Basic Writing Tips (Telling) Narration or (Showing) Dialogue?

We’ve all had it. That eureka moment. The brilliant idea that comes out of nowhere and we just have to get it down. We have seen the story on the blank page in our mind. It’s perfect. Now, to begin…

But how do you begin? How do you place that scene, reveal that secret, or show that one moment that you know your readers will love?

You could begin with narrative. This could encompass a room, a character, a reflection, your protagonist watching an event like a funeral, a board room discussion or parent teacher conference.

But the best question is this: How can you show this scene without simply telling your readers about it? By using dialogue. Beautiful prose is one thing but reading dialogue as the character discovers something sinister, exciting, or euphoric is quite another.

With dialogue your reader is there sifting through sand as the treasure is uncovered or feeling the tension in the conversation just before the shots ring out. Place your reader in the crowd through dialogue rather than telling the reader what the crowd is doing. The tension can be more tense and the thrill that much more thrilling.

Let’s look at these two examples.

The last vestiges of light ignited the mauve colored curtains soaking the room in a soft salmon glow. The rays of colored sun touched the dark mahogany casket, refracted off the gold and silver trimmings, and scattered across the room. In dark corners, where the stray sun beams did not reach, were clusters of family members conversing in whispers. No one party looked at the other and no one looked in the direction of the coffin other than to glare at the executor. He yawned, checked his phone, and wiggled his arm so the sleeve on his charcoal Armani suit rolled down revealing his diamond studded watch. He was obviously waiting for someone to arrive. And though no one said it to him, it was clear as each party followed his glances toward the door, everyone else was too.

What is wrong with this? Not a lot. It describes what is happening well: A funeral for a patriarch that bequeathed his fortune to some unrevealed party. However, it’s dull. How could I make this more interesting and move the story along?

How about use some dialogue instead.

“Did you hear that he spent eighty thousand dollars on a collar for that stupid bloodhound?”
“That’s absurd.” Tabitha said between sips of red wine.

“Is it? What about that desk chair?” Tabitha shrugged. “One hundred thousand dollars for a chair. A chair!”  Tabitha looked at the mahogany casket studded with gold and silver trimmings and shrugged again.

“Millie, what’s this you’re complaining about again? You aren’t even blood related.” Millicent inhaled so everyone in the room could hear.

“Charles, my husband is the first born. If there is any honor left in the Lucian family he should be given something. It’s tradition.”

“Millie my dear, I heard he spent it all. There’s nothing left.”

“Hogwash.” Millie hissed. “Then what’s the executor waiting for?”

“That’s not what I heard,” Tabitha whispered. She looked at the clusters of other family members that collected in dark corners of the room and then begged the others in her group closer. “I heard there’s another heir. She’s getting all of it.”

“She?” Millicent barked.

“Yes a girl. And I doubt even she knows about it.”

Each reader has their own taste. Each writer has their own voice and talent to share their tale. However, if your novel is filled with page after page of narrative, I’d encourage you to add some dialogue. This will suck the reader in and not let them wake from the vivid dream you are spinning until you are done.

Write 500 words today.



4 thoughts on “Basic Writing Tips (Telling) Narration or (Showing) Dialogue?

  1. danielfbowman

    I wonder how many readers skip over the detailed descriptions. Often, they are beautiful, but they seem so slow. Instead, I especially like it when the author tells the scenery, showing how the character experiences it and goes through it.
    I liked your change to dialogue in part because there is more space, and it seems like the story is moving along.

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