Dialogue Versus Narrative

An insidious disease has crept into the world of novel writers. One doesn’t notice it much at first, but as you concentrate on your newly purchased book, you suddenly discover you’re caught up in this problem and there is no way out.

Your eyes scan cleverly crafted words. The plot unfolds. Tension mounts…

No, there is no tension and you find yourself slowly getting frustrated at the same plodding pace of your new book. Your attention drifts. You begin thinking about how the kitchen floor needs scrubbing, there is dinner to plan, and the children could probably use some assistance cleaning their bedrooms. Your planned afternoon diversion—reading the latest novel everyone else claims is the best thing to arrive in forever—has become a boring task.

You feel cheated. The only emotion you feel is anger. With no reluctance at all, you set aside the book and find yourself taking care of housework, errands, or checking out social media. You’re seriously thinking about writing a review that will inform the world just how awful your experience with this book was, but decide it’s not worth the effort when you see the myriad of five star reviews given. It seems everyone but you is gushing over the brilliance of Author X, even though you know better.

What has this author done?

The author has committed the crime of not separating narrative and dialogue. Instead of shortening sentences to create tension. Ignoring the rules that say dialogue must be separated from narrative, and that paragraphs shouldn’t be so long as to lose reader attention, more and more authors are leaning on the “I don’t know when to break paragraphs, so I’m going to keep going until I decide to change the pace.”

The writing world has a lot of rules. Yes, authors are allowed to break those rules. Before you can do that, though, you have to follow the rules, learn when and where you can break them, and do so judiciously.

There are arguments against this statement. They seem to be very good arguments, until we explore the reasons for those rules.

Let’s explore the reasons and why you, the author, should start let go of them.

“This is my style. The readers will love it.”

Yes, every author has a particular style. Those using this excuse have fallen into the trap of thinking that they can do as they please once they build up a following and that their readers will stay with them no matter what they do.

“Rules? I don’t need no stinkin’ rules.”

Uh, yes you do. The rules are there for a reason. That reason is that your readers expect quality for their money, and you’re not giving them that.

“My book demands that I have endless paragraphs with multiple speaker within them.”

Really? Do you really think that excuse will fly? Not happening.

Why do these excuses and many others not work? Because they are a lame reason for an author to be lazy. Endless sentences connected with multiple conjunctions bring about a condition known as eye slide. The reader’s eye literally slides over the words while their brain refuses to commit the words to memory. They’re bored, tired, ready to quit at any second. You are about to lose a fan.

What can you do to remedy this situation? There are a few several ways to improve your writing and gain back old fans while developing new ones.

Use long paragraphs sparingly. Don’t dump information about a scene or describe the new person who just arrive in your story from birth to that second. Incorporate your description into the action, but please don’t use the hackneyed phrases such as “his blue eyes locked onto her face.” or “her wild blonde mane fluttered in a breeze.” Be original. Grab your reader’s interest and hold it throughout the book.

Never, ever, just plain don’t have multiple speakers in the same paragraph, split up with many different situations. Give your reader a break. Don’t make them lose the connection as to who is saying what to whom while they were doing what. Put your narrative into different paragraphs. Make certain the reader gets who is talking and who is doing what to whom.

Don’t bore your reader when they should be breathlessly parsing the action leading up to the defining moment. Ditch the commas, conjunctions, and semi-colons. Go for the short, simple sentences during a tense scene. Even single word sentences are allowed here. The page turning will improve. You will soon have a hooked reader and a devoted fan.

Remember the golden rule of writing: You are pounding out the story because it demands to be told. To tell the story right, you need to find readers who will stick with you.


April Erwin said…
I just started a YA Fantasy series that has this problem. The story concept is good, enough to make me keep reading, but the writing comes across as very unpolished. It's like reading the rough draft rather than a final polished version. Here's hoping as the author progresses, the quality does too. She did get 4 books pubbed in the series.

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