View Full Version : Writing a story with only dialogue

03-09-2010, 03:23 AM
I just finished reading a short story where the entire thing was written with dialogue alone.
At first it seemed pretty interesting, it followed a conversation between two hit men while they were driving out to the desert to bury a body. After awhile I found I got lost between the two characters.
I've written long stretches of dialogue within the novel itself but I've never thought about doing an entire story like that.
Anyone else?

03-09-2010, 03:28 AM
I've never written an entire story that way, but I have written chapters that were nothing but unattributed dialogue between two characters.

I enjoy it when it's done well. As you mentioned, the primary difficulty is nailing the character's voices and approach to the conversation so that it's easy to tell who's saying what.

03-09-2010, 03:29 AM
Are you saying the whole story was dialogue only? Was there no directional tags or internal thoughts by a character about the other characters.

More than likely, this was a take off for a screen play. Not sure I would be interested in anything longer with only dialogue...

Lydia Sharp
03-09-2010, 03:30 AM
I've read stories like that and had the same experience as you did. I don't care for it.

03-09-2010, 03:39 AM
A few years ago I wrote a very short dialogue-only (no tags) tale between two characters (mice). Such tales shouldn't be confusing if the characters are individuals, the dialogue flows, and there's a traceable thread running through it.

03-09-2010, 03:39 AM
I've written a story largely comprised of dialog, but dialog only? Nope. I don't think I could read through something like that (stress on "don't think". You never know.). I imagine it would be a useful practice or exercise, though.

Linda Adams
03-09-2010, 04:14 AM
Quite a few years ago I saw a short story that was comprised of only dialogue. It was a Star Trek story, when they published well done fan stories professionally (I think the book was Star Trek The New Voyages). The story was actually split in half down the page, with one person's dialogue going down the left side and the other person's dialogue going down the right side.

I don't think I'd do an all dialogue story or chapter myself though--I need interaction with the other elements of the story.

03-09-2010, 04:52 AM
I don't think I'd do an all dialogue story or chapter myself though--I need interaction with the other elements of the story.

Mmm, yes, that's one of the difficulties of dialogue-only.

Good dialogue-only chapters/stories need to figure out a way to establish who these characters are and where they are quickly, through the dialogue, without starting with an "as you know, Bob..." sort of thing. Furthermore, finding ways to incorporate interaction with the world as well as character reactions you might otherwise describe into the dialogue can be tricky.

One fun exercise to try something like this could be to write a short scene where one character is trying to instruct another character how to do something over the phone. No tags, no description. Find a way to show what the characters are thinking through what they say, without telling; describe what's happening without it sounding unnatural.

Wayne K
03-09-2010, 05:05 AM
I did a short chapter of a conversation with God that was very clever. I put it in SYW, and people liked it. The key was in the brevity. People can't put up with it for long.

03-09-2010, 07:01 AM
Some people can enjoy it for longer than others. :D

Lady Ice
03-09-2010, 09:23 PM
Kiss Of The Spiderwoman is written mostly with just dialogue.

As I'm an avid reader of plays, I'm used to reading dialogue-based work so it wouldn't necessarily bother me. However with plays you have the aid of stage directions to establish time, place, location and action.

03-09-2010, 10:06 PM
Can those of you who've written stories like this talk a little about the effects it allowed you to create?

Lady Ice
03-09-2010, 10:51 PM
I'll give you my experience writing and reading stage plays.

Some plays do not use dialogue much, i.e. most of the meaning is in how the lines are performed and action. However there are plays, like Oleanna and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that use dialogue very well and are real page-turners.


1) You need a strong conflict. The conversation should not just stay on the same note all the way through. Something has to happen and change in their conversation. For example, in Oleanna, a student is insisting to her professor that he made inappropriate advances towards her. He didn't actually behave in a sexually inappropriate manner from what we can tell from the dialogue but he was abusing his position of power by giving her an A she doesn't deserve. So there are strong motivations for each character and a proper conflict.

2) You need interesting dialogue. This does not mean flowery or melodramatic dialogue, but there has to be something of interest there. In Oleanna, the professor's unnecessary jargon contrasts with the student's initial inarticulacy and then over-articulacy.

3) You need to establish their relationship. You can't just write 'Mary met her husband in the shops'; you have to convey the relationship and dynamic through dialogue. One of the advantages of mainly dialogue is that it gives you an insight beyond the surface relationship; how do these people actually behave together?

4) Who has the power? If a pupil insists that her paper has been marked wrong, the teacher most likely will tell her that there isn't a mistake. The teacher has the power in the conflict because her status is higher.
Throughout this, the pupil will be trying to get some power but the teacher ultimately has the power. However, if the pupil reveals that some students have been bribing the teacher, now the student has the power, as they can use this information to blackmail.
Basically, conversations are essentially power struggles

Dialogue allows you to create ambiguity; it leaves something to the imagination. It also challenges you as a writer.

03-09-2010, 11:53 PM
Thanks, Lady Ice.

03-10-2010, 12:07 AM
In writing my dialog heavy piece (it was almost entirely dialog, but not completely) I was able to convey a rather large story in 700 words or less. (I'm thinking less, but I can't remember atm).

The basics of it were a werewolf man had married a human woman and had a child (in my universe, werewolf/werewolf couplings result in more vicious offspring, so the weres take human partners). The mother is trying to convince to child to come down from the ceiling. That's all. The entire scene is just her getting the boy to come down, with her nagging the father to "Help me get him down!" The boy doesn't want to and during the exchange, they talk of the vampires who bit her during her labor with the child (taking the nutrient rich blood of a pregnant female seemed plausible to me and during labor, because of the volume of blood, makes sense) being at fault for how the child turned out--kind of a back and fort argument. It was a funny piece and not very long, but the story contained was huge. It really taught me how to convey a lot through dialog and how to make dialog count for something bigger than just conversation between characters/information. It was a wild experience, and I feel that my writing dialog improved because of it

03-10-2010, 12:12 AM
"hills like white elephants' is told mainly by third person narration. the characters are developed mainly through their dialogue. ilike the story. i've tried doing one like it but with little success. probably because i'm not hemingway. --s6

The Lonely One
03-10-2010, 08:26 AM
It's an interesting idea though I don't think overly common. Even hills like white elephants had gestures and setting and things going on. But I don't see a problem with it. Why not? Why an adversity to it by some? I haven't tried only dialog, but the effect I'd want if I did is an immersive scene, same as if I'd written it out, only implied. I don't know that I'm quite talented enough to pull that off without it feeling hokey, but I'm sure others are.

Lady Ice
03-11-2010, 11:01 PM
I might try it, although it'd be a bit strange for me doing all dialogue and it not being a play.

03-12-2010, 12:43 AM
I recently wrote a SF story, in complete dialogue between 2 men, with no directional tags or anything else.

Again, I put it up for review and got mixed comments. Some people found that the character's voice was strong, and the dialogue flowed well but like any real conversation, the point meanders so you need to have some sort of persistence when reading.

You also have to make sure that the reader doesn't get confused. Because my story was quite long (4000 words or so), even I got confused who was speaking and that messed everything up. I wouldn't advice writing with more than two characters, and for the love of God, name them early. I did have to use a lot of "name-calling" at points to balance out the reader.

Another important point is the way the story is told. You need to tell the story/plot through dialogue, which in my case came in the past. Again, I added larger chunks of one character talking (almost "narratively") to even out the short dialogue remarks.

I think the hardest part is to make the dialogue flow well enough, and create a strong character from dialogue alone since you can't have any description. In my story there was some repetition, and "As you know..." which was inevitable.

It's well worth it though, and it's different.

NB: If anyone would like to read it, or something then just message or whatever: Here's an excerpt... Might not be any good but hey, who knows.... :(

"Anyway I was smoking; the goddamn wind kept blowing the stupid fag out. But bar that, the pier was quiet. Nothing on the radio. Nothing whatsoever. God. Joe, it was quiet- so quiet. I could hear the smoke running away from me. Just like that."

"Bet you could."

"It was so quiet. Like the quiet in death, so there I was smoking and then the rumble. Still nothing on the radio. I even checked, dead quiet 'cept from some lousy weather broadcast--"

"So there was something?"

"Nah. Nothing but silence. Calm it said. Horribly calm. I could see, in the waters. By the dock the waves crashed feebly. Crash. Crash. Again and again. Breaking with no energy. Then the low tide--"

"You checked the manual? Scouted? Measured? Anything--"

"I know the bloody rules Joe!"

"Just saying."

"Yeah well I needed to smoke."

"Fair enough."

"I swear there was nothing. So I carried on. You know Terrip, during the autumn. No clouds. No rain. Nothing. That's why I went; to escape the rain and the cold and wet back here. Worked for a bit. Then guess what?"

"What Sam. What now?"

"Too dry. Yeah, Janice wasn't so happy that I wanted to move again... Nothing was happening. And then it came. Out of nowhere. The screaming."

"From the radios?"


Lady Ice
03-12-2010, 10:07 PM
I really liked that :) It's good not to have too many rambly monologues.

03-12-2010, 10:25 PM
Who Was that Masked Man, Anyway? (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Who-Was-That-Masked-Man-Anyway/Avi/e/9780380721139) by Avi. Entire book written in diaglogue. Not a single word of exposition.

This book is well done, without too much confusion between characters. However, it moved at breakneck speed, and I recall feeling rather breathless by the time I finished it.


Margarita Skies
03-13-2010, 05:15 PM
I've never written a story using only dialogue.

03-13-2010, 06:34 PM
Just written, dialogue by itself can easily get boring fast.

But I started imagining how the scene would look, with the characters shifting position and doing telling actions while they talk, just the two of them in a beaten up vehicle, the desert landscape stretching on in the background...

Comic book form works perfectly for this sort of story. I couldn't tout that enough.

03-14-2010, 05:49 PM
They're made out of Meat (http://baetzler.de/humor/meat_beings.html) by Terry Bisson

03-14-2010, 08:36 PM
You could probably pull it off with a short story. But novel? I doubt it. It would be very unreadable.