Tuesday, I read a Writer’s Digest piece on what characters say and what they think. The writer discussed needing to get the balance between dialogue and narrative just right.
Balancing dialogue, action and narrative was one of the things we discussed when I did the novel rewriting workshop with Darcy Pattison. I remembered doing a manuscript mark-up to see what the proportions were in your manuscript before deciding what you needed to change.
But what is the correct balance? I suspect that a chapter book manuscript needs a different balance than a middle grade or young adult novel. But what would that balance look like?
You know me – I need to see the answer. So I scanned two pages of a chapter book text. In this case, I randomly chose two pages in Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne. Then I printed the scan and got out my highlighters. Okay, in reality I tried highlighting it on-screen only to discover that I can’t mouse a straight line to save myself. Any-who, I got out my highlighters.
I marked up dialogue in green. Every time Annie or Jack speak, green highlighter. As you can see, that’s about half the text.
Then I marked the action in orange. Again, that’s about half the remaining text.
Only three lines are highlighted in pink – that’s the narration. In this case, it is inner dialogue. Three short lines.
Part of it would be the age of the reader. They want action (orange) or to see people interact (green). Thinking about what might be or remembering things? Not nearly as interesting and there just isn’t much room for that if you are writing for the 2nd and 3rd grade reader. So this is the balance that I’m going to go for when I draft my own manuscript. Equal parts dialogue and action with just a dash of narrative.
How much narrative can you have in a middle grade or young adult novel? More but I won’t be sure how much until I break out my highlighters.