Thursday, August 26, 2010

Technical Topic -- Narrative versus Dialog

Someone was wondering --  (I paraphrase here) -- 
"I write lots of narration and exposition.  How much dialog does a Romance genre book need?"

Or, to put it another way . . . in Romance genre, do the hero and heroine have to talk to each other?

Ever on the alert for topics of world-shaking import, I set my mind to this one.
where metatext needs metatext

One way to investigate the dialog/narration question is to . . . look.
(This is the alert-and-proactive attitude that kept your hunter-gatherer ancestors alive in a hostile world and allowed you to survive High School.)

One can go to googlebooks. Here

At googlebooks, type in the name of a wildly successful romance author.
Eloisa James, for instance.
Pick a book at random. Your Wicked Ways. Here.

In the 'search box' to the right,
(We'll all wait while you find the search box to the right.  You've got it?  Yes.  Good.)
type in the word,  'under'.
This will generate a variety of random pages.

Randomness is powerful.

On these random pages, we will estimate the percentage of dialog.
(which we will dictatorially assume also includes tags and trailing stuff actions and like that but not exposition or narrative.)

page -- percent dialog-ish stuff

page 334 -- has only 5% dialog-ish
223 -- 50%
126 -- 95%
290 -- 15%
281 -- 40%

Jayne Ann Krentz, Absolutely Positively

58 -- 10%
38 -- 90%
156 -- 95%
43 -- 20%
244 -- 95%
174 -- 0 %

Mary Jo Putney, Never Less Than a Lady

76 -- 0%
245 -- 90%
133 -- 70%
236 -- 15%

Nora Roberts, Vision in White

331 -- 0%
262 -- 100%
313 -- 15%
131 -- 95%
126 -- 60%

What we see from this is that successful authors use both dialog and narration and they don't mind committing a whole page to one or the other. A cursory glance at a few random pages would indicate there's a pretty even balance between pages heavy on one and heavy on the other.

Which is about as much Romance genre structural analysis as anyone can be expected to do on one cup of coffee.


  1. Very interesting!! Actually am in the midst of a rewrite and was wondering if mms needed *more* dialogue.
    I'm new to your blog and absolutely fell in love with the fb pix you posted of the dog. I see it's here as well. Is the pup yours? Darling!

  2. Hi CBlaire --

    That is indeed my dog. You will be amazed to know -- I was amazed to know -- there is an entire blog about writers and their dogs.
    And their coffee.

    I was lucky enough to appear there.

    URL is

  3. Norma8:25 AM

    I'm just a reader, not a writer, but my opinion is that you can't have too much dialogue. I skim over paragraphs without dialogue to get to the dialogue.
    If I'm considering buying a book from an author who is unknown to me, I'll flip through the book to see just how much dialogue there is. If I don't see enough quotation marks to suit me, back it goes on the shelf.

  4. There is no such thing as 'just a reader.' *g*
    Readers Rock!

    As I see it, there are two opinions that count.

    My own -- which has to trump everything else.

    And the reader's. If I'm not getting through to the reader I might as well leave the work in progress on the computer and go weed the peonies.

    A lot of people have said -- 'Don't write the bits people are going to skip anyway,' by which they generally mean long passages of exposition.

    I use more exposition than most Romance writers, I think. My editor, (may her shadow never grow less,) sometimes makes me take hanks of it out.
    I take that with a grain of salt somewhat.

  5. What a completely brilliant thing to do! Very revealing.

  6. Hi Elisa --

    All part of 'Inquiring Minds Want To Know'.

    I see a question like this and I get curious.

  7. Thanks, Jo. Great post. BTW...I went to the Borders at Spokane Valley Mall last week and picked up The Forbidden Rose. Unfortunately, they were out of My Lord and Spymaster. Perhaps you could nudge them to restock? I am happy to report, that TFB was in the New and Hot in Romance section, face out, as it should be. Keep it up!


  8. Hi Deborah --

    Thank you so very much for telling me this. It just warms my heart. I am so happy to think of TFR on the shelves.


    I don't actually have anything to say about books in the stores. If they let authors have any say, we'd spend all our time calling ALL the bookstores and telling them to order more. *g*

  9. Now I want to reread your books and keep an eye out for exposition. I recall your blogging about the bit of business in MLAS in which Adrian and Sebastian search Jess's room while Adrian supplies backstory. Being a writer is like being a magician--keep your eye on the handkerchief, ladies and gentlemen!

    On an unrelated topic, are "we" still on target for a 2011 pub. date for Justine?

  10. Hi Annie --

    Oh dear. Now you have caught me at it. My stuff is very heavy on exposition. As they say at Microsoft, this is not a design flaw, this is a feature.

    The Fall 2011 publication estimate is good if I get the manuscript in on time, on December 1. I do not exactly know how I will manage it. Let us hope, somehow, I do.

    Le sigh.