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May 27, 2015

Narrative is the foundation, or the building blocks of the story. Dialogue is what moves it along, breathes life into it. Without dialogue, you have no characters, no people to interact within the foundation. Don’t get me started with those single-character novels because they at least have internal dialogue or the characters talk to themselves. I would never read them anyway. Too boring. Maybe that’s something for you though.

On with the show…


I’ve said many times that I don’t like e-readers because I can’t leaf through the book first. One of the things I look for, besides point of view, is solid words, page after page. That sends up a red flag. If I don’t see empty spaces on the pages, that means the author is very wordy.

Now, to my point on dialogue saturation. To avoid too much narrative, some authors go for talky. Instead of endless paragraph after endless paragraph of solid narration describing scenes every-which-way, they’ll have the characters do it for them through dialogue.

Not good.

How many people do you know talk in half or full page paragraphs without taking huge breaths? How about letting someone else get a word in edgewise? I read one book where the author did, but the other speaker replied with half and one page paragraphs as well! Aaagh!

Who might do that in real life?

Valley girls and politicians.

Okay, maybe I’m being facetious, stereotyping a bit. You get the point.


By changing your long narrative to dialogue, you’ve found a cheap and easy way to avoid the show not tell conundrum! The problem is that it’s not realistic. In the real world, most people, especially detectives, action heroes, spies, whatever, don’t talk in long speeches. They especially don’t describe their surroundings, what they’re doing, and what they’re about to do to everyone.

Can you believe that I’m citing examples of published books? No, these are not self-published novels, but conventional novels, some of which are sitting on the shelves right now at Barnes & Noble.


Dialogue needs to be realistic and should not be used to cheat the system to avoid having to avoid show not tell. It should not be used to substitute for narrative.

I personally prefer plenty of brisk dialogue and short narrative sentences. I like to see plenty of empty spaces on the page. Sure, I like words and vivid descriptions, but I also like the author to get to the point!

You can paint a vivid picture in twenty-five words as well as three hundred and fifty words! You can get to the point in four as well as thirty pages. You can move a story just fine with a mixture of witty dialogue and concise narrative.

Happy writing!

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