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I'm starting my story with my protagonist found (by the police), bleeding at a crime scene. When he wakes up, he has no recollection i.e. he's lost his memory. He's interrogated by two Inspectors, but as he doesn't remember anything, it's mostly a one-sided conversation with the Inspectors essentially describing the crime scene.

My Question: How can I avoid such long 'walls' of one-sided dialogue and make the description more interesting for the reader?

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    How do you plan to handle the POV within the scene? – wetcircuit Mar 12 '18 at 12:02
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    Active crime scene and he's bleeding out and you're wondering how you're going to break up dialog? Let me say that again... Active crime scene and he's bleeding out. At that point, I'd be wondering how to fit the dialog into all the juicy storytelling going on! – corsiKa Mar 12 '18 at 15:15
  • @wetcircuit It's from my protagonist's POV – Adi219 Mar 12 '18 at 15:54
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    Oh! Haha, I'm just picturing these two cops grilling the guy while the medics are still going to work on him. Or they're doing one of those "Oh, you want some painkillers? We got 'em right here, ya see? Now start talkin'." – corsiKa Mar 12 '18 at 15:58
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    Don't take for granted that a wall of dialogue is worse than long descriptions. Dialogue can be excellent, and a novel can be made with almost all dialogue, if you want :) – FraEnrico Mar 12 '18 at 16:24
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Add setting, emotions, hesitations, frustrations, and interruptions and questions.

To me (and IMO) a wall of dialogue is typically an under-imagined scene, and it needs to be longer.

What is your character seeing of the setting?
What about in the detectives?
What does he disagree with?
Why is he so passively listening to this stuff, why isn't he interrupting and interrogating his interrogators?
Why aren't they getting frustrated and angry with him, and telling him to quit asking questions?
Why doesn't he have any difficulty imagining what they claim?
Why doesn't he fear being a suspect in some heinous crime?
Why does he trust these detectives?
Do they ever gesture? Get up? Sit down? Shift? Or are they all just disembodied talking heads?
What does their body language tell the MC?

Walls of dialogue, like every other scene in your book, need a healthy dose of conflict to remain interesting. In conversation, conflict is generally verbal and emotionally expressive, to convey disagreement, grief, confusion, withdrawal, hurt, anger, humor, sarcasm.

Even in this, you want to Show, not Tell. Telling is reciting facts, Showing is describing a character's reaction to facts, the consequence of learning this new information, how it affects them.

Remember your job, as an author, is to assist the imagination of the reader and keep it as close to what you imagine as you reasonably can. You can't assist them if you have not fully imagined this scene yourself! Your job is not to just convey "information" about the setting, you must give the reader the experience of waking up disoriented in a hospital room not knowing WTF happened, and then being interrogated by police officers that are guarded and may think you are a criminal or killer, so whether they are hostile or not they feel hostile to you.

Imagine your scene and your characters better. This will break up the dialogue, it may even triple the length of the scene, but readers don't care about that! As long as you keep feeding them morsels of conflict and feelings, of thrust and parry in this conversation, they will keep reading.

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    Excellent advice. You want the reader to feel what the character is feeling (usually, there are always exceptions of course), so even if you're just talking about their physical responses to the interrogation, that's good enough. Chuck Palahniuk has a piece of advice related to this (I'm probably getting it slightly wrong, but this is the gist): "When you're not sure what to do, talk about the inside of your character's mouth." – thanby Mar 12 '18 at 18:01
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How can I avoid such long 'walls' of one-sided dialogue...

You don't need to. My writing style is naturally very conversational, especially in my more "slice-of-life"-esque stories: characters will sit/stand around talking to each other for pages at a time. One of them has a character deliver an expository infodump that goes on for about three pages.

There are two tricks I use to avoid these becoming boring:

  1. You've said that the protagonist doesn't talk much in that scene, but that doesn't mean he has to just sit there being talked to. Have him react to the situation - if not verbally, then physically or internally. Have him react to what they say, and what they ask. If they refuse to believe that he really doesn't remember anything, have him grow frustrated. Have him worry about his injuries and his memory loss, and wonder how they happened. Is he in pain? Have him press his morphine button - unless the interrogators are particularly sadistic and take it away from him.
  2. Make sure that what's being said is actually interesting. Your characters are real people with real personalities, whom your readers have never met before. Introduce them. Make sure their personalities come across in that opening scene. Are the cops grizzled and hard-boiled? Are they sympathetic towards the protagonist? How do they react to his claims of amnesia? How well do they get along with each other? Maybe one believes him and one doesn't? Your characters should reveal as much about themselves in that opening scene as they should about the protagonist's situation.
4

Depending on your narrator you could for example have the protagonist react to the questions with inner monologue instead of external dialogue. If the inspectors ask him "What's your name?" he could start to think "That's a good question. I have no idea. But will they believe me? I probably wouldn't believe myself. Was it something with a 'J'? Or a 'G'?". You could also have the inspectors ask him again if he hasn't responded for some time.

This allows you to switch between the external dialogue and inner monologue to make the scene more varied. The inner monologue could also be used to simply analyze his surroundings or to think about the last few hours he can remember.

If you are writing from the perspective of one of the inspector's you could do a similar thing by having him analyze your protagonists facial expressions, posture, gestures, clothes... to find clues that would help him find out what is going on and whether the protagonist is telling the truth.

If you narrator is omniscient you could explain some things from all of the peoples perspectives and add a few remarks or hints about things they may not know yet - or not anymore.

In any case you should think about what the people are doing. A dialogue,e specially an interrogation, is not a sterile environment where nothing happens and a few puppets are talking to each other. There are people, emotions, reactions - things that can be seen and that can be analyzed. To avoid long walls of one-sided dialogue try to embrace the silence.

Embracing the silence is extremely difficult for many people - which is why it's important in dialogue to know when to give the other one room. Your inspectors will not constantly bombard your protagonist - they will ask him a question and then wait. And if nothing happens they will ask again. Perhaps not so nice anymore. And they will circle back to a topic after making a bit of smalltalk. They know when to wait for the reply and they have the required patience - they have aaaaaaaaaaaaall day for this. And this silence can be filled with descriptions of the people, the room, their thoughts, their memories, ...

3

Focusing on your question should help us get to the root of what you're really struggling with.

How can I avoid such long 'walls' of one-sided dialogue and make the description more interesting for the reader?

Wall of Dialogue May Not Be A Problem

Most readers will pick up a novel and scan pages for white-space breaks and quote marks in an attempt to see how much dialogue happens in a book to determine if they want to read it. So, walls of dialogue probably are not really a problem.

Especially if you consider some great writing (along your same genre) like Robert B. Parker's Now & Then (amazon link) : This is an excerpt of the very first page and it has a "wall of dialogue" but it is fantastic writing.

He came into my office carrying a thin briefcase under his left arm. He was wearing a dark suit and a white shirt with a red-and-blue-striped tie. His red hair was cut very short. He had a thin, sharp face. He closed the door carefully behind him and turned and gave me the hard eye.

“You Spenser?” he said.

“And proud of it,” I said.

He looked at me aggressively and didn't say anything.

I smiled pleasantly. “Are you being a wise guy?” he said.

“Only for a second,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“I don't like this,” he said.

“Well,” I said. “It's a start.”

“I don't like funny either,” he said.

“Then we should do great,” I said.

“My name is Dennis Doherty,” he said.

“I love alliteration,” I said.

"What?”

“There I go again,” I said.

“Listen pal. You don't want my business, just say so.”

“I don't want your business,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. He stood and walked toward my door. He opened it and stopped and turned around. “I came on a little strong,” he said.

“I noticed that,” I said. “Lemme start over,” Doherty said.

I nodded. “Try not to frighten me,” I said.

He closed the door and came back and sat in one of the chairs in front of my desk. He looked at me for a time. No aggression. Just taking notice.

“You ever box,” he said.

I nodded. “The nose?” I said.

“More around the eyes,” Doherty said.

“Observant,” I said. “The nose has been broken,” Doherty said. “I can see that. But it's not flattened.”

“I retired before it got flat,” I said. Doherty nodded. He looked at the picture of Susan on my desk.

Let The Scene Play Out

Why not just let the scene play out? Just imagine the scene as it happens and provide the necessary details which hook the readers into what you (the author) understand to be important in the scene.

Try not to judge your writing from the viewpoint of

  • Oh, that's too much dialogue

and instead, switch your requirement to

  • Am I telling the story clearly enough that the reader can "see it happen before her eyes"?

You can see in the excerpt, Parker gives a very brief intro and then lets the action play out in the interaction of the two characters in their dialogue. That's what makes the scene feel real.

Let the characters interact and allow them to point out what seems to be important.

Be A News Reporter Try this. Watch the scene play out in your mind. Then simply journal what you see the characters doing and saying. Just as if you are a news reporter. Allow the characters to talk and interact and then capture what they say and what they do.

Most importantly: Make sure they don't just say things to tell the reader. Make sure they interact with each other. Build tension. Make the detectives annoyed when your main character doesn't know or remember. Make the main character annoyed that they are pressing him so hard and making him seem like a liar. Out of that tension the story will build and the natural descriptions will arise.

  • Just to clarify, when I refer to 'walls of text', I mean that it's basically a long (mostly) one-sided conversation with the Inspectors speaking like 90% of the time (to set the scene) (in your example, it's a bidirectional coversation which isn't really similar to what I have in mind). – Adi219 Mar 12 '18 at 13:28
  • @Adi219 said, "one-sided conversation with the Inspectors speaking like 90% of the time..." Does that happen in real life? Well, if it does everyone else walks out of the room because the person is entirely absorbed with himself and no one else is interested. The analog might be like writing a story where there is only one character in the entire story. That's possible, and has been done, but doesn't often hold readers' attention very well. That's why most stories with heros have side-kicks -- so the hero has someone to bounce her ideas off of. – raddevus Mar 12 '18 at 13:32
  • My conversation is essentially an interrogation, but since my protagonist can't remember anything, it's essentially just the Inspectors telling my protagonist what happened and my protagonist saying he doesnt remember anything – Adi219 Mar 12 '18 at 13:39
  • A one-sided conversation doesnt necessarily mean that the person is talking to themself, the person could be talking to others but theyre doing most of the talking (you didn't quote the '(mostly)' before your quote) – Adi219 Mar 12 '18 at 13:40
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    Many, many works of art are commercially successful for reasons not related to their quality of craft. If the question were about how to write a bestseller, the excerpt would be a great example of what kinds of writing, though not great, would not prevent a book from being a bestseller if it appeals to the right audience in the right ways. Commercial success is certainly valuable and not to be taken lightly, but neither is it indicative of quality all by itself. – Todd Wilcox Mar 12 '18 at 15:43
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OK, this answer is a little different but may be part of your solution. :-)

Question:

How to avoid pages of dialogue?

Answer:

Get off the internet, nail your butt to the chair, and start breaking up your dialog.

  1. backstory
  2. internal reaction
  3. setting (<- in general I vote for this one. Make reader feel the slippery blood, taste the blood, the pads on the chest, the bruises on the head, see the room, the smells,the antiseptic, the evaporation of the alcohol on the skin, all of it.)

(I need to follow my own advice and do more of this.)

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    Don't worry, it's helpful 😀 – Adi219 Mar 12 '18 at 16:33

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