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Thread: starting a novel with dialog

  1. #26
    I got it covered Undercover's Avatar
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    I too, think it's perfectly fine to open up with dialogue. As others mentioned, as long as it's done right.

  2. #27
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    Thanks for tip about Gilead. I just found I can get the ebook from my library as a loan, so I'll probably read it.

    The example you provided is, unfortunately, monologue, not dialog so it isn't really germane. Nevertheless, it's easy to appreciate that the monologue is conveying a lot of information. It's also raising a lot of questions, though, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing at the start of a novel. If you can come up with a novel beginning with dialog I'd be interested in hearing about it. I'm sure they exist; I just can't understand how the problems I mentioned can be overcome.

  3. #28
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffrey Fowler View Post
    The example you provided is, unfortunately, monologue, not dialog so it isn't really germane. Nevertheless, it's easy to appreciate that the monologue is conveying a lot of information. It's also raising a lot of questions, though, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing at the start of a novel. If you can come up with a novel beginning with dialog I'd be interested in hearing about it.
    Monologue and duologue are generally terms for performance aren't they? I'd class the Gilead excerpt a reported dialogue - there are two speakers in the remembered conversation.

    As to raising questions right at the beginning - surely that comes down to taste in reading. You don't like questions raised at the start, which is fine - but I love it. Which means that your
    I think this is an awful way of starting a novel or any other piece of fiction. Starting with dialog is confronting the reader with characters who haven't been introduced and challenging them imagine a context. Why would anyone want to do this?
    has a really simple answer. 'Some readers love it.' (And also some writers love to do it, and do it well.)

    I'll have a think about a novel that starts in a more rigidly defined form of dialogue and let you know if anything comes up. But I do think that one of the ways it's successfully done is by slightly altering the convention of dialogue. To make it reported or remembered for instance - as above.
    Last edited by mccardey; 05-20-2017 at 06:21 AM.

  4. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffrey Fowler View Post
    If you can come up with a novel beginning with dialog I'd be interested in hearing about it.
    A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess.

    That's off the top of my head. I'll check my library and get back to you with others.

    caw
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  5. #30
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    Merriam Webster defines dialog as "A written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing" so the example you gave isn't dialog; that's for sure. Strictly speaking, it isn't monologue either, so I'll have to retract that. The bottom line for me is no one has yet provided an example of a novel beginning with dialog; I mean dialog as most writers and Merriam Webster understand that term. Just as a reminder, the title of this thread is "starting a novel with dialog."

  6. #31
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    You wouldn't allow this?
    I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren't very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don't laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother's. It's a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I'm always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsigned after I've suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.
    I'm surprised. I'd call it remembered or reported dialogue.

    Perhaps what you're wanting is an example of a novel starting with speech, or conversation?
    Last edited by mccardey; 05-20-2017 at 07:16 AM.

  7. #32
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Oddly enough, the first time I saw a version of this thread was in 2005.

    And it points to Bright Lights, Big City by Jay MacInerney.

    This is a tricky example, because while the pronouns suggest "dialogue" between two speakers/2nd person, it's not, exactly.

    “You’re not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”
    There's a possibly better definition of dialogue in the [sacred] AHD.

    1.
    a. A conversation between two or more people.
    b. A discussion of positions or beliefs, especially between groups to resolve a disagreement.
    2.
    a. Conversation between characters in a drama or narrative.
    b. The lines or passages in a script that are intended to be spoken.
    Where it gets tricky in terms of fiction is in the determination of whether the narrator is a character or not, and if dialogue means written speech or speech between two characters.

    This page on openings in a variety of novels may be of interest; see especially exhibit 4.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 05-20-2017 at 08:05 AM.

  8. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris on Eclipse View Post
    I like the idea of starting the story as late as possible, then you don't have to worry about any of this stuff. If dialog is the first point where the story matters, so be it.
    I want to dive right into the story as a reader!

    Chris
    Exactly this. I think starting with some form of a hook is more important than whether or not you start with dialogue. It might be harder to pull off a good hook with dialogue, but not necessarily. Dialogue is personally my favorite type of writing and favorite type to read, so a lot just depends on the preference of the readers.

    As others have mentioned, it's unattributed dialogue that you want to avoid.

  9. #34
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    I for one am an English post-WWII/pre-1990's literary novel fetishist, and these have no problem starting with dialogue and then becoming the best thing I've ever read.
    For example the opening of The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis:

    'If you want my opinion,' said Gwen Cellan-Davies, 'the old boy's a terrifically distinguished citizen of Wales. Or at any rate what passes for one these days. '

    Her husband was cutting the crusts off a slice of toast. 'Well, I should say that's generally accepted.'

    'And Reg Burroughs is another after his thirty years of pen-pushing in first City Hall and later County Hall, for which he was duly honoured.'

    'That's altogether too dismissive a view. By any reckoning Alun has done some good things. Come on now, fair play.'

    'Good things for himself certainly: _Brydan's Wales__ and that selection, whatever it's called. Both still selling nicely after all these years. Without Brydan and the Brydan industry, Alun would be nothing. Including especially his own work - those poems are all sub-Brydan.'

    'Following that trail isn't such a bad - '

    'Goes down a treat with the Americans and the English, you bet. But... ' Gwen put her head on one side and gave the little frowning smile she used when she was putting something to someone, often a possible negative view of a third party, 'wouldn't you have to agree that he follows Brydan at, er, an altogether lower level of imagination and craftsmanship?'

    'I agree that compared with Brydan at his best, he doesn't - '

    'You know what I mean.'

    In this case Malcolm Cellan- Davies did indeed know. He got up and refilled the teapot, then his cup, adding a touch of skimmed milk and one of the new sweeteners that were supposed to leave no aftertaste. Back in his seat at the breakfast-table he placed between his left molars a small prepared triangle of toast and diabetic honey and began crunching it gently but firmly. He had not bitten anything with his front teeth since losing a top middle crown on a slice of liver-sausage six years earlier, and the right-hand side of his mouth was a no-go area, what with a hole in the lower lot where stuff was always apt to stick and a funny piece of gum that seemed to have got detached from something and waved disconcertingly about whenever it saw the chance. As his jaws operated, his eyes slid off to the _Western Mail__ and a report of the Neath-Llanelli game.

    After lighting a cigarette Gwen went on in the same quirky style as before, 'I don't remember you as a great believer in the integrity of Alun Weaver as an embodiment of the Welsh consciousness?'

    'Well, I suppose in some ways, all the television and so on, he is a bit of a charlatan, yes, maybe.'

    'Maybe! Christ Almighty. Of course he's a charlatan and good luck to him. Who cares? He's good fun and he's unstuffy. We could do with a dozen like him in these parts to strike the fear of God into them. We need a few fakes to put a dent in all that bloody authenticity.'

    'Not everybody's going to be glad to have him around,' said Malcolm, giving another section of toast the standard treatment.

    'Well, that's splendid news. Who are you thinking of?'

    'Peter for one. Funnily enough the' subject came up yesterday. He was very bitter, I was quite surprised. Very bitter.'

    Malcolm spoke not in any regretful way but as if he understood the bitterness, even perhaps felt a touch of it on his own part. Gwen looked at him assessingly through the light-brownish lenses of her square-topped glasses. Then she made a series of small noises and movements of the kind that meant it was time to be up and away.


  10. #35
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    I'm not in a position to make judgments on what can be allowed and what can't. All I can say is that this is not dialog and so it isn't germane to the issues at hand.

  11. #36
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    "'What's it going to be then, eh?'
    That was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry."

    That is the beginning of Burgess's novel, Sorry, but there is no dialog there. If you can find a novel that does begin with dialog please post the opening lines.

  12. #37
    Write. Write. Writey Write Write. mrsmig's Avatar
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    The opening paragraphs of "Ender's Game" are all unattributed dialogue. Will that do?
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  13. #38
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffrey Fowler View Post
    I'm not in a position to make judgments on what can be allowed and what can't. All I can say is that this is not dialog and so it isn't germane to the issues at hand.
    Pro-tip - if you hit the reply with quote button, it will help us be clearer on who is being addressed

  14. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffrey Fowler View Post
    I'm not in a position to make judgments on what can be allowed and what can't. All I can say is that this is not dialog and so it isn't germane to the issues at hand.
    Maybe you can elucidate for all of us what you consider to constitute "dialog".

    caw
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  15. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffrey Fowler View Post
    "'What's it going to be then, eh?'
    That was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry."

    That is the beginning of Burgess's novel, Sorry, but there is no dialog there. If you can find a novel that does begin with dialog please post the opening lines.
    Mr. Fowler:

    Since you have a particularly rigid idea regarding what you want, perhaps you would do better to look for examples that meet your exacting standards yourself. Or consider script writing.

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