If we had to divide prose into two categories, the two that make the most sense are these: dialogue or narration. If it’s not being spoken by a character, it’s narration.
These two parts are very, very important to the feel of your style. In particular, the way you write them and the ratio between the two. Let’s discuss them shall we?
The Importance of Dialogue
Without dialogue, your characters have no voices. They’re mute. Dialogue allows the readers to hear the story world play out. It provides a way for characters to pass information and gives the reader a break from reading the information of narration.
Without dialogue, prose can feel heavy handed, wordy, and cumbersome. Now, it is possible to write with very little dialogue. It’s done all the time, and quite well. However, dialogue is interesting. Readers like dialogue. They like the chance for imagination. Dialogue breaks from description to give us sounds and voices.
We have to maintain a mental image with our imagination while we also balance the voices of two or three or four or seventy people. It stretches the mind and creates a satisfied feeling in the reader’s exercised imagination.
In addition, dialogue provides white space. If your book is completely narration, the pages are filled with long paragraphs and chunks of text that go on and on without any space for the reader to fill. Dialogue, on the other hand, shortens paragraphs.
It breaks them up.
Sometimes, there are one-word
These are followed by longer sentences with stronger vocabulary and feeling that soar with the reader to new heights of description before returning to
Which provide rest.
Do you see what I did there? I left some white space (well… black space, here). The spaces between the three longer paragraphs gives you space. It gives the reader space. That white space gives their eyes a break and allows them to breathe. More importantly, that is space the reader gets to fill. They become co-creators with you in creating the world.
The Narrative Experience
Narration, on the other hand, gives the reader a baseline for their imagination. It gives them action, motivation, thoughts, and emotions to build off of. If you wrote only dialogue, the reader has nothing to build off of. All they see is voices floating in a formless void. That’s a daunting place for a reader to have to fill.
Instead, you help direct their imagination to the right details. That’s why unexpected details are always superior to cliché ones. Unexpected details fill in the parts of the scene that the reader couldn’t have thought of themselves. Your job isn’t to describe everything, but to create a structure around which your reader can add their own input.
Narration is co-creation.
How does your narrative do this?
First, narrative provides emotion. Emotion is the fuel of story. It fuels conflict when there is conflict, and it carries interest when there is no conflict. Narration conveys the emotions of characters through thoughts, emotional tags, word choice, and character actions.
Secondly, narration provides action. Without action, your story is static. Nothing happens. No one moves, the scene never changes. Action creates a moving picture in your reader’s mind and creates tension, conflict, and consequences. Without action, your story is stuck in a rut of motionlessness.
Finally, narration provides description. Like I mentioned above, unexpected details are the best way to help your reader to build a scene. Another way to help in co-creation is sensory details. Giving your readers tangible senses beyond sight goes a long way in their construction of your story.
Finding the Balance
Now. If both narration and dialogue are important to the reader, how much of each do you put in your book? What ratio?
Is it fifty percent?
Is there a magic number?
Here’s the deal: there is a magic number.
That number, however… changes.
In fact, it changes by writer and by book. It can even change by character in a book with multiple characters.
Let me explain:
The ratio of dialogue to narration is dependent on three factors: the last chapter, the current chapter, and the next chapter. If the last chapter was narration heavy, this chapter may need some dialogue to give the reader some white space. Or perhaps this chapter needs more narration to describe the scene so that the next scene can be primarily action and dialogue. Chapters with lots of character interaction require more dialogue than chapters with only one character.
The ratio can also depend on your personal style just as much as it shapes your style. Your use of descriptions to paint emotion in your reader may result in your using more narration than dialogue. Or perhaps you’re better at writing conversations and making voices sound real, such that your ratio is dialogue over narration.
It is important not that you have some arbitrary fraction, but that you find a balance which fits the style your current book is written in. Create the baseline for your reader’s imagination, fill it with vivid, emotional characters, and provide them with noise and action and white space.
ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no post on 7/21/17, because my older sister is getting married on the 22nd and I won't have time next week to write up a post for y'all. Any complaints can be taken up with her. ;)