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In the book I am writing, I have ran into a small problem. One character is retelling an event to a different character, but It's a somewhat longer explanation than I thought it would be. I'm happy with the actual content of the explanation, but looking at it, I see that it takes up quite a bit of space (350 word count) of just one character talking. It is useful to my storyline - but I don't want to bore the reader or make an unnaturally long quote. Should/How can I break up the quote?.

BTW, my question is not how to break the quote up into different paragraphs like this question, but how to break it up with other dialogue, action, etc. to make it more natural and flowing.

Thank you!

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Simple Descriptions:

So you have a person giving this long quote. Continuous talking sounds boring to you - fair. But it is a person talking, so what do people do in a long speech? They clear their throat. They cough. They have a drink of water. If you have particular qualities to the speaker, you can use one of them to remind the reader that it's them, not you speaking, like:

Andrew paused, coughing up into his handkerchief. "Damn TB. So where was I? Oh, yeah."

So use little story color reminders about what else is going on in the 'real' imaginary world. Never miss a chance to integrate a little color.

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If the text in question is actually exposition trying to sneak into the story as dialogue, then strongly consider cutting it. If both characters in the scene understand what is being discussed, then its purpose in the story is to inform the reader.

If one or more of the characters in the scene, don't know the information in the monologue then I can think of two methods, they are kind of similar.

One method is to turn it into a frame, embed a little story in a bigger story. The novel Frankenstein uses this method.

If the character monologue is about the experiences of the character that is talking, you can use a time shift, and move the entire story back to that moment in the character's life, and tell that story, then bring the story back to the moment. Use of an anchor, such as drinking from a glass of beer, can be used to set the current time frame to let you come in and out multiple times if you wish, letting other character's interrupt the telling of the story.

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  • Good answer, but not quite relevant to me. In my book, Character 1 is explaining what happened in a scene That I've Already Written, to Character 2 (who was not at the previous scene). However, the already written scene is told from Character 3, but Character 1 was at the scene with Character 3 and is retelling it from his perspective to Character 2. And, it's not long enough of a monologue to be a separate chapter. And I can't time shift, because it would be repetitive because I've already written it from Character 3's perspective - but it's important that Character 2 knows what happened.
    – Nai45
    Dec 7 '20 at 17:23
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    @Ian54 If the reader has already experienced the story, won't it be boring to hear it retold in different words? You mght even be able to skip most of the monologue, just include enough to make clear that character 2 now understands the situation.
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 7 '20 at 19:10
  • @Llewellyn That's true, but this is in the first couple chapters of the book - and this monologue will help show how Character 1 reacts to situations and his basic character traits.
    – Nai45
    Dec 7 '20 at 20:22
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    @lan54, I’d think that the change in perspective of the event might be enough to keep it fresh, especially if the new view point character really adds something to the interpretation of events that the reader already knows. The famous story Rashamon uses this to great effect
    – EDL
    Dec 8 '20 at 3:56
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    I agree that the value is telling the store to 2 from 3's perspective is to show.how it differs from the first chapter. Otherwise, the narrator just says something like: While 3 and 2 walked back to the camp, 3 filled 2 in on the day's events. The value is in how the story changes. The reader will be intrigued by an early difference, and they stay glued to the retelling. If it is really the "same:, where the differences don't drive the story, then don't consume the reader's time.
    – cmm
    Dec 9 '20 at 3:01
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Yes. Instinctively, more than a page of unbroken monologue seems a bit long.

As has been mentioned, it's usually a good idea to keep the reader in the situation, and aware of the characters by mixing dialog with action (even if it's just a suppressed yawn ;-).

How about adding a confidante that this character can have a dialog with? I find it very helpful and it's been done so much in literature and drama it would probably have been a cliché had it not had so many possible combinations.

Or, since you're retelling an event, try with a short flashback? It would go something like:

I told him about that early spring morning. My aunt had returned from Lissabon.

"Hey, there, squirt," she said.

Yes, it might double in size or more, and it would, of course, be better to make it into present action, but if you can't, a flashback might help.

Another variant, if you already have lots of action and showing going on, is to simply tell it as in: "I told him about that early spring morning and the boats and the goats and everything else and so on and so forth..."

By telling, you might be able to cut it down some, or a lot.

Or, an exercise:

Take a piece of writing you really like. For instance a dialog between two or more characters and remake it into a single character's monologue. Then compare the original and the monologue. You might get some hints.

(I actually tried to do the same with a piece from my WIP as an example but 1, it's not in English and Google Translate still sucks, and 2 it's unpolished, and 3, the monologue looked more like an insult to the original and that wasn't really what I wanted to say...)

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