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In my novel, the MC is a woman from London who gets divorced and moves to Wales. Here she meets a Buddhist master with whom she has philosophical conversations about Life, Love, Relationships, etc.

I have written the questions she will ask and his answers in a separate Word document. It accounts for 17 pages, about 5800 words in total. The length of the novel I am planning is about 200 pages.

The meeting with the master happens about in the 4th chapter, a little bit after the middle of the novel. So, I am filling the space right in the middle with philosophical lecturing, which will be a little annoying, I guess.

Is there any work-around or alternate way to handle such monologues? Will it make any sense to start two stories at the beginning, separated in time?

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    5800/17 = 340+ words per question/answer pair. Assuming that the questions are the short half of each pairing, it sounds like your Buddhist master is a little wordy. Read some zen parables. Their beauty comes partially from their brevity. I would suggest having the master say less and letting your MC mull over his words to flesh them out in full detail. You might also want to use flashbacks and flash forwards to spread the philosophical conversation across the length of the book. – Henry Taylor Jan 3 at 15:05
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    If the 17-page lecture is good writing, and fits thematically with the story, you don't necessarily have a problem. Readers will accept (and even welcome) an unconventional structural decision, if the whole thing wants to make them keep reading. – user37208 Jan 3 at 18:13
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    For myself as a reader, I hope you indent it all (or use italics), so that it's easy to skip. Just like every poem in every Dragonlance book I've ever read (sorry Mike ;) – Mazura Jan 4 at 1:13
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I would suggest using a variety of methods.

Allow the first conversation to be a bit longer than the rest (do notice the emphasis on the 'a bit'), for two main reasons:

1) You are presenting a new character and it may be best to let the readers make their minds about the character through the dialogue itself

2) Your MC will be making up her mind about the master so let her opinion of him grow through the dialogue (eg., at first she thinks he's weird, then he says something that resonates and, as the dialogue progresses, her opinion evolves and solidifies)

What must NOT be a reason for a longer dialogue is dumping a whole bunch of teachings. A 'master-type' first conversation works best if it

a) teases some important ideas, or

b) gives short, to the point ideas (perhaps cryptic, perhaps blunt).

No preaching (unless you're trying to convert the reader through the MC... and it's still a bad idea).

The following conversations should have a variety of approaches as to avoid boredom:

1) Include the beginning of a dialogue but end the chapter (or scene) shortly afterwards. The main idea of that 'session' should be presented in the beginning and what is cut out is the explaining of details. Later on, there may be actions the MC takes based on what she learnt from this dialogue.

2) During another scene, have the MC remember a particular teaching in flashback and then either apply it or correct something she'd done which had gone against said teaching

3) Start a chapter with the end of a 'session'. You don't even get to 'hear' anything deep from the master, but as the MC leaves, she mulls over some key ideas or quotes

4) The MC is talking to a friend and quotes / paraphrases / explains some key ideas she's learnt from the master. This can also work well if she recalls his exact words and then explains them to the friend. The friend can either agree with the master's wisdom or think it strange and ask the MC if she understood that teaching correctly.

This also allows you to work with a realistic detail: one often misunderstands some things when learning new philosophies. It doesn't have to be a dramatic misunderstanding. It could be something that has her phoning the guy and saying 'does X really means 5y+8 or did I get something wrong'.

5) Have a flashback of part of a dialogue motivate her to go out and do an uplifting activity (from sport to volunteering). This one also shows how the teachings aren't hollow words, but actually help the MC in her personal growth.

You can play with a wide range of variations on the points above. Be creative!


Word of Caution

Keep those dialogues you wrote but do not copy-paste them into the novel. Work through them.

For the first dialogue, do your best to make the master's lines simple, short and to the point (or cryptic, but still simple and short).

Whenever you're going through actual dialogues, make sure it doesn't sound like a stilted schoolbook. Have some phrases and expressions make them sound like actual people, even if that means giving them spoken ticks (maybe the MC says 'OMG' for anything out of the ordinary or simply has the habit of scratching her earlobe when she's impatient).

Do your best to include the environment in the narration in between dialogues and let actions be part of it too, whether they're the MC's and the master's or of random nameless characters going by. This takes the focus solely from the dialogue and let's the readers enjoy what surrounds them. Above all, it diminishes the feel of 'info dump'.

His gaze got lost in the horizon.

"Most people talk about time like..."

A group of young men ran by, their feet lifting sand up energetically as they raced each other almost violently, some screaming obscenities, before diving into the gently breaking waves.

"People are so rude!" She grumbled, nearly revolted.

"No, no! That's precisely what I was talking about. Look." He picked up a handful of sand and slowly let it slide down till there was nothing left. "This is how everyone describes time. But did you see how the sand jumped when those youths ran by? That is how time really works. It is fast and lively when you act, but lies listlessly in the face of inaction."

She frowned but didn't say she hadn't followed his drift. He kept on talking about time for nearly half an hour but she barely heard him. They were beyond her, those images and parables. It wasn't until she got home and was impatiently waiting for the water to come to a boil that it finally clicked. Those 20 seconds she had stood by the cooker, waiting, had felt so much longer than the 10 minutes she'd spent folding the clothes she'd left drying.

  • +1 for skipping the actual explanation of the teaching and let the reader discover it with the mc. That's a great writing advice. – NofP Jan 3 at 19:35
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I don't think there IS a good way to handle a lengthy monologue. Agents and publishers will reject them out of hand, or demand they be changed. Readers are looking to be entertained, not read a lecture.

The Answer is to Imagine More, and Write More.

Basically, beginning writers are often lazy. They want to deliver a message, or build their world, or describe a character's background, or talk about how the culture works or an abusive parent screwed up a character's psychology, so they just dump it on the page: Resulting in big blocks of bland text that create a huge memory load for the reader to digest, and nobody wants to plow through it.

There is nothing wrong with having a philosophical message in your writing, but a monologue is just plain boring. There is no conflict or action, and THOSE are what readers find entertaining.

So your best bet is to deliver this stuff, not in a monologue, but an argument with the student disagreeing, misunderstanding, failing to answer questions correctly, or whatever. It is also best to avoid two talking heads: Have this conversation while DOING something that can be described. Cleaning house, exercising, sparring, walking, shopping, cooking, gardening or harvesting.

Don't make your master so certain or just a delivery mechanism for a canned philosophy: Have him respond specifically to the student's questions.

Have the student misunderstand and the master rephrase or simplify or lengthen the answer.

Make him a teacher that wants the student to understand the lesson.

Have the master ask open-ended questions of the student to learn their background or a source of their misunderstanding, so the student gives a long answer. Make the student a puzzle for the master to solve.

In short, to be a commercial success or at least fun to read, we must break up large blocks of exposition or monologue by introducing conflict that keeps the reader interested. This doesn't have to be a fight, just events and mental states (every 100 to 200 words) that keep the monologue from progressing smoothly.

This will inevitably make the monologue significantly longer, even two or three times as long. That is appropriate, long monologues are usually an indication of a severely under-imagined scene; and it is the job of the writer to assist the imagination of the reader. Always remember, readers do not mind reading as long as the reading is interesting, and one of the things that makes it interesting is conflict.

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Philosophy and religion can be beautiful. Khalil Gibran uses strong imagery and beautiful turns of phrase in his Prophet series and the whole thing is a series of conversations. Plato’s Dialogues are a thing of beauty and a joy to read.

Remember, it is a conversation. Your character can misunderstand and need to rephrase things. Buddhism is complex and nuanced and quite different from what she probably accepted as her personal philosophy. The idea that this Master has chosen to postpone enlightenment so he can teach will probably puzzle her.

I was thinking more of Mahayana Buddhism than Zen. My character, were I to write one, would be a warm person who knows that there is no difference between the woman sitting at his feet and him but the illusion of self. He would use humour to illustrate his points and let her find her true path.

The idea of self, so strong in Western philosophy, is absent here and this will be the hardest thing for her to grasp. She is on a journey to improve her self and meets a man who tells her all is illusion and fallacy. Her pain and sorrow all illusions and she and her ex husband are one since all are one. She won’t like what she hears, won’t understand much either at first.

Let it grow and flow using the personality of both master and student to influence its path. Questions that seem bizarre can be a part of it. The impossibility of crossing the same river twice comes to mind.

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There are many novels with lots of philosophizing, and the other answers have pointed out some methods to include it without boring the reader, but often when I read I find that much of the philosophizing I encounter does not add anything to the story, and when I disagree with the author's position too often, the ongoing irritation can make me stop read a book.

John Grisham has explained that he avoids alienating readers by keeping his novels inoffensive and excluding controversial topics. Research has found that most bestsellers avoid difficult themes such as politics or religion or deal with them only generally and without taking a stance.

Everyone likes to read about problems in love and escaping a murderer, but few people like to read about a political opinion that differs from their own.

Therefore:

1. Avoid controversial topics

2. Don't try to convince the reader of your beliefs

3. Delete everything that doesn't advance the plot*

* or more accurately: everything that breaks the regular rhythm of alternating action and respite

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    Would you care to elaborate on your downvote? – user34178 Jan 5 at 9:01

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