Dialogue, Description, Action, & Narrative
Dialogue, description, action, and narrative—all fiction novels will have some of each, but most writers will use some more than others. That is okay because it is a reflection of your writing style, but it is important to use a healthy balance between these aspects of writing. Because each aspect develops a different part of your book and contributes to pacing in different ways, this balance ensures a smooth reading experience.
Dialogue is what your characters say, but it has many uses beyond that. If used for characterization, it can be used to slow down the novel, but if used for action, it can speed up the plot. One common pitfall—especially of underwriters—is using dialogue in replacement of all the other aspects of writing. Yes, your characters can talk to themselves in the mirror, verbalize their actions, or describe what they see to other characters, but most of the time it is better to let dialogue take a step back and let other aspects of writing steer the wheel.
On the other hand, a lack of sufficient dialogue can prevent the reader from connecting with non-POV characters and understanding the characters’ voices. Definitely use dialogue to show differences in values, culture, or thought processes between two or more characters. Learn more about using dialogue well here.
Narrative, also known as internal dialogue, is what your characters think. When your narrators struggle to make decisions or are dealing with flashbacks, narratives help you show the reader what is going on in their mind. No matter what POV you are writing in, you should have at least one narrator who describes their thoughts throughout the novel, giving the reader insight into the character and the consequences of their possible decision.
Choosing the right POV can help you make the most of the narrative in your novel. Narrative slows the story down, so it can be useful when creating suspense or transitioning between scenes. However, it can hamper the reading experience of a fast paced scene like a fight.
Action is what your characters do. Action is typically interwoven with all other aspects. This includes action beats in the middle of dialogue scenes, which let the reader know what the characters are doing while talking. Some scenes, like fight scenes, can be entirely action. When writing action scenes, you want to make sure you are showing, not telling (stay tuned for a later post on that). Action generally speeds up the story, which is why it is often used at the climax of a novel.
Description is what your narrator’s five senses pick up. Describing what they see and hear at any time can be easier than describing touch, taste, and smell, but giving your reader a description of each of these allows the reader to immerse themself in the world you are describing. Description slows down your story and is best used during the rising and falling action.
Most overwriters fall into the trap of over-describing and adding unnecessary details, so you want to think about how important every piece of description is. Remember, your narrator is doing the describing, so think about what your narrator finds important. If they are looking for clues, describe anything suspicious; if they are from a different country, describe what is different. Also consider how one or more of these senses might be compromised by the situation a character is in, a disability they might have, etc.
All four of these work together. Characters will talk and think about what they are doing, which will be affected by the world they are in. Take a look at your writing. Do you see a lot of quotation marks? Are there many internal dialogue questions? Are there big chunks of text whenever you introduce a character? Does the reader need to know which hand a character is using for a particular action? Thinking about how you balance dialogue, narrative, action, and description can give you a better understanding of your writing style and what you should improve.
My first drafts tend to be primarily dialogue and narrative heavy, but I add action and description in later drafts. Which of these aspects of writing do you use the most and the least? Let me know in the comments!