A good story deserves a good narrative to dialogue balance to keep your chosen audience
enthralled and turning those pages. Getting it right can be tricky, so here are a few tips to
help you master the art.
Modern readers in general prefer a story that moves along with a fair degree of
alacrity. If not, they soon get bored, and when that happens your novel is history. That’s
today’s book reader for you; spoon fed on fast action films and TV with perhaps little
time to read anyway. But maybe the readers you are aiming at are more relaxed and
cerebral and are quite at home with a slower paced tale. But which is right for you and
Take a careful look at published books or stories of the type you are writing
yourself and gauge what proportion of the text is dialogue and what is narrative. Compare
what you see with your own writing and note the difference. It is vital that you get this
right or you may fall between two stools.
And this is where dialogue comes in. Put in too much and your reader gets lost. Too
little and the reader can get bogged down and toss your tome aside.
TOO MUCH DIALOGUE
If your story has too much dialogue it is not unknown for readers to lose track of
which character is speaking. And you need to avoid too many ‘he said’, ‘she said’ or ‘said
Mark’, ‘said Hermione’.
Too much non-stop burbling from your characters can be annoying so inject some
snippets of movement or description to anchor things down. For example:
‘Maria looked up from her work. “So that’s what you think of Grimble, is it?’
Carla nodded. ‘He’s passed his sell-by date if you ask me’.
Introducing that small movement ‘Maria looked up from her work.’ immediately
pops a picture into the readers mind and activates their imagination.
Imagine two characters having a heated argument. To break this up you could say
‘A removal lorry shuddered to a halt in the street outside followed by the blare of a
horn from an angry motorist. Ronald stomped over to the window and closed it with a
This gives us movement and description, not only of the character Ronald, but of
the traffic outside, which, incidentally, also echoes the turmoil going on inside.
TOO LITTLE DIALOGUE
If you find you are filling up page after page with too much narrative you may need
to ask yourself these questions:
Does this piece of narrative add to the storyline or is it superfluous?
Would the story or plot suffer if I left it out altogether?
You may love to describe the start of a new day with three paragraphs of purple
prose but these could be saved by simply saying:
‘Gail drew back the curtains and sighed dispiritedly as she took in the grey clouds
and pouring rain.’
You can also use a character’s dialogue to add a descriptive element. You could
save the necessity to put in a long meandering flashback by writing something like:
‘I often think about those hazy summer days when you, me and Dave used to
wander over the downs picking the buttercups and daisies. Then we’d lie down by the
pond in that little grove of trees. Remember? Lovely. I wonder what ever happened to
But often you simply have to be cruel to be kind and axe those sections of narrative
that add nothing to the story so that your narrative/dialogue balance is right.
And when you do get it right, believe me, your readers will warm to you and want
About the Author:
Mervyn Love offers a warm welcome and a stress free zone for all writers at his
website: http://www.WritersReign.co.uk Here you can relax and browse pages of advice,
resources, competition listing, markets and much more. His free Article Writing Course
has proved extremely popular, so why not sign up now while you’re thinking about it?