…On Poetry and Fiction
Dialogue-Only Writing Style
written by: Phyllis P. Colucci
With this article, I’d like to discuss the “Dialogue-Only” writing style. Dialogue between characters can take place in a short story, novella, novel, or even poetry. It’s simply conversation between two or more characters with little or no narrative. In fiction, it can invite you to participate in the storyline; In poetry, it can take your heart on emotional journeys deeper than the words themselves.
One of the first ebooks (novel) I ever attempted to write, titled "The Hand She Dealt to Me", actually ended up being a work of fiction written totally in "dialogue-only" style. I didn't realize the direction I was going in until I was half way or better, towards completion of the novel. That's when I stopped and questioned myself as to what the heck I was doing. With all the work and effort that I had already invested in this work of fiction, I decided to ride it out and continue on this path until I reached the end of my story. To my amazement, I was fully engrossed in the characters, the storyline, the twists and turns in the plot, the climax, and finally the ending. I surprised myself when I went back and read/proofread the entire novel. The reason being was that I also felt a much deeper connection to the characters - who they were, how they spoke, what they desired. I knew them. I knew them all and I knew them well. I felt their pain, joy, troubles, love, happiness, sadness, losses and triumphs. I no longer recognized if they were speaking through me or if I was speaking through them. Something different was happening here. It was a magical connection and a magical transformation between writer and characters.
I actually felt a sense of accomplishment after using this style of writing. As a writer, I soon discovered that a “dialogue-only” writing style may possibly take a reader deeper into the minds and personalities of each character. The reader may find themselves seated inside the story, while the action and conversation happened in front of them, behind them, to the side of them, or all around them. It would be like reading a story in 3D. Much similar to reading a play, but more like watching a movie since this style offers the reader more depth, imagination and interaction.
However, since this was a style I was not familiar with, both as a reader and as a writer, I decided to research the style to see if other authors attempted this. To my surprise, I found a bit of information out there which helped me come to terms with the fact that I had chosen a unique writing style - and was setting myself up for some serious criticism. Through internet search, I came across the following article on “Dialogue-Only” writing style (at The Rumpus.net) by a young writer named Alexander Kalamaroff, August 9th, 2014, which was quite interesting:
“The dialogue novel is a unique creature. In it the conversations among characters are the primary or only means of narrative advancement—so the initial experience might be similar to reading a play or movie script, where we’re tasked to mentally dramatize what we’re reading. But the dialogue novel is intriguing because it is not meant for stage or screen. And compared to its compatriot, the monologue novel—which has a substantial history shaped by Dostoevsky, Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald, to name only three masters of that form—the dialogue novel is quite rare. While they can be challenging to read, dialogue-dominated narratives create amazing opportunities for philosophical inquiry, stylistic originality, and stunning creativity that are surely worth exploring.”
...So, in my opinion, readers either love the style or hate it. Some of my critics felt confused in keeping up with the dialogue, the characters, and who was speaking at the time. Others enjoyed it thoroughly, according to verbal and written reviews. I made it a point to use the characters' names quite frequently in order to identify the speakers so readers could follow easily. I also made an effort to use separate paragraphs for each speaker. It seemed to flow smoothly for me. However, I was the creator of this work of fiction. I owned it, I controlled it, I brought it to life. Of course it would run smoothly for me as I read it. So knowing that this work of fiction could somehow prove to be challenging to a reader, it's out there living amongst the many books on the Amazon market, waiting to be purchased by someone who wants to be challenged. Yes, it reads like a play, but feels like a movie. You may find yourself in the middle of the action, with a sudden urge to reach out to the characters. You will want to touch them, talk with them, laugh with them, cry with them, accompany them on their journeys; eat with them, drink with them, and whatever else tickles your fancy.
You may be pleasantly surprised by this writing style, while enjoying a wonderful journey, with twists and turns that may place you so deep into the story that the only way out is to remain there until the very end. Ha! So if you are brave enough as a reader to be challenged by the experience, try a “dialogue-only” novel at some point. I can honestly say it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for someone.
You decide - Here is a sample of that writing style from my first ebook; a novel titled “The Hand She Dealt to Me”:
Oh Carla. I didn’t mention a word of this to Steven or Julia last night. Mike was over for dinner also, so I tried to forget about Amira the Fortune Teller and just be myself. I had a really hard time doing that last night. Steven thought I wasn’t feeling well. I convinced him I was just a bit tired; that I did lots of walking during the day. But I was haunted by her. It all started yesterday while I was sitting on a park bench. She approached me out of nowhere and asked me where I got my cappuccino, because she noticed the cup said “Café Bianca”. She asked to sit down to chat, and I said sure. She seemed pleasant enough. I didn’t want to be rude. She had a very heavy accent. She’s from the Middle East, Lebanon I recall her saying, but she was living in Pennsylvania for many years with her parents. She later married a gentleman she met in Pennsylvania, who was also from Lebanon. Anyway, after her parents died, she and her husband divorced, “American-style” as she put it. I got a chuckle out of that. I found it amusing since she’s a foreigner. It’s so funny how foreigners look at the “American” way of life. They even have a name for everything we do here, good or bad – “American-style”. I don’t know if she was serious or just being sarcastic, but it was kind of funny to hear, especially with her accent. Anyway, her husband went back to Lebanon. She also told me she was very sad because she learned she couldn’t have children. I felt so bad to hear that, because the pain on her face really got to me. Anyway, I guess at that point she fulfilled her desire to come to New York and start a business. She gave me her card and invited me to her shop. I noticed on the card that this shop she was talking about was called “Amira’s Mystic Fortunes”. I then realized she was a Fortune Teller. Of all the people to run into. Anyway, she claimed she was pretty new to the area and that I was one of the few people she had a chance to sit and chat with. I was really taken aback by this. It felt weird, like she purposely singled me out. She looked me straight in the eye and said she sees I have some family issues going on and that I have an aura around me that shows I’m very concerned about my life. She wants me to go see her. She wants to give me a free tarot reading. She wants to help me. I told her that I don’t believe in that stuff. I’m Catholic. What’s even more ironic is that she told me that she’s Catholic too. I thought she was Muslim, coming from the Middle East and all. But she said there are many Catholics in Lebanon. So we chatted a bit more about our families, then - all of a sudden - Gary appeared out of nowhere. So I used him as an excuse to get up and get away from her. But wouldn’t you know it, as I walked home later on, I ran smack into her shop. She was sitting outside. I tried to avoid her, but she called out to me. She truly wants me to visit her shop for a free reading. She said she has some gifts for me. A good luck crystal, some scented candles. It’s like she is drawing me to her… Oh yes please, I’ll have two eggs over well and turkey bacon on the side. Whole wheat toast, no butter. Thanks.
I’ll have my eggs scrambled with rye toast and Canadian bacon, thank you… Okay, so Lia - just avoid her shop. Throw out the card. What’s the big deal? I don’t understand why this is upsetting you so much that you couldn’t wait to tell me. You don’t have any serious problems in your family other than the normal everyday issues we all deal with. Everybody has family issues. Come on now. She’s not telling you anything out of the ordinary. Steven is doing well at the pharmacy. Julia is pursuing an acting career. She has a really nice boyfriend. You and Steven get along so well. What is the problem here? If anything, I would think you have a pretty good life Lia. Forget about this “aura” she sees around you. This is what these people do. They get you to question yourself and your family so that you turn to them for guidance, while they take your money. You know this Lia. I don’t have to explain this. You’ll see, that shop will close up in a few months and all of this will mean nothing. That’s always what happens sweetie. These fortune tellers move on and set up shop in some other place – after they’ve taken your money and practically your soul.
I know Carla. I realize all of that. Don’t you think I’ve gone over this in my head. I was up all night playing this over and over, like a tape recorder.
Don’t you see Lia. She already has you in her grip. She kept you up all night with this! It disrupted your sleep already? That’s a problem waiting to happen.
But Carla, you had to see her. She is strikingly beautiful. She had this strong presence about her. An unusual and very strange magnetism. You just had to be there. You can feel it just being in her presence. There is something about her I can’t explain. You just had to be there. She had long auburn hair, tied back with a gold silk scarf. The scarf had sparkling rhinestones throughout. It was gorgeous. Her eyes were big and bright and so alive. They were golden brown like a lioness, outlined by very dark lashes. They were mesmerizing. They were piercing. She was just absolutely gorgeous. She had an olive complexion and she wore a subdued berry color lipstick. She was about five feet four inches, medium build. Other than that, she wore very little makeup. In her ears were these very large gold hoop earrings with an intricate design in them; and she had half her arm adorned with colorful bracelets that jingled every time she moved. You know how gypsies dress? Well that’s how she looked, if that gives you a better idea. I think all fortune tellers dress like that, so I think you get the picture. Anyway, she had on an ankle length dress which had every color of the rainbow in it; brightly woven into vertical stripes that shimmered a bit. Very pretty. Her boots were black with these really pointy toes. Her shawl was a dark red and it was tied in the front with a big knot near her upper chest. She just had this air about her. I loved listening to her speak, with that very pronounced Middle Eastern accent. She was just very persistent with me, but pleasant. It seemed as if she could make a statement by just looking at you without exchanging words. She had a special power that could draw you in, lure you in. You really had to see her in person Carla. Even her perfume filled the air. It was like nothing I ever smelled before. It was a mix of herbs and flowers, with a hint of fruit. There was a bit of cucumber in the mix. A very strange aroma.
Lia. Stop it! You sound hypnotized by this woman. How much time did you spend with her that you can describe her in such detail? You studied her to perfection. From her head to her toes. You’re not going to see her are you? Give me that card. I’m going to get rid of it. This is nonsense sweetie. You know what I really think? You quit your job at the library too soon, not long after Steven opened up Roma Pharmacy. I think you need to fill your day with more constructive things. Now I’m happy for you. Steven is doing well with the pharmacy, and that’s great. You don’t have to work anymore. Terrific. But maybe all of this free time is not very good for your well-being. Maybe you need to get back into the workforce. Go back to the library. It’s only a few hours a day. I think it will be good for you.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Whether writing poetry or fiction, the goal is to connect with your readers. The "Dialogue-Only" writing style is a unique way to take your readers on journeys in 3D, where they may find themselves in the middle of the storyline or inside the poetry verse. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely for someone.
I retired from a Supervisory/Admin position with a Federal Law Enforcement agency in NYC, a few years back.
Presently, I am pursuing my passion for writing, and most of my writing has that New York edge.
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