I am in the process of writing a novel made consisting of a series of 'real time' scenes with heavy usage of dialogues and some narration. Some scenes are more heavy on dialogues than others. Is it possible for a book to have a narration styles that goes like:

A meeting was held in Tom's house. The sky was blue, etc, etc.


I am against the plan


I am with the plan.

A few moments later, everyone left the room. Tom murmured: "Everything is over".

What I am trying to achieve is to avoid the use of "he said, he murmured" etc when the dialogue is too heavy, and when there are more than two persons involved in the dialogue (otherwise, I would simply not state who is speaking), and to adopt a theater narration style, if the term is right.

What do you think? Will the book feel too weird to read?

  • The book Changing Places by David Lodge, has six sections, each of which has a different narrative style From the web: "Ending – describing how the two professors and their wives converge on New York for a summit conference about their marriages – is cast in the form of a movie screenplay (cut to… close up of… sound effect… etc)." So it's been done in.a critically acclaimed book that was well-liked by the public. (Although this case had the other trappings of a movie script, which might have made it more acceptable.) Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 15:04
  • There's a version of the Bible called The Voice that combines narration with playbook-style dialogue. You can read it on BibleGateway to get a feel for how well it works (or doesn't).
    – DLosc
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 17:25

2 Answers 2


Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law applies equally to writers as it does to devotees of Alister Crowley's hermeticism. You just have to live with the consequences

I think your desire to minimize the use of dialogue tags is a good instinct. Using them just often enough to identify speakers having a conversation. In your example with two speakers, once that pattern of who is speaking and who is replying is established, then said tags aren't needed. You might pepper them in if the dialogue goes on for pages, to remind the reader. How often is a bit of a judgement call.

You can also have characters address each other by name. That also works well in small doses.

If you are borrowing the format used in scripts for identifying the speaker -- as suggested by your example -- then I'd suspect you will find it is not effective in prose. That is because actors interpret the script/play/scene for the audience. In prose -- novels, short stories, etc. -- the reader is the interpreter.

The goal of prose is to use a style that is immersive and gets the reader's imagination to visualize and experience the setting and actions and emotions being shared in the story. To that goal, said tags become invisible to the reader -- as long as they aren't over used. Said tags on every line of dialogue for pages and pages is very evident and distracting. But, at the start of dialogue and occasionally in the middle is very normal and our brains filter it out.

Another element that makes for effective scene writing are action beats mixed with the dialogue For example - "I'm at a loss for words." Tom shrugged, dipping his doughnut into his coffee.

But action beats can also be used to express the other character's reaction to a character's dialogue like Tom said, "Jenny, I love you." Jenny recoiled in obvious disgust.


Yes, it is certainly possible to do this. In fact, you're not the first author to do so although from the sounds of things you may be mixing it up a lot more than previous attempts have done.

The most famous example is probably James Joyce's Ulysses which adopts wildly different narrative techniques between chapters. One of them, chapter 15, is written entirely as a stage play, complete with directions.

(Stephen, flourishing the ashplant in his left hand, chants with joy the introit for paschal time. Lynch, his jockeycap low on his brow, attends him, a sneer of discontent wrinkling his face.)
STEPHEN: Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a latere dextro. Alleluia.
(The famished snaggletusks of an elderly bawd protrude from a doorway.)
THE BAWD: (Her voice whispering huskily.) Sst! Come here till I tell you. Maidenhead inside. Sst!
STEPHEN: (Altius aliquantulum.) Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista.
THE BAWD: (Spits in their trail her jet of venom.) Trinity medicals. Fallopian tube. All prick and no pence.

And so on. Some of it is written in rather more accessible language than the above sample from the beginning of the chapter. In fact, a play based on the chapter, Ulysses in Night-town, was performed on broadway in the 1970s.

You may also be interested in chapter 17 which takes the form of a series of questions and answers, since stylistically this bears a vague similarly to the dialogue prompts of a play:

What act did Bloom make on their arrival at their destination?
At the housesteps of the 4th of the equidifferent uneven numbers, number 7 Eccles street, he inserted his hand mechanically into the back pocket of his trousers to obtain his latchkey.

There are also snippets of stage directions and other theatrical paraphernalia, in a rather more limited form, in another famously difficult novel, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

—(Quietly) It’s been a prevalent notion

So the short answer is: yes, it is possible to mix narration styles within the same work. Ulysses is one of the most famous and lauded books in English literature partly because it makes such varied use of narrative styles.

However, you do need to be aware of what you're doing and who you're aiming your writing at. Joyce was making a self-conscious decision to push the boundaries of what a writer could do with the form of the novel and the results are often quite impenetrable to the casual reader. It's not a book you can just pick up and appreciate for its exciting narrative flow.

He also adopted these various forms for good reason. He used the play format because he wanted, in this chapter, to produce a hallucinatory effect in which reality and his character's internal imaginings blend into nightmarish scenes. He felt, given the more realistic approach taken in the rest of the novel, that simply writing it as a narrative would be too jarring.

If you switch between a free-flowing narrative and theatrical lines inside the same text, you'll be forcing the reader to stop and re-examine what you've written. This kind of coming up short can be a very powerful technique to signpost the reader at areas of the text you want them to consider more carefully. If you use it throughout a work, they'll likely do this at first, then eventually get used to it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.