Monday, May 16, 2011

Dialogue vs. Description

Recently I was on a panel and someone in the audience asked, “How much of a novel should be dialogue and how much description?” The question sparked a heated discussion.

The male, thriller/noir writers believed strongly that description should be kept to a minimum. The traditional and historical mystery writers, primarily female, claimed description was an essential part of their books. “Sometimes the setting itself becomes a character,” one female author said.

Both sets of writers have their point. An atmospheric suspense or historical novel needs more sense of place than an action-packed adventure story. It’s a matter of emphasis, I guess. But speaking generally, the modern novel has less description and more dialogue than, say, the Victorian novel. The reader has less patience today and too many solid pages of prose can put off the most avid reader.

Movies have influenced how we write, too. We are now accustomed to jumping from scene to scene without transitions, the way it is done in films. In the old days the author led the reader by the hand from one scene to the next, describing everything along the way.

What do you think? Do you like more or less description? More or less dialogue? Or, don’t you care, as long as it’s a good story?

Robin Hathaway

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