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To get a scene right, it takes a balance in narrative, character interspection, action, and dialogue.

Want to write the best novel ever? Wouldn’t you love to write a book that a reader couldn’t put down?

Part of the skill needed for this to happen is to have a compelling story, but another part of it involves balancing these three elements of fiction: dialogue, narrative, POV character introspection, and action.   

This is an intuitive process, and you probably didn’t think about how you wove these elements when you were writing that first draft, however, now that you’ve nailed your plot, your characters, and your scenes, you’re ready to zero in on these three elements as well. To do this, move inside your characters. Now, during the revision process, when reading back through the story, you can better identify with dialogue, narrative or action that overtakes the scene.

The perfectly balanced scene has a perfect pitch, like a well-balanced stringed quartet and you are the musical director.

Balance Novel Elements like a Stringed Quartet

Dialogue is like a first chair violinist who carries the melody of a musical piece. The dialogue should always be the main emphasis in a scene, however, dialogue should never be the only focus of a scene. Just as the second chair violinist, the celloist, and bass player adds depth to a scene, so also can narrative, introspection, and action.

Just as a musical score sometimes has one of the instruments do a solo portion, if you want to highlight a particular character trait in your viewpoint character or focus on something specific that the characters are talking about, you don’t want the scene cluttered, the reader distracted, or the pace slowed by action or narrative. When someone is telling you a story, the setting, the other people around you, everything just kind of fades away, and you’re intent only on what the other person is saying. You cut away action and narrative and leave only your characters’ spoken words.

If an author weaves action and narrative throughout the dialogue, slows the pace of the novel down, however, if you keep the dialogue primary to fast-paced scene of dialogue. If a scene is just dialogue, we get the full impact how life expresses itself in his life. When you isolate a character’s dialogue, if the reader is paying attention, he’ll become privy to the character’s personality and motives in a way that’s not possible in the woven scene just because there’s too much going on.

Scene Pacing

Pacing is probably the most common fiction element to address when considering how to weave dialogue, narrative and action. If you’re creating a fast-paced conflict scene between two or more people, you might do well to consider only dialogue, at least for parts of it. In this case, use action to create movement, and use narrative and introspection only when catching your breath.

The passage would be very effective without a bunch of narrative bogging down the moment. The dialogue should demonstrate a character’s feelings toward another person. Dialogue can take the protagonist pages to tell us something in narrative, whereas a scene of dialogue can quickly show us through that character’s own words said out loud. Narrative explains, and dialogue blurts out.

Similar reasoning applies when writing scenes with only narrative, character introspection, or only action. You want to focus on something in your character’s mind or describe something that would only sound contrived in dialogue, so you use straight narrative.

If the action needs to drive the scene forward because it’s intense and emotional, your characters just wouldn’t be talking during this time.

Sometimes, as in real life, there’s just nothing to say at the moment. Always, let your characters lead the story along.

Adjusting Pace

Blending dialogue, action and narrative requires finding your story’s rhythm. As you write our scenes, to help you determine what you need to do in your rewrites, consider answering these questions about your story.

Ask yourself:

Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)

Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)

Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative to break it up.)

Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds (use narrative).

Do I need to get out of my character’s head because a conversation would be more effective? (Use dialogue.)

Does this scene have too much dialogue? Narrative? Action? (Insert more of the deficient elements.)

Do my characters provide too many artificially created background details as they talk? (Use narrative.)

Revealing Character Motive

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements reveal character motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives. Understanding a character’s motive is to understand the character.

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