Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

January 10, 2015

Narrative vs Dialogue When Writing Stories

Filed under: Frank Remarks,On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 10:56 AM
Tags: , ,

Writing a compelling novel is very like writing a screenplay. I’ve found that many of the rules of one apply to the other.

One of the biggest rule of writing is to ‘show not tell’. So, what does that mean and how does it apply to both novels and screenplays?

First, you need to know the difference between TELLING and SHOWING. Telling is abstract, passive and less involving of the reader. It slows down your pacing, takes away your action and pulls your reader out of your story.

Showing, however, is active and concrete; creating mental images that brings your story — and your characters — to life. When you hear about writing that is vivid, evocative and strong, chances are there’s plenty of showing in it. Showing is interactive and encourages the reader to participate in the reading experience by drawing her own conclusions.

So, why is showing so important to screenplays? 90% of a screenplay is ‘showing’ – that is, dialogue. There is very little narrative in a screenplay. Very little telling. You have to tell through dialogue.

Keeping this rule of screenwriting in mind would greatly improve the telling of your story in a novel.

Here’s an example from a brief part of a recent chapter I am writing – or scenes I call them – from IJIN. Keeping the rule of ‘show not tell’ in mind, I began by laying out what had to be explained in narrative form.

The two boys gave each other a look of concern. What had they done? Wild speculation crossed their minds. After all, it took little those days to bring suspicion from the Tokkō thought police and wrath of the Kempeitai upon you.

They both heard of the student that wrote ‘I hate the Military’ on the wall of public toilet and was investigated by the Tokkō and severely punished. Or the person that defaced an Imperial note by writing over the Emperor’s face ‘No more war’ and promptly arrested.

When they arrived at the principal’s office, the two boys were quickly taken into separate rooms. Kenji was forced to sit across a desk in front of two Kempeitai – one a non-commissioned officer and the other a Major.

Now, here is how I rewrote it ‘showing’ the scene not ‘telling it’.

As soon as the two boys approached their classroom, the stern Army Captain that was assigned to their school, approached them. “You two! Report to the principals office,” he barked. “Now!”

The two boys gave each other a look of concern. What had they done? Wild speculation crossed their minds. After all, it took little those days to bring suspicion from the Tokkō thought police and wrath of the Kempeitai upon you.

“Maybe it was something we said – or did,” Black Patch feared. His mind went wild. “Did you write ‘I hate the Military’ on the wall our school toilet like that boy did last month?” He nodded his head. “He and his family were investigated by the Tokkō and severely punished.”

Kenji shook his head and said, knowing Black Patch’s proclivities, “Do you think they found the Imperil note you wrote on defacing the Emperor’s face?”

That sent a shiver down Black Patch’s spine.

When they arrived at the principal’s office, the two boys were quickly taken into separate rooms. Kenji was forced to sit across a desk in front of two Kempeitai – one a non-commissioned officer and the other a Major.

Note the transposition of the narrative into dialogue between the two boys. And the use of dialogue helps you follow another important rule of writing – and you can see this used time and time again in movies – create friction, tension or conflict in a scene.

By changing the narrative of people arrested to a dialogue, the fearful words between the two students created tension. This makes the scene more interesting.

Keep the rules of screenwriting in mind when writing your novel and you’ll tell a more interesting story.

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