Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writerly Wednesday: Blending Action, Narrative and Dialogue

Ok, so please make me feel a little better about myself and tell me that I'm not the only one who struggles with balancing just the right mix of action, narrative and dialogue in their writing?  Oh.  You, too?  *phew*

This topic popped up in my e-mail, courtesy of today's Writer's Digest newsletter.  If you're interested in reading an expanded version of the article, by Gloria Kempton - you can access it HERE.

I'm giving you the cliff-notes version.  Since this seems to be the season of revision, revision, and - oh, yeah - a little more revision, Gloria offers some questions you can ask yourself to make sure that your story is balanced:


There are no hard-and-fast rules about when and when not to blend dialogue, action and narrative. To weave them together well is to find your story's rhythm. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself about your story, especially in the rewrite stage, that can help you know which elements are most effective for a particular scene, and which might be better used elsewhere.

Ask yourself:

-Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)
-Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they're more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)
-Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative.)
-Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds? (Use narrative.)
-Likewise, are my characters alone in their heads when my characters in conversation would be more effective and lively? (Use dialogue.)
-Is my story top-heavy in any way at all—too much dialogue, too much narrative or too much action? (Insert more of the elements that are missing.)
-Are my characters providing too many background details as they're talking to each other?
(Use narrative.)

Whether we're using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements are doing double duty by revealing our characters' motives. Your story's dialogue can reveal motive in a way that's natural and authentic, because whether we're aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives.

And to understand a character's motive is to understand the character.

*So, if you're anything like me...little lists of things to look for are always a plus!  I hope this tip makes your writing journey a little easier today.  Tell me - What do you do to find the balance in your writing?  Happy revising!


Jess said...

Good Lord, this is something I need to work on. What do I do for balance? Um....wait for my critique partners to read it and say, "Pages 8 through 12 are WAY too much narrative and description. Break it up. Now. Please. I'm falling asleep." They're the best, and the more I look over critiques, the better I get at pointing out the problems myself. Happy revising to you too!

Tracy said...

I have a tendency to lean heavily towards dialogue. I think I've gotten pretty good about mixing them up, but I always panic when I come across those 2+ page sections of neccessary narrative, because I'm concerned I'll slip into "telling".

Geez, all these things us writerly types have to deal with. It's no wonder we're all a little off-kilter.

gideon 86 said...

Excellent post, Donea,

This is what we all strive to do.... balance is the key.

My last critique partner, a very talented writer, beat into my head there should be more prose than dialogue. like a 60/40 or less. "This is a novel not a screenplay."

When I first submitted my ms to him I was at about 20/80. Talk about a nightmare cutting down the dialogue and building up the prose.

Next we have to have the action and of course, the cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. That is the hardest to do.

I know look at every chapter individually. It does help to maintain balance. Looking at the small picture first. This way you won't feel overwhelmed.

Thanks for sharing a great subject, Donea.


Angela Felsted said...

I've yet to find the perfect balance, more than anything I read what other writers do and hope some of their genius will rub off on me.

aspiring_x said...

great post! i tend to have too much prose- i need more dialogue!!! thanks so much!!!

WritingNut said...

YES.. I think I tend to have too much dialogue and not enough narrative.

Thank you so much for the great tips to remind us :)

Abby Minard said...

I like to read mine outloud to kind of get the feel for the flow. But I also like handing it off to soemone because sometimes we just can't see the flaws like that. Great info Donea!

Carol Riggs said...

Good points! A nice balance is so crucial. I find I've written enough novels now (15+) so that when my dialogue starts going too long, I can feel it. I start getting tired of writing the dialogue. The same with narrative or internal thoughts, altho as a general rule I try not to do internal thoughts more than 1 to 1 1/2 pages.

L.A. Colvin said...

I'm just learning so I haven't found the right balance yet but I know its not a magic number. I wish there was a template. You know a "insert dialoge here" type thing. haha Great post.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for the cliff notes version. I like the idea of asking myself questions and changing the WIP as needed.

Madeleine said...

Yes dialogue is as important as showing not telling because handled badly it can seem rather tedious and more like an exposition of narrative rather than a conversation. I try to read out my dialogue to see if it sounds realistic. Also sometimes if a passage seems slow or stiff I think about turning it into a conversation as you suggested. Great stuff! :O)

Colene Murphy said...

Ha! This is difficult. I think everyone has different techniques. I like to pretend I'm reading someone elses real live novel, not mine. If I get board with it at any point, then there is a problem! Which only works the first round of revisions...after that you just know too much to pretend it isn't yours...

Misha said...

I finish drafts, rest my story, then go back and reread it.

After that, I look for blocks of backstory, narrative and or revision and put in whatever shorts.

I'm low on narrative though, simply because I usually have an intense desire to shoot narrators.

It's just my style. ;-) (Of writing, not murder)

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss donea! for me i do it little by little. after i get a couple chapters done i read them out loud specially that dialog stuff and i bore my family with it to and then i could know if its got too much of one thing and not enough of somethin else and then i could do a change on it. it takes a real lot of time to get stuff just in a balance but getting it pretty close is ok. happy groundhog day!
...smiles and hugs from lenny