How to write long stretches of dialogue...

MistingWolf

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#1
... from one person, about their past.

I'm at the point in my book where Kristogh (Christoph in English. I have most of the Canaes spellings and things worked out now; hooray!) tells Iris about everything that happened and how they got to Earth. I believe I explained the back story in a previous entry, but for the sake of ease, I shall recap (this is also what he is trying to tell his daughter):

Kristogh and Iris are both originally from a world called Canaes. Long story short, Kris almost dies but heals after his family is attacked/kidnapped by some zealots; only the baby Iris is left behind. After Kris gets better, Iris becomes ill (cholera or something that could be dangerous to a baby but is curable; Canaes is a fairly clean world, though. Little to no pollution and the people know about hygiene, if anyone feels like helping with that topic as well). Searching for a cure, Kris eventually gets a hold of the Convey Globe, a mystical transportation item that looks like a ball. They both make it to Earth, where Iris recovers, but something happens (haven't figured that out yet; I'm stuck again) and the Convey Globe becomes useless (only one person is allowed to hold it at one time; any more and it "dies".) and they get trapped on Earth. Kris has been looking for a way to go home ever since.

So far I think I have hand-written about one full front-and-back page of dialogue. And even I can tell where I'm slipping back into third person - no one ever says, "When I went to the store today, I could smell the freshly cut grass and thought it was nice." At least, no real conversation about taking a walk to the store has been that detailed. Any advice as to how this could be written? How many pauses should I insert? Iris, of course, is going to have her own thoughts about all the new information, but should I put it in as the thought comes, or wait until the end of the story? Would it help more if I just posted the scene?
 

Mouse

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#2
Does he need to tell her all in one go?

I've got a fairly big chunk of dialogue in one of mine, it's one character telling another about three other characters. I wrote it while they're bustling about in the house, making tea and whatnot, so there's info... and then other stuff. The character giving the info will suddenly stop and ask the other if they'd like a cup of tea, for example. (That sounds horrifically dull! But it works.) I think it might even be in critiques here somewhere.
 

The Judge

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#3
I agree with Mouse that it's important to have some kind of action happening, to leaven the dialogue, but it's also important to fit it in with the dialogue. For instance, I have a number of scenes where one of the main characters busies herself with pouring coffee from a trolley** -- in one scene she is attempting to distract attention from what she is saying, in another she is using it to make someone uneasy while they wait for the conversation to continue.

As for reaction shots from the non-speaker, you do need to be careful. My first drafts invariably come out paragraph of dialogue/reaction/paragraph of dialogue/reaction... and after a while it gets a little wearying.

But, yes, I think it's probably easier if you posted a bit in Critiques and we can see if we need to make any other suggestions.

** what is it with dialogue and beverages?
 

chopper

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#4
i've had this in detail: my main character is a storyteller, and not only does she tell stories, but she listens to others too....
one chapter has a tale told by an old soldier. i've started off with him telling it through dialogue tags, in first person ("We climbed the walls and slipped into the gardens..."). Then, after a few paragraphs, he pauses for a mouthful of cold, congealed stew, and the story is told through description instead, taking us back one step from the characters so i can speed things up a little (They stepped carefully between the lines of sleeping servants until they came to the alcove at the far end of the hall.) I found that solved the problem of "I did this, I did that", and I dropped back into dialogue from time to time, just to show the reader that the soldier is still speaking.
May not be to everyone's tastes of course.
 

ctg

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#5
It's really easy. You just allow the person to talk, but that's easy for me to say. So easy. The problem is, is all what comes out from that character mouth interesting? Don't know. Haven't read the dialogue.

So what you do is that you go down the line, drop into the character and watch what they're saying to you (as in you're the reader). In the first round the characters are talking to you as a writer and when the rewriting bit comes, you refine the bit (unless it's perfect) to fit the readers tastes; as in the reader is sitting in the character head and the character is there interacting with the other speakers while the narrative flows at the background.

Allow me to illustrate,

"What's taking so long?" Mark rushed into the office, casually looking over his shoulder as if he was expecting the coppers bursting in at any minute.

"Sush, keep your voice down," I said.

"Don't you shush me," Mark waved the handgun on my face. "This is taking too long. We were talking about minutes, but here we--"

"If you don't shut your face in this second I will shut it for you."

"Hey, hey guys," Steven said. He took off the headphones from his ears and turned around. "Why don't you two calm down this second or this safe will never get opened."

Mark looked really frustrated for a second. I thought he would pop the gun, but instead he sighed really deep before he asked, "Tell me Steve what's taking so long? You were supposed to be the guy. I mean the guy in the safe cracking business, but here we are after f***ing three and half hours. Can't you f***ing see that we are running out from time?"

That was a good question. Really good question. Steven had been cracking that safe for way too long. So I turned around and gestured gently for him to answer.

Steven shook his head incredulously before he answered, "You guys want to take a shot on cracking a 256-bit code that the you have never seen. I mean look at this thing," he pointed the solid steel wall that was separating us from the cash. "The bank didn't put all their money in some s**t that anyone would crack by waving a magic feather. This thing is a state-of-the-art vault that is running one of the most sophisticated code ever imagined. So give me a break if I'm running a bit late here."

There, I gave the look to Mark. "Satisfied?"

"Yea," Mark looked down and a few moment later raised his gaze to say something, but instead he just turned around and said, "Just don't waste you time cos I don't wanna be here when the heat arrives."
The dialogue has to have a point, a reason to be there. You can create with it a tension, a conflict, solve problems, make romance, gestures ... anything that you can imagine. But as the others said above, it has to flow with the narrative.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#6
It depends on whether or not what he is telling her stands by itself as a story within a story. If it does, you can tell it without any pauses at all.

If he's just summarizing a long series of events, then you do need to break it up with action and other dialogue to show how the listener (or listeners) is responding to the story, or it will be boring.

It's the Orson Scott Card maxim that sometimes longer is shorter (and vice versa). If he is telling a compelling story with enough detail to bring the narrative to life it can go on for a whole chapter if necessary without a single break. If he's just relaying facts, then a page and a half without interruption is much too long.
 

J Riff

The Ants are my friends..
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#7
"How do you do it, Riff?"
"What?" I shifted uncomfortably in the confines of the small reply box.
"Long stretches of dialogue... "
"Oh, easy."
"Really?"
"Yep."
"How so?"
"Simple, just keep it short."
"Short?"
"Yes, like we are doing right now."
"Oh..."
"Yep."
"That's it?"
"Yes."
"No tricks?"
"Nope."
"Keep it short... to make it long... brilliant!"
"Thanks."
Suddenly -*
 
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#8
It's really not that hard to write out large chunks of dialogue, and keep in mind that more likely than not there are going to be interruptions from the other character, questioning this and that, so you could have some welcome break in the one character's dialogue.
 

No One

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#9
Doesn't this come down to the age-old dilemma of how to handle exposition without it becoming too bulky or forced?

This probably won't be much help, MistingWolf, but in your story have you written of those events previously as they happened (i.e: have you shown those events previously or are you just now required to tell them)? If the character is summarizing events that already exist in the prose, then it seems to me that many writers will simply forego the exposition altogether and go for "X explained the matter to Y" and leave it at that.

If, on the other hand, the information is not something the reader is already familiar with, then as Mouse suggests it's always a good idea to try and break up the dialogue with other minor points. Or, as Teresa says, if the information can become it's own story within the story...well, I don't think you can argue with a technique that's been used by authors for centuries. Millennia, even.

Or maybe I'm just waffling. ;)
 

Nik

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#10
I have horrible difficulty writing dialogue --'Nova!', a ~10 k novelette, had but one (1) spoken word !!-- but I've learned that dialogue in context breaks up exposition and vice-versa, maintaining pace and avoiding both 'walls of text' and 'walls of quotes'...

Too much dialogue can read like a 'play', while too much text risks reader brown-outs...
 

MistingWolf

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#11
First, thank you all for taking the time to reply! There's a lot of great advice in here, and I appreciate it all! Though there are some specific posts I'd like to reply to, too. :}





Does he need to tell her all in one go?.
In this case, I do think he does. It’s kind of a revelation/finally-getting-it-off-my-chest type of thing.


This probably won't be much help, MistingWolf, but in your story have you written of those events previously as they happened (i.e: have you shown those events previously or are you just now required to tell them)?
At this point, there has indeed been a telling of this story, though from another character's POV/memories. However, I'm telling the bits that that first character didn't know of.

one chapter has a tale told by an old soldier. i've started off with him telling it through dialogue tags, in first person ("We climbed the walls and slipped into the gardens..."). Then, after a few paragraphs, he pauses for a mouthful of cold, congealed stew, and the story is told through description instead, taking us back one step from the characters so i can speed things up a little... I found that solved the problem of "I did this, I did that", and I dropped back into dialogue from time to time, just to show the reader that the soldier is still speaking.
That sounds to be the easiest way for me.… Indeed, I did something like this on the initial telling, though I wanted to make this time seem more personal, which is why I went with the story-within-the-story thing originally, but I might end up having to do this…. It’s just not turning out, it seems.
 

Caledor

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#12
info dumps are never a good idea. plus, you dont want to make your character seem like theyre lecturing the other character. keep to short give and take dialogue and try not to write too much backstory while your character is talking. you dont want to seem like theyre daydreaming or ruin the experience for the reader
 
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