14

The participants describe everything needed for the story to continue, within the conversation. The environment, the emotions, everything. The reader gets to "see" it all through their words. Has it been done before?

EDIT: I have written 5 chapters of a dialogue-only book. It started off in the usual format, until I realized that the fact that I have not been to locations will definitely show through. Its fleshed out like conversations between people now, with references to the environment thrown in. What I was looking for were references of books done like that, so I know how to write it in a way that others would ACTUALLY read the book and ENJOY the story. Can anyone give me suggestions of books written in such away? Or can any other writer give me guidance on how to write it this way? Thank you for all that have tried.

  • 3
    Hi Daydah! Welcome to Writing.SE! Please take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're useful for seeing what questions we're best at answering. Your question, as it stands at the moment, is a tad problematic: in effect you're asking for a potentially endless list of examples. That's what's called a "list question", and we tend to frown on those. But there's a good question there: How to write a short story composed of only dialogue.You ask how, people will also provide you with examples. :) – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 21 at 9:50
  • 2
    (Also, if something has never been done, that doesn't mean it can't be done - that means you're going to be the first, and that's awesome. Not the case here, but in general - don't be afraid of breaking new ground.) – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 21 at 9:51
  • 5
    sounds like a play with no stage directions – sesquipedalias Jul 21 at 10:10
  • 2
    Do you want to exclude philosophical dialogues starting with Greek philosophers all the way to E.A.Poe (see Dialogue of Monos and Una)'? – NofP Jul 21 at 12:03
  • 1
    So… a radio play script? – wetcircuit Jul 21 at 13:18
19

The short story Orange by Neil Gaiman, from his collection Trigger Warning takes your idea one step further: it's framed as a subject's responses to an investigator's written questionnaire. The questions aren't even there - only the answers.

It starts:

  1. Jemima Glorfindel Petula Ramsey.

  2. Seventeen on June the ninth.

  3. The last five years. Before that we lived in Glasgow (Scotland). Before that, Cardiff (Wales).

You see how you don't need to see the questions, to know what they are? Not all information needs to be put into words on the page - we are quite good at inferring.

For the "story" itself (since the first questions are more of an introduction, really), here's an example:

  1. About half a metre above the carpet. She'd sink down a bit to go through doors, so she didn't bump her head. And after the hose incident she didn't go back to her room, just stayed in the main room and floated about grumpily, the colour of a luminous carrot.

Again, it is quite easy to infer all the bits that haven't been spelled out for you.


When you're writing, you have to have a very clear idea of the things that you're not putting on the page. If what you're giving the readers is only dialogue, you need to know what's happening, the emotions, etc., and you need to make sure those events and emotions are adequately conveyed by the dialogue, that is - the reader can infer them from the dialogue.

When you want to create suspense, you can hide things by means of the format: your character might respond in surprise to something the reader cannot see. But ultimately, suspense needs to be resolved, the reader must learn what's going on.

@sesquipedalias mentions plays in a comment. That is indeed a useful reference point. In particular, older plays, like Shakespeare, have very little stage directions, except for entrances and exits. Everything that's going on, even the time of day, and most certainly emotions etc., are conveyed by the dialogue itself. There is, however, a big difference: Shakespeare is telling you who is saying what. That's one more bit of information you'll need to convey within the dialogue.

  • Brilliant Galastel! I'm encouraged to press on. Thank you! – Daydah Jul 22 at 10:27
7

A clear-cut example is Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers. It starts like this:

—I did it. You’re really here. An astronaut. Jesus.
—Who’s that?
—You probably have a headache. From the chloroform.
—What? Where am I? Where is this place? Who the fuck are you?
—You don’t recognize me?
—What? No. What is this?
—That? It’s a chain. It’s attached to that post. Don’t pull on it.
—Holy shit. Holy shit.
—I said don’t pull on it. And I have to tell you right away how sorry I am that you’re here under these circumstances.
—Who are you?
—We know each other, Kev. From way back. And I didn’t want to bring you here like this. I mean, I’d rather just grab a beer with you sometime, but you didn’t answer any of my letters and then I saw you were coming through town so—Really, don’t yank on that. You’ll mess up your leg.
—Why the fuck am I here?
—You’re here because I brought you here.
—You did this? You have me chained to a post?
—Isn’t that thing great? I don’t know if you’d call it a post. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly strong. This place came with them. This was a military base, so there are these weird fixtures here and there. That thing you’re chained to can hold ten thousand pounds, and just about every building here has one. Stop pulling on it.
—Help!

  • This is great! Even the lines in front of each part helps to differentiate the speakers. Thanks! @leftaroundabout – Daydah Jul 22 at 10:28
5

They're Made out of Meat by Terry Bisson consists only of dialogue--Specifically, between two aliens who are shocked to find fully organic life (spoiler: it's us). Here are the opening lines:

...

"They're made out of meat."

"Meat?"

"Meat. They're made out of meat."

"Meat?"

"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars."

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."

"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."

...

You can find an audio play version (and an interview with Bisson) here.

  • +1 just for introducing me to this piece of ... non-fiction? :) – I'm with Monica Jul 26 at 12:23
4

It's been done a fair few time, I've written a short story this way myself, over two decades ago mind you. It can be done, my recollection is that it came out pretty stilted but I was only 12 so it could have been worse. The most recent example I can think of is World War Z which, as it is "An oral history of the zombie war", can be considered to be a piece of almost pure dialogue.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.