Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.
Do you embrace dialog or narrate your way around it? Why?
I’m a big fan of dialogue, it can be used for so much more than conversation.
A lot of people would say that dialogue is really only used to move the action along. Backstory and scene setting is normally seen as the preserve of narration, or as I prefer to think of it, information dumping.
I’m not a big fan of the information dump. While I can see the need to fill in the backstory and provide information, my eyes glaze over when the book I’m reading turns into an article from an encyclopaedia. All that information, in one hit! The reader, if they can be bothered to stick with it, will never remember it all. Just think back to school, how many times did you need to be told something to make it lodge in your mind?
How can we make it easier to digest? By imparting it in a way that either makes it interesting, part of the story or in such a way that the reader doesn’t even notice what they’re being told.
Rather than by just giving it all out in one go, I like to use it as part of the story. By turning the backstory into dialogue. It makes it more memorable. Not only that; it then performs a double function. It gives us the information in a more digestible form and it can give us an insight into the character (or the character’s character). It can also be drip-fed, to avoid overloading the reader with too much, too soon. Vital clues or hints can also be inserted at this point.
I used to hold World-Building workshops at literary events, in fact I wrote a book on it. This paragraph was part of the presentation, it illustrated how to impart backstory as a conversation during an action sequence,
The shot rang out and concrete was chipped by my head.
“Come on,” gasped Lydia, grabbing my arm, “run!”
I was dragged down the street, in and out of the shadows cast by the flickering lights, “keep your head down, Dan,” she said.
“It’s just like on Gallix,” I managed to wheeze as, bent double; I followed her around a corner. Out of sight for a second, we dodged into a dark alleyway. There were no more shots, but we could hear running feet and shouts.
“When we had to get away from Kalindra and her boys,” she gasped, while I tried to fill my lungs. “I had to save you then.”
“I thought that I saved you?” I replied.
“In your dreams,” she laughed, punching my shoulder. We stood in the dark and tried to get our breath back, shrinking into the darkness as two men, guns held in front of them, ran past us. The blatant show of weapons reminded me that I was out of my depth here, far from my old stomping ground. They probably had the local law in their pockets, we were the outsiders.
I was getting angrier and angrier with Fliss Bauer, back on Gallix. ‘It’ll be easy,’ she had said, ‘just get in and do this for me, it’ll wipe your slates clean’.
And we’d believed her.
In 220 words, I’ve introduced two characters, shown that they have a solid relationship and hinted at a past life of dubious activities. I’ve also (I hope) got the reader wondering what they’ve done to deserve being shot at, why their slates needed wiping clean and why the shooters are so casual about being seen.
I think explaining the situation in that way is a lot more exciting than information dumping about Dan and Lydia’s reasons for being where they are.
Incidentally, this short piece, written in less than ten minutes, was the idea that sparked my novel The Hitman and the Thief.
Assassination can be a messy business, especially if you’re having a bad day.
Dan Jones is the ultimate problem solver, the hitman for crime boss Fliss Bauer.
Fliss has a rival, Kalindra Dallin. She runs a particularly unpleasant planet. Dan is told to arrange her demise. It’s just another job; until a random event means that it all goes horribly wrong.
To save his skin, Dan is forced to try again, only this time he has to work with a partner. He doesn’t want to but it’s the only chance he’s going to get; if he wants to put things right.
Can the hitman and the thief get the job done, more importantly, can they keep each other alive?
The same method can also be used by making your character have a conversation in their mind. You can also impart information in moments of introspection, or even by having internal conversations with absent friends.
While I’m quite happy to work with dialogue or narration, I think the value of each and its appropriateness (is that even a word?) depends on the style of the work. Action and Adventure tales are probably more suited to dialogue, while my Steampunk stories are written and styled in a way that lends itself more to narration.
The trick is to mix it up, so that however you impart the tale, it’s never boring.
Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.
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