Narrative, Dialog, and Action, and how do they mix together

Posted on Posted in Writing Wednesday

I wanted to dedicate this entry to three elements in the storytelling process that are extremely important. They will help me explain a lot of different topics I am going to write about in the future, but it is also related to the previous entry of Writing Wednesday: Pace, Tone, and Tension - I. If you haven't seen that one yet, make sure to go check it out first, since some thing I will be talking about in this post are closely related to that one. So, what are narrative, dialog, and tension? How are they related to each other? And why are they related to Pace, Tone, and Tension?


Narrative is the first dimension of your prose. In this part is where you talk about whatever your character is able to sense. In other words, this is where you describe. You take this part for aiding your reader to imagine what you are imagine. When you write, whether out of personal memories or imaginary places, the whole environment is dwelling in your head. However, you are writing, not drawing, so you need to describe with words whatever is in your head, for your reader to go to that place where you are at.

However, it is important to remark that narrative on its own is very slow-paced. Pace! Narrative, despite being really important for the overall value of your work and the quality of your prose, should be used discretely, since it can ruin a really good scene. Do you remember what we said about Jane and Austin in the previous post, after they started fighting? Since there is a lot going on (called Action, but we'll get there in a minute), you don't want your readers to lose focus on what's really important, or to get bored and not to be willing to read anymore because they feel you take too long to deliver.


Dialog is... yeah, you guessed it right! Dialogs between characters! (You're so smart guys). This is the time you allow your characters to interact directly with other characters. It is very important to dedicate this time so that your readers grow fond of your characters. They have feelings, too: let them express themselves (Madonna screaming "Express yourself!" in the background). Peculiarly, dialog is often accompanied by small doses of either narrative or action, depending on what is going on. However, let's go back to the previous entry: the narrative accompanying dialog must be useful to understand what is not being expressed in dialog (like your characters frowned face, which would help your reader understand the anger a character might be feeling).

On its own, Dialog is not necessarily slow-paced or fast-paced. At least not in a strict way, since it will completely depend on what your characters might be talking about. If they are talking about what's the weather like outside, it is very likely the pace is slow; but if they are revealing the truth about someone's death, then it's definitely fast-paced. To be more precise, rather than having a pace on its own, dialog can determine the pace: it could all look really quiet and calmed, until someone randomly says something like "I killed Joe". That is bond to bring stuff down when your readers see that.


Action might seem a little like narrative at first, since you can think dialog is whatever between quotation marks, or whatever is after dashes (depending on the style and language you write on), but it is still considered a separate part of the prose, because of the effect it entails on your readers. This part of the prose describes, but only actions performed by your characters. Usually, they are engaged on tense moments, or fights between your characters. Most of the times, action engages a fast-paced scene or part of your prose.

Imagine there is a fight between two medieval warriors right in front of the king's throne, and whoever win this fight will decide the outcome of the war that has been developed throughout your whole novel. Some high stakes, right? In this confrontation, you might be providing some details on the environment, their armors, their swords (narrative), however, this would only be suitable before the fight starts. After that, all narrative will seem out of place.

After the fight begins, a couple of dialogues may fly around, but the main thing will be the fight itself: the metallic sound of their swords clashing together, how the loud noise echoed through the throne hall. These descriptions are suitable to this scene, because we are on a pivotal moment. This fight will decide the outcome, so the fight itself has to be intense (you don't want it to end in a hundred words). Therefore, the "narration" of their duel is intense, is necessary, and it's considered Action.


Narrative, Dialog, and Action, are the three pillars upon which your story is written. Each of them takes on a different dimension of your story, taking on different parts of it. Each of them is necessary in different parts. Just like in Pace, it is important to learn to balance each part throughout your story. There is no magical formula I can provide you to achieve this successfully (I could say x = 2y +3z, but I'm not positive you would do anything with that. I just made that formula up). Truth is, experience would help a lot, and the more you write, the better you'll do. However, understanding the basics helps a lot!

Thank you for tuning in. I hope this post, along with the previous one about pace, helped you. See you on the next one!

One thought on “Narrative, Dialog, and Action, and how do they mix together

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