There’s nothing wrong with dialogue

You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time… unless you’re a writer. Maybe other things too, but I’m interested in talking about writing here. With it, you can’t ever please anybody all of the time. Someone’s always going to object.

Something I’ve noticed a lot of recently are critiques about dialogue that is hard to keep track of. “Too much talking, too little action,” or “I can’t keep track of who’s speaking”.

Well, let me, as a person who has written a little and read a whole lot, reassure you as a writer that this is all hogwash. Use your quotation marks correctly and you, sir, may sleep soundly at night, secure in the fact that you’ve done justice to the flow of your dialogue.

I present in my favor two pieces of writing that are roundly praised as being superb pieces of fiction and characterization, and which consist of at least 90% dialogue with precious few prompts. These wouldn’t be praised if they were badly written. They aren’t badly written. They are two sublime pieces of writing which are sometimes called perfect pieces of writing.

First: Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. Sometimes called the perfect short story.

Second: the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. When people name a perfect novel they usually go for The Great Gatsby or Lolita, but Jane Austen is the master of dialogue, the standard against which all other writers are measured, and just look at how few prompts are used.

Now. Both of these are great pieces of writing because you don’t need prompts to know who’s speaking. The characters are so well-differentiated that you know exactly who’s said what based on the content of the quotations. That is the craft of it. That is the art of it.

Use of quotation marks isn’t.


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