One Writer’s Journey

August 24, 2017

Dialogue, Narrative, and Action: Getting the Right Balance, part 2

Yesterday I discussed just how to balance these elements in a chapter book.  In my two page sample, 3 lines were narrative, in this case interior dialogue.  Half of what remained was dialogue and the other half was action. I had been reading about not using too much narrative and wanted to see how much was too much for these younger independent readers.  Apparently, I am going to have to keep it tight.

Middle grade

But what about books for older readers?  Today I have samples from a middle grade novel, Gossamer by Lois Lowry, a young adult novel, The Demon’s Lexicon by Rees Brennan, and an adult novel, The Right Side by Spencer Quinn.  These were chosen without an ounce of science.  Basically all three were within reach of my desk chair.

So how do the various elements balance out?  In the middle grade novel, dialogue (again in green) makes up about 1/2 of the total text.  I counted roughly 26 lines of dialogue.  The rest was split about equally between action (orange) and narrative (pink).  That large block of narrative on the lower left is a flashback.  The rest is interior dialogue.  All in all, roughly 1/4 of the total is narrative.

Young adult

Like the middle grade, the young adult novel is fantasy so I expected it to be narrative/setting heavy.  This time around the blocks are almost equal.  Narrative has a slightly larger portion with 22 lines.  A small amount of this is flashback and even less is interior dialogue.  But I expected very little interior dialogue.  This mean character is not particularly self-aware.  Most of the narrative is setting.  19 lines each are dialogue and action.  So that’s a fairly even balance between the three elements.  And, yes, these two pages were chosen at random.

Adult

The adult novel was a completely different situation.  Action takes up half of the total with 31 lines.  Dialogue?  A scant 9 lines.  The remaining 22 lines are narrative.  Before making any decisions on this book, I’d want to do another random sample to see if it would have more dialogue. Why?  Because it felt like it had more dialogue than this.  That said, it is a book about a vet with PTSD.  She is far from chatty so this might be the rule while the parts I’m remember where the exception.

Whether your novel is a chapter book or an adult novel, it is clear that no single element should take up more than 50% of the total.  What works well for your book will vary with the type of book that you are writing as well as the type of scene. A battle scene will likely have more action than other scenes.  A scene where the sleuth solves the mystery might have more dialogue or narrative.

Still, you obviously can’t have any single element take up more than its fair share of space.  Not if you hope to achieve balance.

–SueBE

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