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Thread: Starting with dialogue

  1. #1
    The Alien Writer Thekherham's Avatar
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    Starting with dialogue

    Is it wrong to start a novel with dialogue?
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  2. #2
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Read The Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig.

    The entytr novel is dialogue. No exposition. No said. Every line a dash, takes place between two people.

    It's fantastic.
    "Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence."

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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Denevius's Avatar
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    Nothing in writing is "wrong" if it works in meeting the goals you've set for the piece.

    But if you're doing something that's not meeting the goals you've set for the piece, then it's probably not "right" to keep doing it expecting a different result.
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  4. #4
    Because I just swallowed a feather. SwallowFeather's Avatar
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    I started my first two published novels with dialogue. It worked fine. You do have to be really on your game about showing the reader enough context to the dialogue so they don't get confused, yet not infodumping.

  5. #5
    figuring it all out Brave Sir Robin's Avatar
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    I've certainly had plenty of people tell me that I shouldn't begin with dialogue. But every so often it just seems right. There may be some readers who will put your book down as soon as they begin. Still, I think you have to do what you think is right for your story.

  6. #6
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thekherham View Post
    Is it wrong to start a novel with dialogue?
    Not as such, no. The problem arises when the dialogue is bland, meaningless without context, and/or unattributed. The successful dialogue opener is one that's clear and compelling enough that the reader has to keep reading.

  7. #7
    +1 to Beth's "it depends on how well it's executed." For example, if I read a book, and the first line was, "Please, put the gun down," Molly said. I would instantly want to read on to find out more about the situation, the characters involved, who the gun's pointed at, and why Molly isn't shaking in her booties.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW LilyJade's Avatar
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    Is it always wrong? No.
    Do some writers do it well? Yes.
    Do some writers do it badly? Oh yes.

    It all comes down to WHAT the dialog is. So no one here can really say "It's bad." or "It's fine.". Each example is different.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    "It depends" is pretty much the answer to just about everything... at least when it comes to writing.

    The goal is to engage your reader, make them curious, and emerge them in the world you create. Dialog can do that because it can feel like you've just walked into a room with a few people talking... but it's also tricky for the same reason. If you can make your reader curious... wondering 'what's going on here?', that works... especially if the reader can relate to the discussion. However, if your conversation is about entropy within black holes, or how star ship motors work.. that can overwhelm your reader, and make them feel left out.

    Because of the above, I find it easier to start chapters within my book with dialog, rather than have it be the very first thing they read when they pick it up.

  10. #10
    figuring it all out Brave Sir Robin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    Not as such, no. The problem arises when the dialogue is bland, meaningless without context, and/or unattributed. The successful dialogue opener is one that's clear and compelling enough that the reader has to keep reading.
    Well-said.

  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin scuzzycable's Avatar
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    I agree with the previous posters. The one I remember the most was April Sinclair's Coffee Will Make You Black--

    "Mama, am I a slut?"

    It got my attention.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW HarvesterOfSorrow's Avatar
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    As everyone else has said, it depends on what the dialogue. The opening line of Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne is, "What did you say, Andy Bisette?" And it's only the second line we realize the main character---who is essentially giving a hearing speech for three hundred and fifty pages---is being asked if she understands her rights. Heavy stuff, right? Depends how it's presented.

    The one Suzzycable provided is a great hook, but heartbreaking. I've never heard of that book, let alone read it, and based on that opening line alone, I think I'd like to read it. So, I guess that proves that opening a novel with dialogue is perfectly fine.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thekherham View Post
    Is it wrong to start a novel with dialogue?
    No. A lot of very fine writers have done so, and you'll have no trouble finding examples.

    BUT: The trick is to ground your reader quickly in the context of the dialogue. Who is speaking? What is the situation?

    Droning on for two or three pages in dialogue unconnected with story context is probably not the best way to start a story. A quick exchange of energetic dialogue, for maybe three or four lines, is probably not going to be a problem. It does, of course, have to be good, story-pertinent dialogue. Something like,

    "Hello, Earl. My name is Audrey."
    "Hello, Audrey. How are you today?"
    "I'm fine. You?"
    "Doing okay. How may I help you?"

    . . . probably will get your book ejected against a wall. Remember that your initial material is going to be regarded, either explicitly or subliminally, as representative of the rest of the story. Make it good.

    caw
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