Balancing Dialogue and Description

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Emily D Emily D 4 months, 1 week ago.

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    Profile photo of Holly Nelson-Gray
    Holly Nelson-Gray

    Hi, I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on how to keep a good balance between dialogue and description – and what a good balance looks like. Thanks!

    Profile photo of Dragon Snapper
    Dragon Snapper

    @holly-nelson-gray Aloha!
    Dialogue I think is probably more important than description, though description is definitely important. Dialogue shows how the characters interact with each other, and it can also add a bit of setting as well. As for description, you can have some, just be sure to avoid info-dumps. I always skip those. I read a book once with almost no dialogue. I didn’t finish it either. πŸ˜›
    Have you ever read the Ranger’s Apprentice? (the question may seem random, though I have a method to madness. πŸ˜› )

    Profile photo of Jane Maree
    Jane Maree

    @Holly-Nelson-Gray Heyooo. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m interpreting the meaning of your question quite right, but I’ll take the plunge anyways. (So sorry if this is a useless bunch of rambles. xD)
    My writing definitely leans to the dialogue side. I often accidentally forget to do very much description at all. So one of the most important things to remember is that each element is of huge value.
    I concur with what Dragon Snapper said, basically. I feel that dialogue is really really important though, because without it you don’t get to see the interaction of the characters and…real life people talk. So book characters need to talk. (Unless they’re physically incapable, in which case the ally or side characters will probably still talk anyway)
    But a good way to do a balance, is to have the description told a little bit through the dialogue, and also, so show it in character actions in the place of dialogue tags. That works for me anyway.
    And I think this turned out to be a sort of messy jumble. Sorry. >.<

    Profile photo of Holly Nelson-Gray
    Holly Nelson-Gray

    @Dragon-Snapper No, I haven’t had a chance to read Ranger’s Apprentice, however one of my good friends owns the whole series, so I can probably borrow them off her. As to the dialogue dilemma … when I did a writing program a couple of years ago, I was told I used too much dialogue. I had my characters telling the story. So, rather than using ‘Bob cleaned the fridge while Jane watched’ I used “Hey, Bob, what are you doing?” “Oh, I’m just cleaning the fridge.” “Oh. Sounds like fun. I’m feeling kind of confused, though.” “Why’s that?” etc, etc, etc. Bad example, but you get the idea. (Some of my stories are, like, 300 words, 250 of which are dialogue.) How do I stop doing that?? Like, in your writing, how do you know when to let your characters talk, and when to just use a narrator? (Or whatever you call them.) Thanks!

    Profile photo of Brandon Miller
    Brandon Miller

    Hahahahahahahaha. Did someone say something about balance?
    Lolno. I cannot express how bad I am at this. All the same, here is the little advice I have:
    Use dialogue beats instead of tags. Beats always describe an action of one of the speakers, and look like this in a sentence: “What?” Wesley gasped. “No way!” They are to the description of the scene by adding physical action into the dialoge, and keeping more than just the ears engaged.
    Here’s more on the subject:
    Also, dialogue and prose just look different on a page. It’s always worthwhile to glance back through your work and just check for a visual balance.

    Profile photo of Daeus

    @Holly-Nelson-Gray If you haven’t yet, check out our recently published articles on writing descriptions. I think once you have a full understanding of the potential of descriptions and dialogue, your brain will naturally sort out how to balance them.

    Your problem probably isn’t so much that you have too much dialogue, but that you don’t have enough description mixed in with it. I definitely second that action tags are a great way to fit in more description – a necessary way, really. You also need to describe the setting to ground your reader in the context and build the mood you want them to feel throughout the scene.

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @Holly-Nelson-Gray yeah… what they said. πŸ˜‰

    This may be a somewhat random tangent of this topic, but I’ve found that a lot of times body language can be used to replace dialogue and automatically include more description. Instead of ‘Hey, why are you cleaning the fridge?’
    ‘Because it’s dirty and needs cleaning and I’m disgusted about it, that’s why.’

    you could try
    ‘Hey, why are you cleaning the fridge?’
    Bob slapped his soaking rag down on the floor of the fridge, twisted his head, and glared up at her over his shoulder.
    She gave a little grin and shrugged. ‘All right…’

    It changes the personalities some, and depends a lot on what character is doing what, but it’s worth noting.

    Welcome to KP, by the way.

    Profile photo of Rolena Hatfield
    Rolena Hatfield

    @Holly-Nelson-Gray So many good things said here already!
    I’m just gonna add a quick thought, building off of what Kate said.
    Balancing dialogue and description is not so much about how much you have of one or the other, but about how you use both in a natural and realistic way. This requires knowing your characters. Who they are and how they react based on what they want.
    As in Kate’s example… is the fact that he’s cleaning the fridge because it’s disgusting something Bob would say aloud? Or is he more likely to keep his mouth closed and show (through action) that he’s disgusted?
    It’s also helpful to play a scene through your mind as if you are one of the characters speaking. What’s going on around you and when would you naturally notice it or do something other than speak (sometimes instead of description of outward surroundings or actions you should get into the character’s head. What’s he thinking?) This trick helps me let the description/dialogue/thought process naturally fall into place.
    So basically I’m saying, let the balance of dialogue and description be based on what would naturally happen.

    Profile photo of Holly Nelson-Gray
    Holly Nelson-Gray

    @Brandon-Miller That’s a great article! I’ll probably have to re-read sometimes, just so it all sinks in properly.

    @Daeus That helped a lot – I may not have too much dialogue, I just may need to add more description. Thanks

    @Kate-Flournoy Hi! Thank you! That helped a lot.

    @Rolena-Hatfield Hmm, yes. I am doing the NaNoWriMo program at the moment, and am filling out the 46 main character questions. (But I have 10 main characters!!) I really think I’m starting to know my characters better than myself … Ah well, the life of a writer, I suppose 😬. To paraphrase you … I should get to know my characters so I know how they will react in certain situations.

    Profile photo of Dragon Snapper
    Dragon Snapper


    β€˜Hey, why are you cleaning the fridge?’
    Bob slapped his soaking rag down on the floor of the fridge, twisted his head, and glared up at her over his shoulder.
    She gave a little grin and shrugged. β€˜All right…’

    Nuts. Now I want to write a story completely based off of that.

    Profile photo of Kate Flournoy
    Kate Flournoy

    @Dragon-Snapper *chokes* W-well, I guess… thank you?? πŸ˜› *cough* I’m sorry… perhaps you can write one, eh? *winks**chuckles*

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Profile photo of Kate Flournoy Kate Flournoy.
    Profile photo of Emily D
    Emily D

    Hi there @Holly-Nelson-Gray!!!

    Okay…so, I’m not really an expert on this, but just an idea:

    I would say that it’s worth checking out some novels. If you notice a book that has waaay to much dialogue or description, go though a page or more and dissect it, basically. Read it and take notes on any over the top sections. Maybe you could even re-write the page in a more reader-friendly style! AND how about using more meaningful adjectives? E.G. perhaps linger but more meaningful adjectives, just occasionally to cut down on the length of description.

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