dialogue or summary

by Ben
(Tucson, AZ)

Question: I am writing a novel in which a survivor of the story is actually writing the book from events that happened 5 years prior. I would like to add dialogue but think because it is so long ago that the character telling the story would be more believable summarizing conversations than actually having dialogue. Am I right? Should I replace all dialogue with the character summarizing it?

Answer: Traditionally, most books have been written in past tense from the point of view of a narrator who already knows the end of the story, and therefore is usually writing about events that occurred many years before.

Whether the narrator is the main character, a minor character in the story world, or omniscient (the voice of the author), readers are quite used to the convention that the narrator knows very specific details of the story's events.

Narrators are good story tellers (otherwise, why would we read their stories?), and good story tellers provide detail, including the actual words spoken by the characters.

Rather than making your story more believable, leaving out dialogue is more likely to make it less believable, because believability emerges from specific and authentic details.

Summarizing events (including conversations) creates the feeling of hearing a story second or third-hand. It puts more distance between the reader and the story, so that it feels less real.

Giving readers the specific, sensory information, including the actual words of dialogue, creates the illusion that they are present at the events and receiving the information directly--which makes the story seem more real.

Think of it this way...

Reading a summary is like having your friend tell you about a movie they just watched.

Reading the actual dialogue and other sensory details of events is like watching the movie. It's a much more real experience.

Comments for dialogue or summary

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Jun 23, 2014
by: Anonymous

Thank you! I cleaned up a lot of dialogue I liked but left some in before I asked after what you said I think I will put some back in and just try to keep it split evenly. Maybe just summarize where I feel an elaboration of dialogue is needed and just try not to overdo either

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