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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Wright

Description Versus Dialogue Debate

I recently discovered that in my older pieces of writing, and even in some of my newer stuff, I seem to have had a debate between long (and oftentimes boring) passages of description and intriguing (and far too short) dialogue. Apparently dialogue was always my true strong point. But it was buried, stuffed into the recesses of my stories between blocks of description about… well, mundane things: the weather, passers-by, a tree, the weather, and also, the weather.

Rule of thumb: unless it’s absolutely essential to the scene, the setting, and the overall plot-line, avoid describing the weather in great detail.

In reading and revising an epic fantasy story that I’m sure I began at least a good ten years ago and left alone for several years, I realized that the description-dialogue debate raged, especially in the first few chapters, and dialogue was losing horribly. I imagined it something like this:

Description: Look at me! And look at the sky. The blue sky. The sun is shining in the blue sky, but this afternoon it will rain. Also, there are some fluffy white clouds. Trees sway in the breeze. They sway because it’s breezy.

Dialogue (whispers): Good day, lady.

Description (loudly interrupting): This person has red hair! His eyes dance, and they are blue. He is silly, but he sings well enough. He’s been friends with the protagonist for a long time. So long they don’t even remember when they first met! (Which is code for: the author hasn’t decided yet.)

Dialogue (laughs softly): And how are you, good sir?

Description (interrupting): They wander through the trees. Birds sing! Rodents scatter! The forest isn’t too thick. The stream has grassy banks. There are trees by the creekside. The sky is still blue! These two characters will talk, but we won’t know what they say because I’m the description and I like to be seen! And I’m loud… and somewhat useless at the moment because I’m adding nothing but fluff to this scene. But the white dandelions are quite fluffy and I MUST describe them for you! Okay, they are done talking and we’re moving on. Our protagonists are heading to a party. There’s music and dancing. They dance out on the terrace. The stars twinkle! I especially love it outside when the scene is particularly romantic! Oh, by the way, he almost kissed her.

Dialogue (finally interrupting): Excuse me, Description, but I have something to say that’s important to this story’s plot! I mean, it’s already chapter six and you’ve been blabbing since the beginning. The reader is falling asleep, if they haven’t already put the book away! (Sighs)

I’m not saying that description is bad and dialogue is good, but both have their place and purpose. Well worded and well placed descriptions can set a scene perfectly. Well written dialogue can develop characters and further the plot on its own. Go for a description-dialogue balance when writing stories and enjoy the outcome.

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