My question is pretty much summed up in the title. My story includes a lot of narration. Narrating events, narrating character's thoughts. There are several intervals in each chapter where the characters engage dialogue, but most of the story telling is done through narration.
How viable is this for writing an enjoyable story?
Edit: just to clarify what "too much" means, there is generally more narration than actual dialogue.

  • Amadeus said what I would have regarding the reader. Regarding the writers - most will likely tell you that showing is better (and in most cases I would agree), but if massive amounts of narration is what works best for your story, then go with it. Story takes precedence over 'show don't tell'. Dec 17 '17 at 0:45
  • What is the usual proportion between dialogue and "narration" in non-theatrical fiction? My gut feeling is that it is under 20%, probably around 10%. What is that proportion in your work? Dec 17 '17 at 13:40

I don't think this balance matters terribly much.

The more critical measure is whether there is tension due to conflict. If your narration is describing a battle, for example, it can go on for pages without any dialogue. If your narration is describing people at high risk (trying to infiltrate a lair, for example) it can go on for pages.

It is tension that keeps readers turning pages to find out what happens on the next page. The tension is usually caused by conflict, but can also be caused by novelty. Like a character seeing something for the first time, that the reader also finds captivating. A giant alien space station or something. A living dinosaur.

It is easier to create tension in dialogue than in narration, just because the speakers can disagree, misunderstand, get confused or angry or resistant.

Thus a story that is mostly narration is more difficult for the writer to keep interesting, and you risk people getting bored or fatigued by the amount of information they are given without anything happening in the story with the characters. But if you can craft your narrations to engage people's imagination and give them a simulated imaginary "experience" then your story can be fine.

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    My first thought upon reading the OP was, 'it's viable if there's tension'. So +1 for taking the words right out of my mouth. I would also like to add that in the absence of conflict, questions are the best source of tension I know of. If your reader both doesn't know something and feels compelled to find the answer, he will read on. This is the whole principle behind opening hooks. Dec 17 '17 at 0:43
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    @ThomasMyron I agree open questions create tension, but they don't automatically save pages of exposition. I do want to know who killed Karen, but if I encounter a page about the inner workings of stock option strategies, I might flip through the next ten pages of that to get back to for God's sake who killed Karen. The exposition must do something to tease the question and have characters trying to build toward an answer.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 17 '17 at 1:22
  • Well yes. I ... don't believe I said they save pages of exposition. :) Dec 17 '17 at 2:05
  • @ThomasMyron You did not, I wasn't writing a criticism for you, so apologies if I was not clear. I was writing a clarification and warning for other writers (and the OP) that might think having a big open question will immunize them and create room for a few pages of philosophical or pedantic no-tension explanations or narration.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 17 '17 at 13:26

I like good narration and am annoyed by too much pointless dialog.

Actually, the dialog does not even need to be pointless. I become annoyed by dialog.

So, as a reader, to answer your question, there is no such thing as "too much narration." But there is, to this reader, such a thing as "too much dialog."

In my critique groups, I see some writers relying super - heavily on dialog. This is presumably because it is in some ways easier to write. (It is also harder to write well, in other ways.)

I believe many find it straightforward to type out a conversation, whereas describing an imaginary scene/setting requires, well, imagination and language. So, I have seen some writers relying heavily on dialog, and what ends up happening is the conversation is not well - anchored within a setting, and also the nuances of the conversation (the shading of words or stances of the people or contextual thoughts or subtext) are lost. I think some writers feel that the 'quick pacing' that they achieve from a crisp dialog and the 'all important white space' that one sees touted, are the goal.

The goal is a good story! Not speed and white space.


I had actually read statistics on this ratio for fantasy books some months ago.

Density: One way in which these books differ significantly from one another is in the proportion of narration to dialogue. The texts of the majority of titles are less than 50% dialogue, ranging from a low, narrative-heavy score of 13% dialogue for The Wizard of Earthsea, to a much chattier 37% dialogue in The Final Empire (Mistborn #1). But the real odd-balls are Santiago, which is 59% dialogue, and The Last Unicorn, which scores a whopping 63% talky-talk. These two outliers seem so at odds with the rest of the group that I had to go into the text and examine it myself, to be sure that there wasn’t some kind of bug in my analysis tool, but my visual inspection did reveal an awful lot of dialogue in these two books.


Second Edit: Are you actually asking about whether it is OK to have info-dumps? because that is a separate question but some conflate it with narration.

  • As someone with the opposite problem as the original post, I'm tempted to ask the reverse question, what to do with excess dialogue and when I should replace sections of dialogue with narration. As a novice, it is really hard to tell, because when I see a scene in my head, it's the dialog that comes the strongest. The scenery and other details I tend to forget or not see as vividly as I go to write it.
    – BugFolk
    Dec 18 '17 at 16:05
  • @BugFolk I'm novice too and not even certain if I'm doing my narrator consistently through my novel. I counted a chapter yesterday and am at ~30% dialog in that chapter. I don't think you need to replace dialog with narration, but narration gives some 'old brains' like mine a rest. As an aspiring fiction writer I'm playing with the 'commentator' type of 3rd person narration at this link:bekindrewrite.com/2011/09/09/… Additionally, I'm trying to identify all the types of things a narrator can add. Tags, description, etc.
    – DPT
    Dec 18 '17 at 17:00
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    The wake up call for me was when my friend told me "Needs more internal dialogue". I'm like oh crap, they aren't the POV how am I to do that? Well I then brainstormed, came back into inserting flashbacks (yes I dreaded it at first "knowing" that they are kind of taboo) and then doing kind of a 1st person omnipresent with my narrator (essentially he's breaking the 4th wall watching the story as we are and making occasional commentary directly to the reader. Works really well otherwise his "bug world" leaves a lot of confusion for readers not into their world.)
    – BugFolk
    Dec 18 '17 at 17:07
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    So yeah having my narrator read into the other characters thoughts is kind of odd, but presents a fun angle to approach with my rough draft. Adding the characters thoughts also helps tie in some of the dialogue that seemed out of place and out of character. I'm not sure how much of it will make it to the next draft, but I found rereading what I got more engaging than I had before. Still very dialogue heavy though. Ugh. And I have to separate between narrator now vs. narrator at age 5. Narrator now: Omnipresent. Narrator age 5: 1st person limited.
    – BugFolk
    Dec 18 '17 at 17:09
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    I get the feeling this may be a very tricky type of narration to write. I may be making a lot of work for myself later, but it so far is what feels the best for what I'm trying to write. It helps make exposition more engaging. Helps a lot this is a fantasy type story and I set the opening scene right before the destruction of their world, so he's essentially seeing a replaying of his life (and glimpses of others who matter) and given (limited) chances to alter it in hopes he can change the fate of his world and their future. Having him participate and speak directly to the reader at times,
    – BugFolk
    Dec 18 '17 at 17:22

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