so many other aspects of writing, is it open to the writer's interpretation, the story, the voice?

Tell me what you think.

32 comments:

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Just like in real life, I'm a dialogue person. I love to talk to others, tell stories (not gossip) and listen to others share theirs. I tend to write lots of dialogue more than narrative. I feel both are important to the story and each writer has to find the balance that works best for them and to tell the story to the reader.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I think good dialogue really quickens the pace of a novel. It's like eavesdropping, it keeps us reeled in. Narrative is necessary, otherwise you're writing a play! For me, dialogue is the key to showing relationships and feelings which are easy to 'tell' in a story instead of 'show' and you know we don't want that.

Dialogue can also give the reader information, I always have to make sure I'm not doing a 'having a cup of tea' dialogue where the only point to it is to disseminate what happened yesterday (you know, like in real life). It's a challenge but dialogue is where the characters morph off the page, don't you think?

JKB said...

I'm a dialogue-er, all the way.

It is very like eavesdropping, I think. And because I own cats and am horribly curious, it's my favourite thing to write.

MeganRebekah said...

Dialogue is my favorite. I usually have to go back and factor in the narrative. I'm always afraid that the narrative will be boring, whereas the dialogue is usually engaging

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I lean on dialogue, probably b/c the characters start talking so much in my mind/vision of the story and I want to get it all down. I've learned to cut a lot of it, but is sure is fun to listen. :D
~ Wendy

Jeanette Levellie said...

I love dialogue, but I find I need narrative more than I'd like, to make a point.
I had an interesting event take place a few night ago. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, telling me to change a narrative section in a chapter to dialogue. When I did it, it worked so much better! Yay for God!

Jenna said...

I am completely the odd woman out here--maybe because I'm not a huge talker--granted I can do it, I love a great conversation, but talking wears me out. After hanging out with a friend I have to go home and decompress :).

So yes, I would guess it follows that my in my writing there is more narrative than dialogue and the same goes for the books I love--in fact I will rarely read a book that is heavy on the dialogue--probably because it wears me out ;).

But I do have to say this. A lot of narrative comes in the form of thought and to me thought is really the narrator/MC/protag having a conversation with themselves--in a non-schitzo way of course. And in my opinion, people don't let it all hang out in most conversations--there is usually a lot more going on inside than outside--or at least so in really interesting characters--and this is where narrative can pick up the deeper side of a character.

Obviously balance is the key. I think we need both dialogue and narrative and I think your writing style and precieved audience is ultimately the determining factors.

Janna Qualman said...

Donna - I guess it is individually determined, huh?

Amy - Yes, that's it! They come to life when you hear them.

JKB - I'd love to hear what animals are thinking. My dog: "Get the squirrel! Get the squirrel! Mmm, meat. Get the squirrel!"

MeganRebekah - I like that engagement, too. And I guess that's what I need to do, is just go back later, after all is said and done, and then check narrative.

Wendy - That's the beauty, I guess. We can go back and cut or add as needed; nothing has to be perfect right off.

Jen - I love that still, small voice that can mean so much.

Jenna - But you bring up a great point! And make me realize I'm both: With writing it's the dialogue; in life, I'm like you, and I have to have my quiet decompression. Interesting! And I like your point, too, about narrative needed for internalization. So true!

Melanie Avila said...

I'm a talker, for sure, but my writing tends to be more introspective. Maybe I'm fighting the "talker" label I've had all my life...

Jenna described my reasonings well -- people DO tend to hold a lot back when talking, so it's the bit & pieces in between what they say that often tell the most.

WendyCinNYC said...

I'm like Jenna--I try to balance the two, but sway more toward narrative. My dialogue tends to be condensed. I tend to prefer books like that as well.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hi, Janna! I definitely give too much narrative. I love a good commentary and really don't like writing dialogue all that much. I'm getting better, but I'd be happy reading a book with chapters upon chapters of narrative. I think it's because I'm so quiet in real life that I don't talk much either... :0)

Terri Tiffany said...

I think I'm more like Jenna even though I love talking with others. I try to make every word in my dialogue count and it seems as those my characters show more of the plot through their actions than words.

Stina Rose said...

I'm still learning to balance the two. I find some works are all narative while others are almost all dialogue. In my longer works I sway toward the narritive, with hints of dialogue scattered throughout. I'm still learning and finding a style that works for me.

Janna Qualman said...

Melanie - I'd have never guessed you're a talker. ;) Do you jibber-jabber like me?

Wendy - Thanks for sharing! I'm interested in knowing these differences between us.

Do you think literary works tend to be more narrative-driven?

Kristen - Funny, I was just wondering how it would work to have a book with almost all dialogue. Hmm...

Terri - That's what's important either way, isn't it? Making sure each word counts.

Stina - That's just the way it is for me, too. Maybe because short and long works paint pictures in different ways.

Barbara said...

I agree that many readers skim too much narrative. I do too if it feels self-indulgent. Balance and pacing are both critical to a novel. But if it's all dialogue I feel like I'm reading a screenplay. The reason most people pick up novels instead of going to a movie is tht they are allowed inside the characters. I think there needs to be a balance. Otherwise, you get talking heads.

If you're worried about it, then you're probably feeling there is an imbalance there. Sometimes, amidst the dialogue, we forget that characters can react emotionally to what's going on. Emotions they won't share in dialogue. Transitional scenes can help, too. Give the reader a breather from all the dialogue.

IF you're really great at dialogue, though, that's your strength and don't forget it. But narrative will be your next challenge.

I'm outnumbered here, too, but that's just my opinion. :p) Good luck!

JLC said...

Interestingly enough, I think I write more dialogue in novels and more description in short stories. Either way, I don't give it much thought. If the characters need to say something, then I quote them. :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Great topic and I love the way you did your title.

I prefer a combo of both in my writing. Great, snappy dialogue and intriguing narrative. You can always employ telephone calls and letters if you feel your ms is yap happy. :)

Janna Qualman said...

Barbara, thanks for chiming in. I wouldn't say I'm worried about it, but that it's something of which I try to be conscious. It's another of those important factors to consider.

JLC - That makes perfect sense! ;)

Angie - Ideal, me thinks.

Melanie Avila said...

I know, right? ;) My nickname at 3yo was motormouth.

Jibber jabber? Possibly...

Deb Shucka said...

Because I write memoir, at first I had a really hard time with dialogue because it's all a construction that needs to feel true. But without it, everything felt flat. Like everything else, in writing and in life, that balance is tenuous and tricky to achieve and maintain.

Lazy Writer said...

I think originally I had more narrative than dialogue. I'm tightening up my manuscript and am finding that I am replacing a lot of narrative with dialogue. I guess I'm trying to achieve a balance.

Sharla said...

I'm all about the dialogue, both in writing and reading. If I'm reading a book, the description ends up being skipped if it goes too long, I want to get to the action, and I love a snappy dialogue interchange. Description bores me.

When writing, I have to force myself to write narrative, because it bores me to write it too! Dialogue keeps it moving and real, and I work really hard at revealing all those descriptive details in the dialogue itself. And nothing I love more than my characters going crazy and all talking at once. That's a blast!

septembermom said...

I actually have been thinking about incorporating some kind of staccato dialogue in my poetry. With regard to prose, I like how dialogue gives you a better sense of the characters oddities or biases. I think it adds flavor to a novel.

Jill Kemerer said...

It depends on the genre. I get impatient when I'm reading. I focus mostly on dialogue and internal dialogue. I like description to be very lightly sprinkled or I skip it. Terrible, but true!

Janna Qualman said...

Melanie - Still, nobody has a handle on jibber jabbering like my youngest...

Deb - Thanks for sharing your insight regarding memoir. Dialogue would certainly play a different role.

Lazy Writer - No matter what the topic, it always comes back to balance, doesn't it?

Sharla - I remember you saying that the other day. I'd love to see how you handle it!

septembermom - In poetry would be very interesting! Do share if you try it.

Jill - I understand. For me, it depends on voice and content.

ralfast said...

I know what you mean. First draft of my first novel had very little dialogue in it (a handful of lines in the first 20-30 pages). Now I've gone the other way and write a lot more dialogue.

I say: Let your characters speak.

Strange Fiction said...

I like a good mix of narrative & dialogue. I'm not fond of descriptive dumps in my reading so I'm working on thinning those in my writing.

Janna Qualman said...

Brilliant, Rafael. "Let your characters speak."

Strange Fiction - It's good to know what you don't like to read, because it will make your writing better!

Analisa said...

Can I just say I was so blessed by reading the blog and comments. I love the differences. Some like talking and some more narrative. I like both. For me narrative can explain what the person is unwilling to express while speaking. Sometimes it shows why they said the very thing we know they didn't mean. All good. I can enjoy a story either way.

Janna Qualman said...

Thanks, Analisa. And I think that's one of the best things about reading/writing, that stories can be good however done.

Anonymous said...

I find it so difficult to create dialogue. I'm writing a short story right now, and I do not have one bit of dialogue in the two pages I have so far. I find myself thinking that the dialogue interrupts the flow of my narrative. I don't know what to make the characters say. I feel more comfortable narrating what everyone is saying to each other. Obviously, I have to break out of my comfort zone. I;m just not sure how to.

Christine kyle Moore said...

This was just what I needed to read. I have always struggled with what I read when it comes to narrative vs. dialogue.I feel if it works,why change it.