Last time, I explained how to avoid dumping information into stories and how dialogue is often used incorrectly to convey details to readers—the “As you know, Bob” technique. It just so happened that my friend Simon C. Larter posted a related article with info dumps in dialogue that worked that same day. Great minds and all that. *cough* Okay, well, he’s got a great mind.
His post makes for interesting reading, but if you don’t go check it out, here’s some of what he had to say:
[D]ialogue can be used to communicate action in your narrative … I’ll pull two examples from my Stilettos & Shirley Temples post on [last] Monday by way of illustration. Check it:
She gives me a sidelong look as she adjusts a diamond stud earring. “Want to get your feet off the coffee table?”
“Nope.” I take a sip and lean against the soft couch back.
* * * * *
I swill the last of my vodka. What have you dragged me into, Mercedes? “I need a refill.”
“Maybe put something other than a towel on, while you’re at it,” she calls after me.
I don’t. She rolls her eyes when I step back onto the balcony.
Okay, I should note that I never mentioned (a) that I had put my feet up on the coffee table, or (b) that I was wearing nothing but a towel on the balcony.
See how brilliant he is? I think many writers avoid this technique because we’ve seen it so poorly done that we think it can’t be done well. Imagine a sci-fi story with dialogue like, “Oh no, the monster has almost caught up to us. Watch out for his teeth!” *cringe* That reads more like an old-time radio play than a modern novel.
But Simon is right. His examples do work. Why? After spending some time thinking about why some dialogue info dumps work and so many others don’t, I finally realized something.
The Matrix Approach Works for Scene Setting
Everyone here has seen the movie Matrix, right? When Neo needs a gun, he imagines there’s a gun someplace and suddenly—poof—there it is. Readers’ minds work the same way when they’re reading.
I’ll say it again this way: Readers’ minds are malleable. They will imagine whatever the author tells them to imagine, not only with dialogue, but with narrative as well. Details of the setting and action can change mid-scene and they’ll happily go with the flow.
This is a great technique for writers to use for description. Instead of feeling the need to give the full picture of the setting at once, writers can rest assured that the details can be added as needed. And… As Simon pointed out, these details can be woven into dialogue in addition to the narrative.
But there’s a trick to being able to change and add details mid-scene. And that same trick will let you know when showing action through dialogue will work and when it would read more like a radio play. In my next post, I’ll talk about how to successfully use this technique—and what to avoid.
What do you think of this theory? When do you think it would work and why?Pin It