Narrative in fiction is often necessary to describe the scene, reflect the tone of characters, or relate a back story. Some writers, however, tend to use narrative to “preach” about an issue, be it politics, religion, saving the environment, or what ever. I prefer to hear the characters say these things since it is more personal and therefore more interesting and entertaining. I often find myself reading the first sentence of a paragraph, think still preaching, and skip to the next paragraph.
I prefer to hear a character telling his new love about his terrible childhood and how Preacher Jones turned him around, told in slang and full of contractions, instead of having the narrator tell me about in proper English.
That’s not to say that great writing has to be written in all dialogue. It’s been years since I read The Old Man and the Sea, but I recall it was largely in narrative. But, it takes a great writer like Hemmingway to pull that off.
I wrote that paragraph and broke for lunch and opened the thriller I’m currently reading (at the suggestion from a friend.) The author immediately went into a diatribe about the evils of the Federal Reserve. The interesting part was it was all written in dialogue, as a teacher to a student with little side comments by the two characters. It held my interest and I read it thoroughly.
I just finished this story a few days ago.
Rock Creek Bridge
“Draw me a cold one, Jake. Man, that was a trip.”
“Vat vas dat, Bob? It is Bob isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Good beer. Thanks. Wow, I was walking down Main Street and I took that little ramp that leads down to the path along the creek and under the bridge. You know what I’m talkin’ about?”
“Yah sure. I’ve lived in this little berg my whole life. I know every little bit of it.”
“Anyway, I turned to go under the bridge and this little guy stopped me and demanded a toll. Weird lookin’ guy. Doubt he came up to my thigh and I ain’t that tall. Long stringy hair and beard, pinched-up face, big nose.”
“Oh, you met Sven. How long hav you lived here?”
“About three weeks.”
“Sven lives in a hollow under der bridge and whenever he needs money he charges his toll. Everyone here puts up with him since he only appears about once a month. A few years ago der high school band vas marching to a concert downtown when Sven stopped them. That cost der conductor about fifty bucks.”
“Well I refused to pay and just pushed passed him to go to the park when a buncha’ bees started flyin’ ‘round my head so I took off runnin’. Some one musta’ hit a home run or sumthin’ at the park ‘cause a baseball hit me in the head. Just glad it was a softball and not a hardball. That made me kinda’ woozie and I musta’ slipped on the wet grass and fell in the creek and cracked my knee on a boulder. Took me a while to be able to walk so I came over here for a beer.”
“Yah, I tell ya’ vat, dat’s vat happens ven you mess wit a troll.”
I hope my attempt at a Norwegian accent wasn’t too off-putting. Did you notice there was not a single tag line or descriptive dialogue? You should have known who was talking in each paragraph and that the conversation was in a bar.
Please feel free to comment on the blog or the story – I would appreciate it.