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When a character tells a story through dialogue : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

When a character tells a story through dialogue

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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Crono91
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When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby Crono91 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:49 pm

About halfway through my novel, I have a character that's kind of forced to tell her history, which has been quite a bit of a mystery to everyone, even her closest friend. As for who the character is, it's impossible to "show" the backstory, and simply has to be "told."

The story will take up probably about two or three pages, depending on how deep into it I plan to get. The story is told right after three pretty intense chapters, so the scene is meant to act as a breather for the character and also the readers, while also shedding light on a character's story that I personally think readers will be very interested in hearing, especially at this particular moment in novel.

I say this because I know some will feel the urge to suggest not "telling" their story (because I would, too), but I very much believe this is a perfect time to do it in all cases.

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My question is how to go about doing it.

While reading books, I've noticed two ways authors have gone about having a character telling their long story. One is simply having the character go through the entire dialogue. They split it up in readable paragraphs, yes, but there are no "breaks" in the storytelling.

Another way I've noticed is other characters breaking the story up with comments, questions, and movements.

Strangely, I haven't seen an in-between.

I personally prefer the former style, because it seems more natural to me, and I always hated when the author would stop the story being told at various spots. Kind of like in movies/shows when the scene would change right at a good part, and just keep cycling between them. Always made me more annoyed than anxious to finish.

---

Which do you prefer (if any)?
Is there a better way you do it or suggest?
Or are you simply just against the whole idea and refuse to suggest any? :P
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MatthewTM
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Re: When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby MatthewTM » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:59 pm

Hmmm... I think I've mostly encountered the simple story-within-a-story approach that you're leaning toward.

As an alternative, I wonder if you could transition into a chapter of flashback and 'show' the character's story. So you sort of relive the events with them and skip showing the actual conversation. I don't think it would fit in every story/style and getting the transitions right could take some work.

Whatever you do, I would definitely keep the back story concise and relevant to the main story.

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Crono91
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Re: When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby Crono91 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 6:04 pm

Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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Crono91
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Re: When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby Crono91 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 7:26 pm

Edit:

Well, ironically I ended up going with the latter format, merely because that's what naturally happened as I was writing.

The story revealed some twists to both the main character and other characters, which caused one to be outraged, and others to react accordingly. And it'd be very weird for them to sit quiet until the character finished her story.

So technically the storytelling went through the entire chapter, but by other characters reacting (not asking questions to drive the backstory forward).
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DrG2
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Re: When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby DrG2 » Sun Jan 25, 2015 7:55 pm

I don't think 2-3 pages of backstory, done once in a novel, is a problem at all.
If the backstory is prompted by the situation ("Crap, Clarence, why do you only steal Ford cars?" rather than Clarence spontaneously offering that his hated father was a Ford dealer) and if the character is telling the story conversationally, and probably with an interruption or two (just for reality's sake).

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MookyMcD
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Re: When a character tells a story through dialogue

Postby MookyMcD » Mon Jan 26, 2015 12:57 am

I'm with G-2. A two-page story is essentially a long patch of dialogue, and handled well shouldn't bog things down much at all.


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