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Writer’s Tip #21: Dialogue vs. Narrative

writers tipsWhen you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Balance how much dialogue and narrative you put in your book


Dialogue speeds the action up. Narration slows action down. Some experts (i.e., the acclaimed New York literary agent Evan Marshall) say you should have a ‘reaction’ scene (which tends to be narrative, introspective, interior monologue) after every ‘action’ scene (which tends to include a lot of dialogue).

That approach works well for me. It forces me to explain the implications of what just happened in the plot and thus, make sure the reader understands.

I have to admit, it’s a struggle for me to do what I’ve just said. I often find when I edit that I’ve put into narrative what should have been in dialogue, and vice versa. What do you think? And how do you make sure you avoid those pitfalls?

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8 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #21: Dialogue vs. Narrative

  1. The more we learn about this fine art they call writing, the more confused and bamboozled we get so much so we fear writing anything but it’s too big an addiction. We keep doing it regardless.

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    • Addicted is the right word. We’d do it for no money–for ourselves. And are happy about that in my case. The fun part is writing the book, not trying to convince a publisher it’s worth printing. That part, ugh. That’s where I have my problems.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. So I am excited to read how you market this. I have a fellow writer who has tried numerous methods–give-aways, public speaking, tradeshows–and has great comments on Amazon, but still no traction.

    Tell us how to do it, Cheri!

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    • That’s the goal, Jacqui! I’ll be posting all of the promotional events and activities for Separation of Faith on my blog, and I’ll share the results–good and bad–of each avenue pursued. We’ll all be learning what works and what doesn’t together.

      I’ll also be revisiting “the platform thing,” something I’ve discussed in several posts. In today’s publishing reality, authors cannot succeed without a platform (that unique “something” that qualifies an author to write a specific book, or an identifiable target audience that is already following that author for some reason).

      Platforms are easier to build in the nonfiction world. But novelists need to have/build one too–and we simply have to figure out the unique element that makes each of us different and able to stand out. Does an aspiring novelist have something in his or her background that’s driving a certain type of novel (a la Scott Turow). Is there something unique about the writing? Is someone resurrecting the fine art of storytelling? These are just a couple of starting points with respect to thinking about “the platform thing.”

      I’m still struggling a bit with the details of mine and how I’m going to begin incorporating my platform into my book launch. My guess is that “the platform thing” will continue to evolve over time. Initially, I’m all about the power of personal reinvention at any age. I was in corporate marketing for almost two decades while pushing reams of literary dreams into desk drawers. Then I had my first encounter with cancer (lymphoma), and all of my priorities were literally turned upside down overnight. The last twenty years have been spent reinventing myself so I could pursue those literary dreams (while also staying alive), and my two (almost) novels are products of that reinvention. And there, I believe, is the beginning of my platform.

      Here’s a quote from an interview that I’m going to include in my press release for Separation of Faith: “My novels are about survival in one form or another,” she says, “where dreams and love are all pursued and seized with passion, despite daunting odds. My experience with cancer has taught me that denying ourselves opportunities and relationships simply because there’s a risk often leads to a lot of ‘I wish I hadn’t let that one go’ moments. Life doesn’t get any longer, and changing our priorities and focus is never easy. My characters continually struggle with those issues while also chasing some sort of mystery. But in the end, my stories are always about survival—of people as well as their dreams.”

      Well, I think I just wrote a blog post, Jacqui. My apologies in advance if you happen to see this one again … 🙂

      Hope you have a terrific weekend! –Cheri

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  3. Haha! You do have a day job, don’t you? Don’t we all. Who can support themselves on their writing! My nonfiction sells well, but this fiction stuff, I have yet to push out a novel. I am watching your journey closely.

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    • Supporting myself with my writing certainly remains a goal, but right now I’d settle for just enough income to break even. I do have high hopes that Separation of Faith will at least enable me to achieve that much. The rest might require that old saying, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity” to kick in.

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  4. As a consequence of the edits endured by Separation of Faith, I ended up doing both–changing some narrative into dialogue and some dialogue into narrative.

    One dialogue sequence turned into an entire new chapter, because I’d originally been trying to control (shortcut) my word count by having one character tell others about something that had happened in 1948. Most of my beta readers said that they needed me to actually take them back there, and thus the additional chapter, which involved yet another mix of dialogue and narrative.

    There will probably still be readers who think there’s an imbalance somewhere in the book between dialogue and narrative. But there will probably also be readers who think I should be selling shoes for a living … 🙂

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