On the Subject of: My Imagination and Your Prose

Einstein, Imagination, Book

Art by photographer Jeannette Woitzik, view her portfolio here.

My last bit of Occasional Whimsy was entirely dialogue based in its first draft and I prefered it that way. Only after it was workshopped by a few mates did I decide to take their advice and add in brief descriptions during the breaks in conversation. Sometimes it’s easy to tell I started out in Journalism, working on feature writing and interviews, rather than creative prose.

I’ve always been drawn towards dialogue over narrative, and this reflects in my reading habits as well. I’ll pick a genre novel over a literary work any day. Although I have a great love and respect for the classics, I tend to skip over the long lush paragraphs describing the Pemberley Estate or Watson’s detailed recollections of Homles’ pipe.

I have a very active and vivid imagination and reading allows me to both focus and give it some exercise. It doesn’t really like being told what to do and so I tend to find myself skipping over the gorgeously articulated descriptions in books and going straight to the action and dialogue instead.

As a writer, I know how much work authors put into creating a beautifully vivid world and then even more into communicating it effectively. I’m never ungrateful for the direction and gentle guidance through a mysterious new world when I read, but after a while I kind of want to play around too. Your sandbox is amazing and has me hooked and I’ll follow the story wherever it leads, but don’t make me sift through four pages about the main character’s living room to get there.

My writing style has been described as ‘sparse’ more than once, and I know some authors would consider this a bad thing. But for me, it’s a compliment. I love the idea of people reading my work and imagining it differently to how I do.  But I know this isn’t always the case, and a good balance between description, action and dialogue is the crux of a great novel.

But is it a turnoff for readers if they’re presented with two pages of dialogue over two pages of description? How tilted is the scale in your work?

4 thoughts on “On the Subject of: My Imagination and Your Prose

  1. I probably tilt too far into too much narrative. Ok, fine. I know I tilt too far into narrative and it’s something I have to constantly evaluate during revisions to see what narrative I can translate into interesting dialogue or action or need to cut entirely.

    Balance between the two is certainly important. However, I’ve come across plenty of books where I’ve wanted to skip past narrative that droned on even if the prose was beautiful, I’ve yet to read anything where I’ve thought, “Gee, I wish these characters would stop talking so the author could describe this scene more.” :D

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    • I admire writers like you, who find it so easy to come up with the words to describe exactly what’s in their own wonderful worlds! Me and my brain apparently do not have the patience, we want things to happen (and sometimes explode, oh dear).

      I think most of us struggle with this balance and all have our own awesome style, and luckily there’s always an audience who will prefer it one way or the other whatever we do! But you’re so right with that last bit, I feel exactly the same. :D

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  2. I like a mix of both, but I think dialogue is usually more effective. I often skim narrative parts when they’re not doing it for me, such as when the author uses overly elaborate metaphors which sound impressive don’t make much sense, or describe an object I’m not familiar with (and it would break the immersion for me to get up and Google it).

    I’m not saying these writers necessarily get it [i]wrong[/i]; it’s more that what they’ve written works for them and their editors but doesn’t work for me. This doesn’t seem to happen so much with dialogue.

    I try to get around it in my own writing by making the narrative more “conversational” – keeping the descriptions simple and, where possible, narrating the protagonist’s thoughts about whatever’s being described. I miss writing.

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    • Having an author unwittingly snap you out of the story flow is rubbish, but luckily hasn’t happened to me in quite some time. I think that’s where keeping your target audience in mind helps a lot.

      I like the idea of a more ‘conversational’ narrative as well, it’s ideal for genre fiction. It’s something I tend to lead towards in my own work too. And I hope you can get back to writing soon!

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