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reenkam
06-23-2007, 11:32 AM
So I was just thinking about dialogue in fiction (maybe some non-fcition, too) and what people had said about it.

Personally, I usually like having a pretty good amount of dialogue in my stuff because I was under the impression that it made the story move along faster. Less description of what was happening and more actually happening, I guess.

Then I recently had a workshop teacher say that dialogue slows down the pace because you'll only read it as fast as someone speaks. The rest of the class promptly agreed.

At that time I thought it was right, so I started using less dialogue. But I'm definitely feeling like the extra non-dialogue text is slowing things down, so I'm putting more in again...

What's everyone's opinion on this? Does dialogue slow down or quicken the pace of a story?

alleycat
06-23-2007, 11:38 AM
Personally, I think dialogue is faster paced in general, but I think sentence length and complexity is even more important in that regard. There's also the question of "perceived" pace . . . a reader might think the pace is faster while reading dialogue even though they might be reading the same number of words per minute as when they're reading narration, and the same amount of "action" occurs.

Tracy
06-23-2007, 12:35 PM
Lots of dialogue is essential in my view (within reason, of course). Dialogue is what impels the reader into the story and gives them that delicious fly-on-the-wall feeling which is part of the pleasure of reading. If there's too much description, it's easy for the reader to feel she's hovering above the action, observing it at a distance. She won't be as engaged.

The pace of the dialogue will depend very much on the length of the sentences, as AlleyCat says. Compare and contrast:

"Well," said Joe, hitching up his trousers and settling comfortably into the chair, "it all began a long time ago. I was only a boy in fact, and things were very different then, you know. You'd hardly believe it, son, but we didn't even have mobile phones then!" etc etc

with

"Quick, run!"
"What?"
"C'mon, they'll catch us."
"Oh God you're right. Come on then."

Having said all that, you need both fast-pace and slow-pace in a novel. Fast-pace is the interesting stuff, but it can get exhausting. Slow-pace gives the reader a rest.

heyjude
06-23-2007, 04:59 PM
I've heard it said that too much dialogue is the mark of a lazy writer. :( That sucks, because I love dialogue. If properly used, it can propel the story quickly.

RLSMiller
06-23-2007, 05:14 PM
I've heard it said that too much dialogue is the mark of a lazy writer. :( That sucks, because I love dialogue. If properly used, it can propel the story quickly.

I would say too much anything is the mark of a lazy writer. There are so many tools at your disposal - why limit yourself to one? :)

Mel
06-23-2007, 05:33 PM
Dialogue and description are a balancing act. For some dialogue is easier to do, for others description. I think it also depends on the writer and the story. Pick up different books that you loved by different authors and see if they all have the same amount of dialogue. Too much dialogue can become boring if nothing is happening, same with description.

I don't see where a lot of dialogue makes a writer lazy. Some writers have to work hard to get their dialogue in and make it work. On the other hand, the same goes for those who have a hard time with description. I'm not good at description so I have to work harder at that to make it come out, yet not so it ends up as info dump. Dialogue is easier for me.

Dialogue can move the story forward, as should every word in the story regardless of which category it falls under. That said, description, especially if it's action does the same. Too much of anything isn't going to work.

When you write something then have others critique it, you always use what you feel works for you. If you keep getting the same feedback on something that's the time you might really need to step back, give your work a rest, then come back and see how you can fix it. Do it so you are happy with it, just try to keep some kind of balance going.

Will Lavender
06-23-2007, 06:52 PM
It all depends on how you use it.

Writing dialogue, like anything else, is a talent; no one should speak about it in absolutes (it slows the pace down; it quickens the pace; etc.) because its effect on the book is completely contingent on the writer's ability to use it well.

scarletpeaches
06-23-2007, 06:55 PM
Dialogue speeds up the pace; exposition slows it down. But what I have to keep telling myself is, don't write the dialogue exactly as people speak in real life; that would send your reader to sleep. Give the impression of truth, but don't write real life conversations verbatim.

reenkam
06-23-2007, 06:59 PM
Anyone think that genre makes a difference?

Thinking it over, a lot of fantasy, especially epic fantasy, seems to have less dialogue than description. I feel like this is also true for a lot of trillers and literary novels....or it's possible it's just the books I'm reading. I'd think comedy would have more dialogue, for some reason.

maestrowork
06-23-2007, 07:04 PM
As with anything else (narrative, descriptions, etc.), dialogue can either speed up the pace or slow it down. Snappy dialogue without a lot of tags and action definitely will speed things up. Long drawn-out exposition or talking head will slow things down.

ap123
06-23-2007, 08:06 PM
Reenkam--
I absolutely think genre makes a difference. My romance has lots of dialogue. The lit fic (I think, could be mainstream) I'm working on has less dialogue, more introspection, descriptions are different.

Jamesaritchie
06-24-2007, 02:00 AM
Personally, I usually like having a pretty good amount of dialogue in my stuff because I was under the impression that it made the story move along faster. Less description of what was happening and more actually happening, I guess.



Dialogue is good. Dialogue is necessary. But dialogue is not usually something happening. Dialogue is talking about something happening.

Great dialogue is crucial to any story, but dialogue should never be a substitute for events.

rugcat
06-24-2007, 02:13 AM
Great dialogue is crucial to any story, but dialogue should never be a substitute for events.And exposition should never be a substitute for dialogue.

"We talked about things over dinner, and then she said she loved me."

Jamesaritchie
06-24-2007, 02:40 AM
And exposition should never be a substitute for dialogue.

"We talked about things over dinner, and then she said she loved me."

No, but when given the choice, exposition that shows beats dialogue that tells every last time.

rugcat
06-24-2007, 03:58 AM
Good dialogue can tell you everything you need to know about a relationship or situation without ever specifically referring to them.

Oh, hell, it really just all boils down to good writing beats bad writing.

Will Lavender
06-24-2007, 04:24 AM
No, but when given the choice, exposition that shows beats dialogue that tells every last time.

But dialogue that shows and tells can work masterfully.

For a lesson in superb dialogue, I suggest George V. Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

TrainofThought
06-24-2007, 04:56 AM
Personally, I usually like having a pretty good amount of dialogue in my stuff because I was under the impression that it made the story move along faster. Less description of what was happening and more actually happening, I guess.

Then I recently had a workshop teacher say that dialogue slows down the pace because you'll only read it as fast as someone speaks. The rest of the class promptly agreed.

At that time I thought it was right, so I started using less dialogue. But I'm definitely feeling like the extra non-dialogue text is slowing things down, so I'm putting more in again...

What's everyone's opinion on this? Does dialogue slow down or quicken the pace of a story?Is this a marathon? I wonít concern myself with pacing my WIP with description or dialogue. I concentrate on character development and plot, which will ultimately slow or move my story along. The pace is an afterthought. As a reader, I want dialogue to see how charactersí interact with each other because it helps build the connection, but it needs to be there for a reason. Iíve read books with too much description where Iím yawning or skimming over parts. If Iím skimming, the author lost my interest in their character and/or story.

I donít agree that a writer needs to be concerned with dialogue or description moving the pace. The pace moves along when your readers care for your characters and want to flip the page to see what comes next. If the story drags, then you need to work on character and/or plot, which may entail cutting description or dialogue. :D

maestrowork
06-24-2007, 05:14 AM
Dialogue can show plot, of course... but the best use of dialogue is to show characters and relationships. It's one of the best ways. It's the key use of dialogue in place of narrative. If the key focus is to advance plot, narrative can be used more effectively and keep the pace brisk.

Dave.C.Robinson
06-24-2007, 07:33 PM
Talking head dialogue slows the story. Dialogue that has action interwoven works very well. Have people doing things when they're talking. Keep the characters and story in motion whether through dialogue or exposition.

Jamesaritchie
06-24-2007, 09:49 PM
But dialogue that shows and tells can work masterfully.

For a lesson in superb dialogue, I suggest George V. Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Oh, yeah. Great dialogue there. I'm also a fan of the dialogue in just about anything Josh Whedon has done. I used to watch Buffy not because I liked the show itself very much, but because the dialogue was incredible.

I think Elmore Leonard is also a master of wonderful dialogue.

You just have to be very careful of talking heads, of using dialogue when event is needed, and of having any character say anything just because you think the work is light on dialogue.

Like much else in writing, it's largely a matter of feel, I think. You must have an ear for dialogue, and you must have a feel for when and where and how much.

Dawnstorm
06-24-2007, 10:36 PM
And exposition should never be a substitute for dialogue.

"We talked about things over dinner, and then she said she loved me."

When, at this point in the story, I have a pretty good idea of how the situation plays out I don't really need the dialogue. Near the beginning of the story, on the other hand...

("Too much dialogue" is one of the criticisms constantly levered against my WiP. It's a novel; one critic suggested I should make it a play.)

rosebud1981
06-25-2007, 06:29 PM
What's everyone's opinion on this? Does dialogue slow down or quicken the pace of a story?


It depends on the quality of the dialogue. If it is entertaining and reveals character traits then it is always a good thing. I can think of lot of great books that are heavy in dialogue and are all the better for it.
Watch any old Hitchcock film too, and the most noticeable difference to most modern films is the lively dialogue flying back and forth between every character, even the minor characters that have only one brief scene. There was no such thing as a flat cardboard character. Good dialogue brings interesting characters to life

Jamesaritchie
06-25-2007, 08:22 PM
It depends on the quality of the dialogue. If it is entertaining and reveals character traits then it is always a good thing. I can think of lot of great books that are heavy in dialogue and are all the better for it.
Watch any old Hitchcock film too, and the most noticeable difference to most modern films is the lively dialogue flying back and forth between every character, even the minor characters that have only one brief scene. There was no such thing as a flat cardboard character. Good dialogue brings interesting characters to life


Films are not a good indicator of how short stories or novels are written. All the background scenery, every last thing you see in a movie, must be described in writing, but it's just there in a movie. Even a movie that seems very dialogue heavy would still have a lot of narrative in book form.

rosebud1981
06-26-2007, 04:05 AM
Films are not a good indicator of how short stories or novels are written. All the background scenery, every last thing you see in a movie, must be described in writing, but it's just there in a movie. Even a movie that seems very dialogue heavy would still have a lot of narrative in book form.

That's true. But some films can also show the effects of good dialogue in revealing character

SDBmania
06-26-2007, 04:17 AM
I've been told that I'm good at writing dialog. I find it essential to writing a good story. Description is what I need work on and I feel I'm getting better.

All in all, dialog is what moves the story, in my opinion. When I read books, unless its self-help, I look forward to dialog. I feel you learn a lot more about the characters that way and you can often tell how they are feeling by what they say. Too much description tends to be boring to me. I like light description because I can more freely use my imagination.

Another way I like to think of it is like I'm watching a movie. Usually the best scenes involve characters interacting with each other. That's where the action takes place.

So, perhaps in a perfect world, having a balance between great dialog and good descriptions. However, I'd prefer good dialog to detailed descriptions.

akiwiguy
06-26-2007, 04:37 AM
I tumbled on a certain device employing dialog a while back.

I'd had major problems starting a certain chapter. I wanted to describe certain things about setting, and how a character related to that setting, but every way that I tried seemed to be flat. The descriptive stuff just seemed like boring clumping. I was going around and around in circles and was totally stalled.

But it happened that at the time I was also reading a book on "crafting scenes". And I stumbled on a certain device that the author described that for my particular problem was a "bingo, that's it" solution.

It is a specific technique that goes like..

(1) A character asks a question
(2) The setting in which the conversation is starting to take place is described
(3) The other character answers... etc.

And the author's explanation of this technique is that the question piques the readers curiosity. That involves them sufficiently to take in the setting as they ponder what the answer will be. The story hasn't stalled.

In my case the whole beginning of the scene came to life.

Just thought I'd mention this as a personal little gee-whizz revelation as to a one of many very specific techniques involving dialog. Of course it's one of many that illustrate the diverse reasons for using dialog, but in this particular instance it leapt out as a perfect solution once I could see it. An interesting little learning curve for me.

Bufty
07-05-2007, 05:52 PM
That's nonsense to my mind - most folk read an exchange of dialogue faster than it would be spoken.

And the blanket statement that dialogue slows down pace is also, in my view, wrong.

Pacing can be controlled in many ways, and one can have dialogue that slows the pace or, if desired, quickens the pace. The scene/sequel approach also determines how a run of dialogue affects pace.


....Then I recently had a workshop teacher say that dialogue slows down the pace because you'll only read it as fast as someone speaks. The rest of the class promptly agreed.

Novelhistorian
07-06-2007, 08:30 AM
Sweeping, broad-brush statements from writing teachers should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly if these rules purport to say how readers will react.

Dave.C.Robinson
07-06-2007, 08:42 AM
Great big blocks of infodumpy dialog slow things down. Quick snappy dialog speeds it up. It's all in how you write it. Same as everything else.