Narrative vs. Dialogue

How do you decided whether to use narrative or dialogue? 

When I got my manuscript back from the editor, one of the problems she had with a section was that she didn't understand who the people were. It was a total information dump.  It had been an internal monologue. So, to make it more understandable, I added interaction -dialogue- with other characters to show instead of tell. It reads a lot better.

Though I love classic horror stories by Poe and Lovecraft and stories by D.H. Lawrence, the one problem I have with their tales is that the first couple of pages are just nothing but narrative. I struggle through it because I know their style. The story eventually picks up. If you're a new writer, readers may not struggle through it. 

It's hard to get into the book if I only get what's going on the characters mind. I need some interaction. I've noticed, in most stories I read, that when I get to a section of narrative, I usually skim down to see when we'll get back to any dialogue. In most cases, I'd prefer information more through dialogue than narrative. That being said, narrative does have it's place. In gene fiction, especially with a story that takes place in another world, how do you balance the two? 

Here's an interesting discussion on Goodreads about this: Narrative versus Dialogue

Scenery (Setting)
This is where narrative comes in handy.  I mean, the characters can talk about what a place looks like but I'd rather have it through narrative. I'd say don't go crazy with the descriptions. If you do too much, you'll end up going right over the readers' heads. I've been known to skip sections because there was just way too much description. 

Time Passing
If we're with a character and several days have passed or the character is just traveling and nothing exciting is happening- this is another great place where narrative works better than dialogue. However, personal preference, the character may travel alone for a year, that doesn't mean I want a chapter's worth of narrative. They don't have to talk to anyone, they can overhear an important conversation. 

Breaking Up Dialogue
Dialogue is awesome. It's a great way to convey information. However, there is such a thing as too much talking. Remembering the novels I've read, I can't think of an instance where one had straight dialogue for one page. Even if the characters spent the entire chapter talking- as in the last chapters in the Harry Potter books- it's not just straight dialogue. If yours is a page long or more, use narrative to break it up. 

Information Dump
You have this power system you've created. You're just so proud of it that you want to unload all the information onto your reader, at one time. Don't do it. It's boring and it can confuse them. Most won't even remember it all. Decided what the reader needs to know at that moment. Mix it up. Give us narrative then have characters talking about their powers. 

The best way to know how to balance dialogue and narrative is to read- a lot. This way, you'll know what you like and what you don't like. For instance, I don't like when authors spend entire paragraphs describing every little detail of the character's appearance. That's too much narrative. 

Good Things to Remember From Writer's Digest:
  • "Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)
  • Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)
  • Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative.)
  • Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds? (Use narrative.)
  • Likewise, are my characters alone in their heads when my characters in conversation would be more effective and lively? (Use dialogue.)
  • Is my story top-heavy in any way at all—too much dialogue, too much narrative or too much action? (Insert more of the elements that are missing.)
  • Are my characters providing too many background details as they’re talking to each other (Use narrative.)"


Kelly Hashway said…
Great post! I love dialogue so I tend to opt for that over narration but you do need a balance.
It's always a challenge when you have to balance dialoge and narration. This is really a great post!
William Kendall said…
I've generally never had a problem finding the balance between the two.

Excellent post, Auden!