In most stories dialogue is a necessary part of how to either establish a setting, or make the narrative move.
I’m posting about this because, sometimes, authors resort to depending on dialogue too much. For me, if I have to scroll through two entire screens of dialogue, that’s too much.
I’m a fan of silent films. Contrary to the popular notion of intertitles continuously interruption visuals, good silent films have minimal dialogue (or interruptions). The story is conveyed mostly through visuals and action.
I’m not a fan of tv dramas. But when you see one, you can easily observe how much plot they’re able to advance with a minimum of dialogue. Admittedly, this can be unintentionally humorous, such as when the writers put too much plot into a few lines (“Oh! So you mean that the murder weapon was the poker which was hidden under the couch before dinner at 7 pm?”). But good tv dramas always try to have a minimal amount of dialogue (after all, every 30 minutes of commercial tv time is about 18 minutes of actual story).
Of course, there are times when dialogue is necessary. But if you analyze dialogue in a play or film, you’ll see that every sentence - practically every word - has a function and purpose. It’s not like regular conversational dialogue, but carefully designed to slowly advance the plot with each sentence. Otherwise, the dialogue is boring and creates distance between the reader and the author. If you find your characters saying things “yeah, cool man” - that’s too much unnecessary dialogue. It could be accomplished by writing “the frat boys acknowledged and left for their dorm.”
So this is my selfish plea to authors to consider how much dialogue they really need, and to avoid passages of excessive dialogue (which is bothersome to read).
If somebody whose natural response would be “Why, certainly” says “Yeah, cool man”, I don’t think it’s excessive.
Reading “Yeah, cool man,” is more work for you than reading “the frat boys acknowledged and left for their dorm”? Seriously? Do the addition of the quotation marks apply a multiplier or something?
I agree that too much reliance on dialog to further the plot can be a problem. But personally, depending on the story and the author, I often skip numerous paragraphs to get to the dialog. Even “Yeah, cool man”, hints at the character’s personality a lot. Did you see Call Me By Your Name? “Later”
Personally, I find dialog much better suited to explain a situation, to express emotions and reactions than pure text descriptions.
Also, if you follow the rule to always start a new paragraph when the speaker is changing, the text becomes much easier and ‘fluffier’ to read, if you understand what I mean.
I wrote my rant after reading two stories that had way too much dialogue which didn’t add character nor move the narrative forward. In the example I used, yes, it’s more work to read the longer sentence - but the longer sentence provides movement to the narrative, whereas “Yeah, cool man” does not move the narrative and does not add to the character (presumably the frat boy character would’ve been established earlier, since this is just a response).
I chose to rant in this forum because there are only a few times when I’ve commented negatively. Most of the time I leave no comment if I find the story lacking. It just seems so easy to improve one’s writing technique - because when the writing is smooth, it makes the story all the more exciting. Perhaps GSS should sponsor writing workshops for those who want to improve their writing.
Feel free to rant as much as you want… discussion is good, especially for the writers.
What might be a good idea is to provide a writing guide for authors, written up by experienced writers. I’d put that up on the main site on a prominent spot, like the “New Story” page.
I’m sure, that would help a lot of the newbies
Sometimes I get to approve a story which makes me wonder if it’s really suited for the site. The ideas are often really nice but the way it’s written can be … lacking. Even for me, a German with quite limited skills in the English language.
My rule of the thumb is, if there’s a good story to be found, the language is not that important. But certainly, it makes it so much harder to read if style, grammar, flow and wording are lacking.
On the other hand, we have such amazing writers contributing to the site…
You always amaze me Martin when you say that English is not your first language. Not only does your English appear to be excellent, but your use of English (or American?) idioms are also excellent. I think it would be very hard to detect that English is not your first language. (I still have a hard time believing that!) Thank you for this site!
Thanks, but if I read my own stories and then some of the more talented writers, I immediately see the difference. I just don’t have the proper vocabulary and slang to make it sound real. And each time I read my own text, I find new awkward phrases or just plain errors in my grammar…
But that’s ok.
Often when I’m reading stories on this site I literally skip through the exposition just to get to the dialogue. In normal stories it might be the opposite, but here, dialogue is typically the good stuff.
What an interesting and enjoyable discussion!
Personally, I like to have a balance between action, description and dialogue and I attempt to achieve this in what I write.
I remember that in the first chapter of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Alice comments that her elder sister is reading a book which has almost no pictures or conversation and is therefore incredibly boring.
Recently, a reader commented that my stories are ‘easy reading’. I took this as a compliment [although I’m not sure it was intended as such] because, in my view, clarity in a story is absolutely paramount. So many times I have read and re-read a page of a work that is meant to be ‘literary’ and found myself wondering what the fuck was supposed to be going on… To me, that is a failure of communication and, therefore, shoddy writing.
Dialogue, when done well, as Martin says, is great for revealing emotions and reactions. It is also the best way to write humorously. Apart from direct speech, I use dramatic monologue [eg, Belial in my latest story] because it’s so easy to make it funny.
In my opinion, much like in real life there are only so many ways to describe a dick, and once you’ve seen a couple you’ve seen a good chunk of the different varieties. My point being, narration can only supply so much detail. Physical descriptions only provide a snapshot of someone’s personality but it’s their dialogue and mannerisms that truly express that.
I’m one of those people who also glaze over exposition to understand the setting, but then get to the spoken bits for “tugging fuel.” For me, a change in dialogue is one of the key ways for showing transformation.
But to each their own of course!
Dialogue, for it to be enjoyable to read for me, needs to be used it ways that shows off character personality and gives the reader room for interpretation. I really like reading what a person says rather than just having prose tell me that this person is this way because of reasons. I want the freedom to create my own imagination and conjectures about a character or situation, not be told word for word what something is and not leave room for interpretation. Kind of destroys the point of a story.
That’s also a divisive point for me as stories written without an understanding of English, a difficult language to write in granted, usually falls into the latter of the two prose/dialogue styles. It feels janky, awkward and usually is ridden with grammatical error that makes it unenjoyable for me to read (especially since I’m one dyslexic and it exacerbates that infirmity and two, I have had years of high level writing courses that make me strongly averse to ‘bad writing’)
Personally, I say just write. Experience comes with practice as well as skill. There are some stories I enjoy where the writer’s first language isn’t English and I never knew.
This conversation reminds me of this scene. I know, it’s not fair to compare the cinematic importance of dialogue with written importance of dialogue, but I think it really brings home how important it can be:
I like when they are talking dirty. So, of course, I like dialogues or even more monologues when the protagonists are talking about sex or domination (or both). When the tormentor gives explanations to the victim, what he will do with him, and why he does it. That makes his work more relentless for me, more serious to carry it out. It can give a story more intensity.
Can you identify any examples in the stories on GSS?
I’m only just starting to read. After all, I have it in my hands in the future to write stories that contain many dialogues.
I guess I should have explained my context. I started this thread after reading two stories which both had a long dialogue scene where nothing happened and the dialogue did not further the narrative - no additional character information was revealed in the words. So I began this thread out of frustration from reading stories that essentially had a lot of padding but not much action.
In no way did I mean to suggest that no dialogue was preferable. Of course many (most?) stories need dialogue. Perhaps I come from a purist or ideal point of view in that I feel every sentence in your story should have a purpose. If the sentence serves no purpose, the danger is that it will detract from your narrative and bore the reader. Being fully aware of the function of every sentence will make your story tighter and potentially more gripping to the reader.