Friday, November 8, 2013

Celebrity Deathmatch: Narration vs. Dialogue

First things first: I recorded another piece of fiction. This one's less than ten minutes! It's a tiny piece of the time book, and sort of a microcosmic version of the book's central fantasy element, but the real reason I like it is the voice. This guy is such a dick. I had lots of fun reading him into the microphone.

In other news, I did some more actual writing this week: I finally started on the airplane story. The concept underlying this story is probably ten years old, and I mucked it up horribly the last time I tried a draft. It's been knocking around in my head ever since then, but kind of non-urgently. Since I thought up a way into the idea a few months ago, it's been pressing on me with far more insistence, but I've tried to ignore it, because the potential act of writing it intimidates me badly. I'm not sure I'm skilled enough to set the story forth in the way I want to. I believe the idea/story could be really good, even great, but I'm afraid I'll muck it up again and then have to set it aside a second time.

[Total sidebar: Stephen King expressed this exact anxiety about one of the stories in Skeleton Crew, "Survivor Type," which was about a doctor stranded on a desert island who becomes autocannibalistic to survive. As I recall, King said that the idea seemed too grotesquely delightful to set down at first, so he didn't write it for a long while, afraid of messing it up. Frankly, Steve? I think you did. While the idea is indeed pretty delightful, the story is drug-soaked and ugly, one of my least favorites in that collection.]

Now I worry I've waited too long, and my own anxiety is keeping the thing from being any good. I wrote a few hundred words, and introduced the first two characters; while it seems okay at this [ridiculously early] stage, the fact that there'll be a lot of narration and exposition in this story weighs heavily on me. (For various in-story reasons, writing more of it in dialogue - creating scenes rather than explanations - is not possible.) Until recently, I didn't worry very intently about the balance between narration and dialogue, figuring both were fine and mostly trying to find a good half-and-half between them whenever I wrote. But then 1) the teacher in my UCLA writing class pointed out that the opening to my workshopped story, which I thought was quite strong, is really all exposition; and 2) I skimmed through the Greenland book and saw how I tend to lapse into Victorian narration in order to storytell when I get too lazy comfortable.

As a reader I prefer narration to dialogue, but over the course of this year, several smart writers at the fronts of rooms full of students have told me that most readers are the opposite way. One of my teachers even said that dialogue is considered a break, while chunky paragraphs are taxing. I found this surprising to the point of astonishment, as for me it's always been completely the other way around. Dialogue is laborious for me to read and beautiful narration just flies by.

Anyone want to share their thoughts on this? Which reads more easily to you?

So this story. I don't know. Matt says I should just write it and see what happens, and of course he's right. I just don't want to expend a lot of energy on it and find that the idea's plain old unworkable after all, or that I'm not good enough to do it justice. Or that I am, but I have to rewrite it once I'm through. I never, ever want to do that. But I'm learning that rewriting is the way to write - gradually, kicking and screaming, I am learning it.


Maleesha said...

I can relate to those who say dialogue is a break. I can't do the long passages of wordy wordiness.

Tiffany said...

I like balance between dialogue and narration, though I'm trying to think of *how*, specifically, that balance is defined. Do you count the inner musings of a character, or inner reactions, dialogue or narration? To me dialogue is two (or more) characters actually speaking to one another, but does a character's inner (not in "quotes") musings count as dialogue? Or their visceral reactions to their environment? Such as a gut-punch response to a beautiful view?

Pages and pages of narration, ala Jean M. Auel, get skimmed. I'd say someone like, oh, Mary Stewart hits the exact balance of narration and dialogue that appeals to me.

Anonymous said...

Love the oral narration. The perfect placement of words to cure my insomnia. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Question: do you have a agent? That is the true litmus test of whether you have the talent and marketability to be a true writer. If not, then you are surely destined to teach.