Skill 4.11: Dialogue vs Narrative Passages

  • Dialogue is used to create a moment-by-moment scene. Narrative is the prose passages between the active scenes.
  • Narration enables the writer to set the scene or to write a paragraph that sums up, for example, an entire party. A paragraph can provide the sights and sounds in enough general detail to quickly set the scene and get back into the next scene. Passages are vital to storytelling. They must be as riveting as the active scenes.
  • Pitfalls of dialogue: Some novice writers hand me manuscripts that read more like screenplays—all dialogue, no narration. Dialogue and action carry a screenplay. Novels require narrative that is as strong as the active scenes.
  • Pitfalls of narration: Some novice writers lean on beautiful, well-crafted descriptions that go on and on. If you’re Herman Melville, you can get away with an entire chapter on the magical, mystical qualities of the color white (chapter 42). If you’re a modern, unknown writer, avoid blocks of narrative as they often can bog down the story if they are used as information dumps.
  • Dialogue and narration both serve a single purpose: to move the plot forward as quickly and as entertainingly as possible. A simply rule is to avoid “blocks of description.” Have your character “move through the space” and describe not what is seen but the main character’s impression. Use POV. As an example, think of coming outside a building and finding it’s a gray, overcast day. If you’re just lost your job, that sky is cold, oppressive, gray like steel or a granite wall boxing you in, but if you just receive a raise and a promotion, that same sky is like an endless stream of silver, and if it’s raining, it’s a washing away of your old life and a renewal. The cold isn’t even cold—it’s refreshing. No two people see the same sky the same way. Descriptions take perspective into account, so that they are not simply a dump of details.
  • Examine the books on your shelf. Find passages of narration. Why was narration used in that moment? How does the narration show perspective or move the story forward?

Go to Skill 4.12: Invoking Emotional Responses (Extremely vital)

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