Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dialogue or Lecture?

Sometimes when a writer wants to give the reader a great deal of information, he/she dumps it all into one long paragraph. Just the sight of the long, solid paragraph is discouraging to readers. Break it up. Use actions on the part of the speaker. Let the other person interrupt with comments or questions. White space is good; it gives the reader the sensation of moving forward at a fast pace.
Meals or a task make good settings for these expository lectures. The dictionary defines exposition as “a statement or rhetorical discourse intended to give information about or an explanation of difficult material.” The reader may need to know it, but he doesn’t need to know it all in one speech.
The following excerpt from Haunting Refrain is an example. The doctor could have given all the information about the patient at once, but breaking it up adds to the reader’s picture and is more interesting.

Kate, breathless, ran in just as the doctor came out to explain Venice's injury and talk with them.
 “She's resting comfortably. She has a concussion, and she’s lost a lot of blood, but the injury isn’t as bad as we first thought. She had her hair pinned up under the wig, and that, with the wig, protected her skull somewhat. It cushioned the blow.” The doctor tapped the back of his head, indicating the location of the injury. “It didn't do nearly as much damage as it might have.”
 “Does that mean she’ll be all right?” Relief brought tears to Kate’s eyes.
 “If we can keep her from getting pneumonia, I think she’ll be back on her feet in a few days. She's conscious, but groggy. She doesn't remember what happened, and I don't want her upset. You can see her, one at a time, for a few minutes, but no questions.”

If I were writing this today, I'd probably break it up more. What do you think? How do you feel about getting information in long paragraphs? Would you prefer to get it over with in a lump or draw it out with a little action or dialogue? Any examples you'd like to share? You can copy them into the comments. 

By the way, a little BSP: Haunting Refrain will be a free Kindle download March 30 and 31 and April 1.


Lev Raphael said...

This is well said and well demonstrated and I'm sharing it with my creative writing students!

Sandy Cody said...

Good question. I prefer dialogue. Listening to the characters speak makes me feel like I'm there, eavesdropping, instead off having a story told to me. However, too much dialogue can seem artificial. I think the writer has to jump in with narrative to keep things moving. It can be a tricky balance. Your excerpt is a nice example.

Ellis Vidler said...

Thank you, Lev. I'm sure your students can improve on it too. Once you get a discussion going, so many good ideas pop up.

Ellis Vidler said...

Sandy, I prefer dialogue too. Lectures don't work for me. The way characters relay information can show a lot about their mood and emotions too. It can give a rich picture.

Polly said...

I've noticed recently that I'm skipping long passages when reading. Even mine, which is an indication to go in there with the scalpel and perform surgery. Maybe it's this fast-paced, instant-everything world we live in that has us short of patience. The facts, ma'am. Just the facts.

Ellis Vidler said...

You're right, Polly. We're all short of time and want everything now--even the answers. Keep it tight and moving forward.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I am a big fan of breaking chunks of information up. I need the white space as a reader and a writer. Perhaps it's a sign of the times. We're all so go-go-go but it is what it is.

Serve up my information with a big hunk of white bread, er, white space.

good post, Ellis!

Ellis Vidler said...

Thanks, Maggie. It is a sign of the times. I consider white space reader-friendly, with my usual maxim--all things in moderation.

Fiona said...

I like white space, I can nap.
Una Tiers

Ellis Vidler said...

Una, I love naps, but I'm inclined to take them during big solid blocks of text. However, if it's slow or boring, any time will do.