I’ve just finished reading a historical novel, one of those that have been on my kindle for ages. My TBR list is long but I can’t seem to make enough time to slim it down. I read on and off all day, after demanding and urgent domestic tasks are done – my own writing; blog articles on the internet; research; proofs belonging to other authors that I might be commenting on, or doing an early review for – but the main time for novel reading is late evening before sleep.
The time period of the book was intriguing since it was set in the first century AD Roman Empire, just a little earlier than the era of my Celtic Fervour Series. The story of Gaius Antistius Vetus unfolds in first person. It’s his journey from boyhood to middle adulthood and is about the role he plays in the Roman Army. It’s also about Roman politics of the time while he is stationed in Jerusalem, and in other Mediterranean lands of the Roman Empire. The technique of using first person isn’t my most favourite to read but when used with skill, and when the tenses used are consistent, I can appreciate the read.
This was the case for the book called ‘In The Shadow of Tyranny’. The language isn’t too complicated and the use of first person narrative is thorough and constant. What surprised me most about this particular novel is that it is almost a complete descriptive story. It’s a fairly average length of 245 pages, maybe something like 70 thousand words, but there is almost no dialogue, and when dialogue is used, it’s for anecdotal recall. My feelings on this novel are mainly set out in the short review that I’ve written for the story which will appear on my blog – this one not being the correct place to discuss in detail.
However, it made me think of the uses of description and dialogue in my own work.
My own opinion is that a story reads more fluently when there’s a mix of explanatory passages and dialogue. I think I personally tend towards being heavy on description in my earliest drafts which often becomes the dreaded ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. When I read over what I’ve written and come to those accounts, I ‘hear’ just how much I’m expecting the reader to absorb and that’s when I change scenes, or parts of scenes, to dialogue. As a physical reader of my own story, I find it flows better after dialogue changes and I think the pace is improved.
Changing to showing rather than telling has been particularly important in the rewrites of my WIP novel for early teens. As a former teacher, I know that younger readers are not willing to plough through huge amounts of description. I can still recall the looks on faces when a more reluctant pupil reader realised he/ or she was about to embark on a long narrative paragraph during our group reading sessions.
I know they wanted to skip or scan past those exposition passages.
I now wonder just how true that is for the average adult reader today as well. Do they also tire of long evocative prose sections? Are they also unwilling to spend time on more details of the surrounding scene and have tendencies to skip the pages?
As a teenager, I read loads of Classic novels which had huge amounts of long explanatory paragraphs but at the time didn’t blink an eye – and I guess I still don’t. Sir Walter Scot’s ‘Ivanhoe’ adventure comes to mind where my teenage friends and I joked that Sir Walter Scott took three pages to describe a medieval tent peg. That was an extreme case, but I tend to like sufficient description for my imagination to expand on.
My first editor told me that I needed to have at least one section of dialogue on every single page of a romance novel, reckoning that it added to the pace and to the enjoyment of the romance reader since they were looking for the feelings of the characters rather than the situations they were involved in. But what about non-romance writing? Does that premise still ring true these days?
Do you think that long evocative and descriptive passages are no longer desired in mainstream novels? Do you prefer a story when there is only a little dialogue? Or, do you like a balance of both in a novel?
There are lots of blog posts out there in the ether about dialogue but this one has some good points http://writetodone.com/10-easy-ways-to-improve-your-dialogue/
Embed your dialogue in a scene: absolutely sound advice. Keep the talk realistic: absolutely…
Enjoy you weekend whatever you are doing. Me? I’ve got a few more reviews to write and some paving slabs to lay in my garden, since it’s not raining today!
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