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Old 08-22-2010, 01:51 PM   #1
MrKyle
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Dialog Driven Stories

Hey, I'm writing my first Novel. On the 2nd draft of a 80k+ book. But I realized today that the book is 99 percent driven by the character's dialog and body expressions as described by the narration. I really just want the characters to tell the story and not so much a disembodied voice. But it's starting to look more like a Script than a Book.

Any thoughts on the matter?
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Old 08-22-2010, 02:42 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by MrKyle View Post
Hey, I'm writing my first Novel. On the 2nd draft of a 80k+ book. But I realized today that the book is 99 percent driven by the character's dialog and body expressions as described by the narration. I really just want the characters to tell the story and not so much a disembodied voice. But it's starting to look more like a Script than a Book.

Any thoughts on the matter?
If that's your natural approach DO NOT change it because you believe you're not supposed to do it that way. If it is the most natural way to you, then it is your style. Gregory McDonald (Fletch) used dialogue almost entirely in his wonderful books. This is fiction, there are no set rules and those who try to sell you their 'expertise' about these aspects of craft are either intractable old farts, or working from experiences that cannot be applied to the unknown and burgeoning digital markets. The golden rule applies: if it's golden to you, then it might be golden to someone else.

Here's the opening from Fletch (the rest of the chapters are also 99% dialogue)

Quote:
“What’s your name?”

“Fletch.”

“What’s your full name?”

“Fletcher.”

“What’s your first name?”

“Irwin.”

“What?”

“Irwin. Irwin Fletcher. People call me Fletch.”

“Irwin Fletcher, I have a proposition to make to you. I will give you a thousand dollars for just listening to it. If you decide to reject the proposition, you take the thousand dollars, go away, and never tell anyone we talked. Fair enough?”

“Is it criminal? I mean, what you want me to do?”

“Of course.”

“Fair enough. For a thousand bucks I can listen. What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to murder me.”

The black shoes tainted with sand came across the oriental rug. The man took an envelope from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and dropped it into Fletch’s lap. Inside were ten one-hundred-dollar bills.

***
*On a side note, I'd actually encourage dialogue heavy and lower word counts if trying to attract a younger audience. The kind of audience you'd want to grow with you will be an audience steeped in the grammar of cinema and a culture of dialogue and imagery (the baby boomers are a market that will die off in short shrift, although they are the predominant market at the moment.)

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Old 08-22-2010, 05:02 PM   #3
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I remember going into one of the big paperback houses some years ago and they had a formula. I think it was 1 page of dialog for every 3 pages of description. That's why you have all that horrid description in books that you skim over in order to get to the story.

Just a caution. Make sure your characters are talking about something interesting/pertaining to the story. Real life conversations can be pretty boring.

And Moejoe, I'm not dying off anytime soon.
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Old 08-22-2010, 06:25 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Robin O'Neill View Post
I remember going into one of the big paperback houses some years ago and they had a formula. I think it was 1 page of dialog for every 3 pages of description. That's why you have all that horrid description in books that you skim over in order to get to the story.

Just a caution. Make sure your characters are talking about something interesting/pertaining to the story. Real life conversations can be pretty boring.

And Moejoe, I'm not dying off anytime soon.
Good for you. I'm glad you're certain of your longevity, unlike the rest of us mere mortals who don't have the special powers of knowing exactly how much time we have left.
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Old 08-22-2010, 06:35 PM   #5
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Sorry I said anything. Truly.
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Old 08-22-2010, 06:49 PM   #6
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One of my favorite science fiction stories was Santiago by Mike Resnick. It's almost all dialog. Personally, I love dialog. I use a lot of it, too, but many readers like visuals: knowing what the room looks like, for instance. Something to keep in mind.
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Old 08-22-2010, 07:44 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by kcmay View Post
One of my favorite science fiction stories was Santiago by Mike Resnick. It's almost all dialog. Personally, I love dialog. I use a lot of it, too, but many readers like visuals: knowing what the room looks like, for instance. Something to keep in mind.
I've always found the rule of three useful in that kind of situation. Three standout objects, observations or senses (or a combination).



Quote:
Dr. Frule's study was thick with leather bound books (1 - object). It was if the very air itself were infused with a leather smell (2 - sense). It reminded Jonathan of the interior of a Bentley he'd once chauffered for a rich Toff in Knighstbridge.(3 - observation).

Where there were books there was suddenly a door and voice.

"Good Morning to you, Jonathan. And I hope the morning finds you in full health?" Langley Cavendish was head to toe a throwback from some other age.

And age when Britannia ruled the waves, men opened doors for ladies, and sexual frenzies were triggered by the showing of an ankle. (three observations).

"Morning, Sir," Jonathan said.

"No need for the Sir, Jonathan, come, sit with me and let us discuss the adventure that this day may bring to us both..."

Langley poured himself into a lover's seat.....

And you see how it can go on from there.
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Old 08-22-2010, 08:26 PM   #8
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Thank you guys for the input. I would've naturally added more narrative initially if it wasn't for the fact that the dialog is really interesting and propels the story really well.

It's a book of many words and conversations, but various people really have fun reading the dialog and getting into the characters (at least so far).
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Old 08-22-2010, 11:36 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrKyle View Post
Thank you guys for the input. I would've naturally added more narrative initially if it wasn't for the fact that the dialog is really interesting and propels the story really well.

It's a book of many words and conversations, but various people really have fun reading the dialog and getting into the characters (at least so far).
I think dialog is the best and easiest way to examine your character or get us into their heart/mind. It also makes a great transition if you use the zoom function on your novel. If what you write works and doesn't make people rip their hair out or otherwise want to hurt you *unless intentional* then leave it

If you're concerned that because you have a dialog heavy story, its unsalable or no major publication will want it....well then they can go ef themselves.

As long as your characters aren't just discussing their day or the weather, or their interpetation of the grapes of wrath, or whatever doesn't propel the action forward, then you should be good to go.

Every line of dialog should advance the story in some way / shape or form.

Of course, these are broad definitions of "advance the story."

And Robin, don't mind our crotchety old british friend. He's just...British!

I also love the rule of three. It's just enough to stir the imagination without being heavy handed and Jordanesque. The Rule of Three is my friend. You don't need to engage all five senses all the time to tell a convincing story.

Some of the best things are left unsaid.

Speaking of which, I should be writing. I've wasted entirely too much time slacking off today.

Last edited by jaxx6166; 08-22-2010 at 11:38 PM.
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Old 08-24-2010, 03:03 AM   #10
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I also love the rule of three. It's just enough to stir the imagination without being heavy handed and Jordanesque. The Rule of Three is my friend. You don't need to engage all five senses all the time to tell a convincing story.

Some of the best things are left unsaid.

Speaking of which, I should be writing. I've wasted entirely too much time slacking off today.
Even though my book isn't a mystery, and I do present many motives and actions explicitly. I think it works simply because the main character is narrating in the past tense, so he can both foreshadow, and speak as to what was going through his mind.

The dialog moving the story along works a lot better with the two main characters because they're both those types that read heavily into non-verbal communication. Helps when writing because given their high intelligence and attentive comprehension, it saves the back and forth of 'What?' and 'Why?s' They have a pretty good idea what the other person is and isn't saying.

I do leave many elements unsaid. There are a lot of implications that get validated later on slowly as the story progresses. But I leave a lot unsaid, ambiguous, and make sure the reader knows I left some loose ends. It also strangely works in the romantic development of the main characters, since withholding inconsequential facts from a partner teases their curiosity considerably.

My favorite so far as been some really dreadful accusations befall on the male character. The type that as a reader I would really want to know if they're true or not. Most stories there is a moment of heavy soul crushing confessions to dispel rumors. The character eventually addresses each one, but at a moment of his choosing. Only telling his partner when contextually she has a first hand insight into his rational.
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Old 08-24-2010, 08:31 AM   #11
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Real life conversations can be pretty boring.
Yes indeedy. In fact, if you transcribe almost any real-life conversation it will be not only boring but almost unreadable, littered with ums and ahs, non sequiturs and grammatical errors. Writing good dialogue is a great test of a writer's skill. You have to make it seem real, while paying careful attention to the order of words to avoid misleading the reader, and the choice of vocabulary and usage in dialogue is critical to establishing the speaker's character.

Dialogue is much faster and often more entertaining to read than descriptive prose, and if you can pull off a good story using mainly dialogue you should be onto a winner!
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Old 08-25-2010, 12:57 PM   #12
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Robert B. Parker's books are mainly dialogue, from what I've read. He's prolific, and I'm sure that keeping down the narrative helps!

I have a friend who loves his stuff for this reason, says she can breeze through one of his books in two hours. I find them rather non-engaging for that very reason and don't bother to breeze through them at all. So it's a matter of preference.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:20 AM   #13
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Generally speaking, a novel is composed of three elements: dialogue, action and exposition (explanation).

I don't think there are any rules in writing that have to be followed, but what I've been taught is that the three elements should be in a rough balance.

I don't consciously think about this when writing, but I'd say that most of what I've written follows this rule -- and probably because I've unconsciously picked it up from reading.

When I read something that is heavily weighted one way or the other, I do find that it becomes a bit tedious. For example, at the moment I am reading Jeffrey Eugenides "The Virgin Suicides", which is almost all exposition. It's a good book, but it just stays on this one tone, and you get to a point where you've had enough of it.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:37 AM   #14
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I prefer books with mostly dialog. A book with mostly descriptions bores me. Write what you like, not what you think we readers should like. In the end, if the book is good and you like it, then we will like it too.

Good luck with your new book!
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