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Background

I probably am wording this badly and that's why when I searched the site I didn't get an answer. So I was wondering, because the recent totally epic chapter of my masterpiece novel involved quite a lot of talking. Almost the entire chapter was talking.

When I read I see a huge variety of description to talking ratios in books. For example, I know that in Justin Cronin's work there is a lot more description in his talky chapters than say, Stephen Donaldson. This is why I think this is a legitimate question and thing to consider:

  • How do you balance the talking in a chapter?

Currently I'm writing with the philosophy that I should not have things in blocks. For example, a block of description, a block of talking, a block of description. I am trying to spread out my description throughout the talking, in smaller bits.

Question

  • How should you balance the talking in a chapter evenly with description and action?

  • Is there a certain ratio of dialogue:narrative that you should be using?

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    This is a Your Mileage May Vary question. There's no right answer. It depends on the genre, the audience, the scene, the tone, the content, the plot — a dozen things which will change constantly. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Feb 26 '17 at 20:30
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I really think you shouldn't overthink this.

When you want to ride your bike, do you plan beforehand the ratio of breathing to pedalling? I know I'm repeating myself here, and I also know that my view is not very popular with many members of this site, but in my thirty years of writing I have learned that (for me) writing is not declarative but procedural knowledge. Writing hasn't been explained to me, and when I write I do not follow some set of rules. Writing is something that I have learned by doing it, something at which I have gradually gotten better, and when I do it now it comes as natural to me as walking.

What I have been doing all my life – and what I think you would greatly profit from – is just write. If you want to tell a story, write it (or outline it) as it comes to you. Do not judge your writing (or outline). Trust that it will be the story that you need to write at that moment in your life, and that it will be the best story that you are currently capable of.

And then write your next novel or short story or whatever. And like the child learning to walk, you will eventually master the craft.

You will develop a feeling for what you need to do at each moment in your story. Whether you need to write dialog now, or description. It will just feel right. And as Lauren has pointed out: it doesn't matter if other stories are told differently. This is your story. And it will find its own readers, who are different from the readers of those other books, or who will find something different in yours.

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General adivce: Instead of thinking in terms of ratios, think in terms of purpose. Have the narrator describe what characters would not naturally say. Have the characters say what the narrator would not naturally describe.

A literate narrator does not use colloquialisms, and does not hesitiate or become confused. Characters do, when they think or speak.

Example:


It was another dreary winter day on the West Coast, with continual light rain and no sign of a break.

"Aw, bummer," he mumbled.


Note that a character would not say, "It is another dreary day, with continual light rain and no sign of a break." Nobody talks like that. And, no serious narrator would write, "Aw, bummer."

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