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Revision Fridays: Balancing Action, Narrative, Dialogue

While doing revisions, one of the first things to do is to check if there is a balance between Action, Narrative, and Dialogue.
Too much Action and you sacrifice characterization and setting, making it a shell of a story with stick characters.
Too much Narrative means you have slowed the pace down.
Too much Dialogue will tire the reader.
There are exceptions to these, depending on the demands of the story, but in most cases a good ratio of all of these would hold up a story, and the reader’s interest.
Gloria Kempton suggests a beautiful balance of the three, by making each do a double duty:
There are no hard-and-fast rules about when and when not to blend dialogue, action and narrative. To weave them together well is to find your story’s rhythm. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself about your story, especially in the rewrite stage, that can help you know which elements are most effective for a particular scene, and which might be better used elsewhere.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)
  • Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)
  • Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative.)
  • Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds? (Use narrative.)
  • Likewise, are my characters alone in their heads when my characters in conversation would be more effective and lively? (Use dialogue.)
  • Is my story top-heavy in any way at allโ€”too much dialogue, too much narrative or too much action? (Insert more of the elements that are missing.)
  • Are my characters providing too many background details as they’re talking to each other?
  • (Use narrative.)

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements are doing double duty by revealing our characters’ motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural and authentic, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives.

And to understand a character’s motive is to understand the character.

To read the entire article, go here.
Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Donna Hole says:

    So hard to find the correct balance. I feel like my real writing starts during revision though.

    BTW: thanks for the clue ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Madeleine says:

    Great pointers there. Sometimes authors can use dialogue too much as exposition and I've been guilty of not putting in enough dialogue which i have begun to address :O)

  • Madeline says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I'll be honest, I've never really thought of this before. This will be something to keep in mind during my revisions. ๐Ÿ˜€