Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

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nerupuff
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Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#1 Post by nerupuff » Tue Mar 05, 2019 11:14 pm

Hi! It's me again!

Another question for today: how do you, as a writer, balance out protagonist narration with the dialogue that occurs in the game?

I tend to write continuously as long as I am in the mood, which often results in a word count of beyond 2k+, even more if I'm really in the zone. Afterwards, I take some time off and review my work after a few days have passed so that I'll have time to refresh my brain from all the writing I've done and look at things with a fresher perspective. Now, what I notice in my writing is that I tend to have a preference for narrating things more often than I do dialogue, which... kinda makes the writing look weak and overly-dependent on the protagonist and her thoughts.

I do try to remedy this but I find that sometimes, the dialogue does appear flat and just placed there for the sake of having dialogue (at least, that is what I think. I don't have outside opinion on my writing, so I cannot really say what other people think of my work). Maybe there's an art to writing dialogue that I have yet to unlock...
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#2 Post by Zelan » Tue Mar 05, 2019 11:46 pm

My writing process tends to be similar to yours in the sense that I can write quite a bit in one sitting if I'm really in the zone. Sometimes mine comes out similarly, where I have more narration than dialogue, but other times it's almost all made up of dialogue with only the occasional thought from the main character interjected. I find that the latter tends to happen more often if I have a really good idea of the personality of not only the protagonist, but also the other character(s), in addition to how the two of them will interact. I also find that it's easier to write more dialogue if there are only two characters to contend with, since you don't have to think about the balance and pacing of a conversation with a lot of people - not that you should limit every scene to two characters, of course, but if you're just looking to practice dialogue and/or get a feel for some characters, it can be really helpful to limit the involved characters.

Besides that, all you can really do is practice! There's no one magical way to do it and get it right. I hope this was helpful to you. c:

(P.S. More narration isn't always a bad thing! More dialogue is better for certain stories, and you can be the judge of whether yours is lacking, but if you structure your story around the fact that most of it is narrated rather than spoken aloud, it can be a really effective writing device. ^_^)

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#3 Post by nerupuff » Thu Mar 07, 2019 12:53 am

Ahhh, thank you for this advice, Zelan! I'm going to keep practicing some more. Thankfully, my character sheets also help me gauge the possible interactions and reactions of each character towards everyone else, so I'm counting on it for the help with dialogue. I wish I can generate better script when I go on my writing sprints. ^^ I'm also doing my best to make sure that the dialogue that occurs also matters (in the sense that it gives something to the story and adds pacing and important information)

I should take a break from being critical of my work and keep writing until I finish ^^; major editing can come after everything.
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#4 Post by anonymouse » Thu Mar 07, 2019 1:32 pm

I see you're already using character sheets, so I guess this post is just to let you know how I think you are doing something right, nerupuff! I find that a character's thoughts/emotions come more easily to me than the dialogue they use to express themselves. My character sheets include some sample dialogue lines, favorite words and phrases, and I refer to them when I'm trying to decide how this character would express their dialogue in the situation. Is this character forthright? Maybe this means they tell the blunt truth. Are they evasive? Maybe they also tell the truth, but they beat around the bush. Do they have a tick that comes up when they are feeling a certain way? The nervous character goes, "Uhhh...." before finally spitting it out. My character sheets help remind me those details that make each character consistent and unique, an excellent helper in writing dialogue.

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#5 Post by Katy133 » Thu Mar 07, 2019 5:16 pm

I come from an art and animation background, so I will try to use dialogue over narration whenever I can. If I can't use the art nor the dialogue, that's when I'll resort to using narration. There's exceptions to me doing things this way (meaning, "using as little narration as possible"), however. There's a VN I'm writing where the protagonist's dialogue is contradictory to their inner-thoughts. She is polite and quiet in her dialogue, but her narration is much more observational, comedic, and judgmental.
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#6 Post by Mutive » Thu Mar 07, 2019 7:54 pm

I don't think there's any reason to prefer dialogue to narration or vice versa. Don't make a quiet character talk a lot just to talk! Similarly, don't throw in narration just to put something on the screen.

As a reader, I want to read interesting words and wonderful stories. I enjoy dialogue heavy pieces (e.g. plays), but have also loved books/games that have almost no dialogue at all.

(I'd also argue that the ratio is something that should be dependent on the style of the game/story you're trying to tell. Some are going to lean heavily one way or the other because it makes sense within the context of the game.)
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#7 Post by Mutive » Thu Mar 07, 2019 7:58 pm

Also, for the love of all that is holy, please do NOT make your characters shove in facts that they (and their listeners) should understand to avoid narration.

Good:

Code: Select all

Merchant "That will be six dollars"
Narrator "In the United States, dollars are a form of currency."
You "I'll take it!"
Awful (because no human has ever spoken like this in the history of the universe):

Code: Select all

Mechant "That will be six dollars"
You "As we both know, Gentle Merchant, dollars are the type of currency used in the United States. I'll take it." 
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#8 Post by nerupuff » Fri Mar 08, 2019 10:25 am

Thank you, everyone! This amount of advice is really helpful!

@anonymouse, the character sheets are proving to be very helpful, and I always go back to them from time to time to check if my character is being presented as consistent in both their dialogue and their narration.

@Katy133, I do notice that some dialogue lines in other games contain a lot of the exposition and has subtext and context already, so I do try to minimize the narration in mine, especially since I am also relying on the visual aspect of the VN to help get the story across. I find that if I spend too much time on narration, the explanations that the protagonist gives might be too overbearing, especially when the BG and the sprites emotions already show what doesn't need to be said. For example:
In the screen, you will see that the sprite of the person the MC is talking is already smiling. That's when I make a mental note to not have the MC narrate "He smiles at me." because it is already visible and does not add additional context.
I'm trying to be creative with the way the protagonist perceives things to help with better narration as well.

@Mutive, thank you for including examples! It helps to illustrate things better. You're right, people would definitely not say that in a real-life situation, which makes for unbelievable dialogue (I would laugh if that actually happens in real life).

I guess it all falls on having a good balance between dialogue and narration. It will take time to experiment and find the right mix of both, but I hope I manage to get it eventually through practice.

Thank you again!
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#9 Post by Mutive » Fri Mar 08, 2019 1:41 pm

nerupuff wrote:
Fri Mar 08, 2019 10:25 am

@Mutive, thank you for including examples! It helps to illustrate things better. You're right, people would definitely not say that in a real-life situation, which makes for unbelievable dialogue (I would laugh if that actually happens in real life).
Yeah, it's so unnatural! But I see it all the time editing. (I think because I mostly edit science fiction/fantasy where a lot of stuff isn't known to the reader. Which is fine, but woah...paragraphs of someone saying, "As you probably know, the king is very ill and we are hoping that his daughter - the next in line for the throne - is as good a queen as her mother was. We all loved Queen Emilia, after all, and thought she would be helpful in the drought that we've been having for the last decade." is just so silly. I get that the person is trying to avoid a big blurb of exposition, but people rarely go on long expository monologues about stuff that the listener would know about!)
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#10 Post by Evangeline Ingram » Sun Mar 10, 2019 12:52 pm

My answer is that meaningful dialogue shifts the balance of power between characters with every word.

Not all dialogue is meaningful in that way, but you should always be paying attention to the conflicts between characters. People tend not to talk to each other so much as past each other, and the conversations that really matter are the ones where something is at stake for everyone involved.

Also, keep in mind that the reason why you write with access to your characters' thoughts is so you can show the reader how their thoughts and actions conflict!

Adding on to the earlier example:

Bad, unless your character is an alien:
Merchant: "That's six dollars."
MC: "Yes, I will pay you with six units of the local currency, dollars."

Mediocre:
Merchant: "That's six dollars."
Narrator: People buy things with dollars in the United States.
MC: "I'll take it!"

Good:
Merchant: "That's six dollars."
Narrator: Digging in my pocket, I turn out a squashed lump of plastic bills.
Narrator: Disentangling a one and a fiver, I hand them over.
MC: "I'll take it!"

Also good:
Merchant: "That's six dollars."
Narrator: Right, money.
Narrator: I pull out a few bills.
MC: "Is this enough?"

Best:
Merchant: "That's six dollars."
MC Sprite: Show MC_NervousSmile.JPG
Narrator: ... damn, six?
Romantic Lead's Sprite: Show RL_PuppydogEyes.JPG
Sprite: Show MC_Confident.JPG
MC: "I'll take it!"
Romantic Lead's Sprite: Show RL_BigGrin.jpg

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#11 Post by Evangeline Ingram » Sun Mar 10, 2019 1:12 pm

"As you probably know, the king is very ill and we are hoping that his daughter - the next in line for the throne - is as good a queen as her mother was. We all loved Queen Emilia, after all, and thought she would be helpful in the drought that we've been having for the last decade."

Further note: it's possible to make infodumps like this much more effectively by asking yourself "what would someone in this situation actually be worrying about?"

So you'd end up with something more like:

MC: "Say, you're from the palace. Has the king's health improved any?"
Guard Sprite: Show Guard_Conflicted.jpg
MC Sprite: Show MC_sigh.jpg
MC: "Not any better, then."
Guard Sprite: Show Guard_Resigned.jpg
Guard: "It won't be long now."
MC: "... Is the princess alright, at least?"
Guard: "As alright as she can be, given that her father's dying."
MC: "Do you think she's strong enough?"
Guard: "We can only hope. But... She is Emilia's daughter."
MC: "May she reign in heaven."
Guard: "May she reign in heaven."
MC: "... if only heaven would send us some rain."
Guard: "Maybe I'll ask the princess to put in a word with her mother for us."
MC: "Ha. If Emilia had any say, we'd've had rain years ago."
Guard: "...Aye. But I can hope, can't I?"
MC: "Hope is for city folk."

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#12 Post by nerupuff » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:10 am

Thank you for sharing your tips, Evangeline! They are appreciated, and I love that you took the time to further dissect and give examples on what makes dialogue work.
Evangeline Ingram wrote:
Sun Mar 10, 2019 1:12 pm
"As you probably know, the king is very ill and we are hoping that his daughter - the next in line for the throne - is as good a queen as her mother was. We all loved Queen Emilia, after all, and thought she would be helpful in the drought that we've been having for the last decade."

Further note: it's possible to make infodumps like this much more effectively by asking yourself "what would someone in this situation actually be worrying about?"

So you'd end up with something more like:

MC: "Say, you're from the palace. Has the king's health improved any?"
Guard Sprite: Show Guard_Conflicted.jpg
MC Sprite: Show MC_sigh.jpg
MC: "Not any better, then."
Guard Sprite: Show Guard_Resigned.jpg
Guard: "It won't be long now."
MC: "... Is the princess alright, at least?"
Guard: "As alright as she can be, given that her father's dying."
MC: "Do you think she's strong enough?"
Guard: "We can only hope. But... She is Emilia's daughter."
MC: "May she reign in heaven."
Guard: "May she reign in heaven."
MC: "... if only heaven would send us some rain."
Guard: "Maybe I'll ask the princess to put in a word with her mother for us."
MC: "Ha. If Emilia had any say, we'd've had rain years ago."
Guard: "...Aye. But I can hope, can't I?"
MC: "Hope is for city folk."
This is, by far, is the best re-structuring I've seen of some clunky dialogue into a thought-provoking exchange between MC and another character. It's well-written and you can tell just how much info you can already get just by this simple conversation. Very helpful! I hope I can practice and be able to make good dialogue like this as well.
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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#13 Post by isobellesophia » Wed Mar 13, 2019 7:10 am

I use protagonist narration sometimes, and use alot with dialogues, this is why i always update my script for my own narration to the MC. I have sometimes have a bad grammar and i usually update it, i only learn some deep words in our english subject and on internet, so it doesn't make the actual person understands without some more narration than dialogue.

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#14 Post by arty » Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:08 pm

I used to tell more than I show for a long time, and only recently realized how much I'm doing it. I'm now trying to show as much as I can through dialogue or actions in my writing. This "epiphany" only really came to me when I started doing screenwriting. I suddenly couldn't communicate the characters' inner monologue and thoughts anymore without including a stupid amount of voice-over. That really forced me to change my approach.

What I do now is I type out the story the way my brain spits it out. Then I put it aside for a bit. Then I return and try to imagine it as a screenplay for a movie that allows only minimal narration or voice-over. With that in mind, I rewrite the whole thing from the ground up. I turn as much narration as possible into dialogue, leave only concepts that contradict the behaviour/words of the characters, or actions as non-dialogue, and drop the rest. Just straight up drop it. I'm always surprised how much stuff I put into my writing that isn't even direly needed for getting the plot across.

Sometimes you even have to completely rethink how a scene works. A character in one of my scenes was just strolling through a city and musing to himself about worldbuilding facts I felt were necessary to include. That had to go. In the new version of the scene, he instead had a flashback of sorts of a conversation with friends about the topic, and a recent memory that visualized the concept through things actually happening. I had to delete some sentences I had crafted lovingly and was fond of, but in the end the result was so much more engaging for the reader.

You're most likely aware of the danger of just fact-dumping in dialogue if you try to put the narration into it. A good dialogue in my opinion always either reveals something about the characters or the plot, or ideally both. And the lines of dialogue should feel unique to the character that speaks them. If you could just replace the name in the dialogue tag, something went wrong.

Just my thoughts/experiences on the matter.

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Re: Balancing narration with dialogue, improving dialogue and banter

#15 Post by JayleeJames » Thu Mar 14, 2019 5:06 pm

Usually I work this out during edits. The first draft is just getting thoughts on the page... but when I go in and edit it, I'm conscious of how often each character is speaking, and try to keep it balanced. The narrator is just another character, and their "speaking" needs to be equally balanced with the others, unless there's a specific reason why it's not (for specific style purposes or something).
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