Thoughts on Narrative and Dialogue

J. Carson Black @ jcarsonblack.com

Last time, I talked about dialogue.

To be successful (if you’re writing a genre book), the dialogue should sound real. And by “real,” I mean real for your genre. Dialogue approximates speech, and different genres cater to their own audience, and that audience is attuned to words and phrases and style that belong specifically to that genre. Unconsciously, a reader checks off a few boxes that are important to them. Does the book sound like other books in the genre? Readers like familiarity, which is why they favor one genre over another.

In fact, the best way for your book to find an audience is to place that book solidly in a genre.

There are different requirements for narrative and dialogue. Fantasy has a lot of description–it describes a world. Fantasy can be flowery and polite. Crime fiction is more to the point. Thrillers are most often driven by a strong narrative.
street scene narrative
Good narrative is a like a swift-moving river that carries you along.

Every time you choose to slow down for dialogue, everything slows down.

Dialogue pinpoints something important. This is where the rubber meets the road. People facing off, talking to each other. Revelations come from dialogue.

But a book that is mostly dialogue may leave the reader feeling logy, as if they’re been eating a big meal and are being force-fed another. Dialogue spotlights important scenes, but narrative is the swift river that carries you along. You need narrative and dialogue, and you can see the demands of each genre in the better authors in those genres.

I used to write books heavy with dialogue. My books were a lot longer then. Dialogue takes up a lot of space. As I started to write thrillers, I learned to use narrative more and more, because narrative can cover so much ground. GOOD narrative can carry you a long distance. And then comes the roadblock, when you bring it down to something that signals real importance: dialogue.

You need both. By reading the best authors in your genre, you will get the rhythm of their writing–the choices they make regarding narrative and dialogue.