By Writing Excuses | August 4, 2013 - 3:02 pm - Posted in Dialog, Prose, Scenes, Season 8

The combination of dialogue, blocking, and description, can be considered from a couple of directions. The first is the idea that we’re really talking about making every element do double or triple duty. Dialogue, blocking, and description work together for exposition, answering questions the reader is asking.

The second is the “pyramid of abstraction.” The bottom of the pyramid, the scene setting, is the concrete foundation. The layers atop it can be more and more abstract, like tagless dialog without concrete descriptions, if that original foundation is firm enough.

In this ‘cast we take both approaches, and offer some tips, tricks, and examples so that you can learn to do this well.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Writing Prompt: (Which is Actually Homework) Write description for half an hour. A full half hour. Set a timer! Try to use all five senses. Now write a single paragraph in which we establish a single character in that setting. Finally, write three sentences that convey the character, the description, and the character's emotional state. Want more exercises like this one? Here you go! (courtesy of Mary.)

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This entry was posted on Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 3:02 pm and is filed under Dialog, Prose, Scenes, Season 8. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. August 5, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Another great podcast!

    When Howard mentioned not having to ‘blend’ dialogue and actions because he could just draw it I expected one of you to holler “LUXURY!”.

    Has there been a podcast on missed opportunities? :)

    Posted by B. Byron Whitten
  2. August 5, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

    I loved Mary’s mention of using brackets. They were mentioned somewhere else before and I started using them and, wow, what a difference. You keep churning out the words and don’t let anything stop the flow. You deal with the bracketed items later with your editing/revision hat on.

    Posted by Talmage
  3. August 6, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    Great discussion of how to write unobtrusive and effective dialogue. When writing it, I like to think of it as an “establishing shot” in film, where the camera shows the landscape or house and makes the viewer aware and cognizant of their surroundings, and then the next shot is close on the characters doing whatever they’re doing.

    And with beats throughout the dialogue, I get the impression you sometimes just have to feel your way when deciding where to put them in. Reading aloud is definitely a tip I want to start using. I’m sure there will be some variation from reader to reader of when a beat is necessary, but all-in-all as long as everyone can agree the utilized beats are not annoying, we’re probably on a good track.

    Thanks for another fantastic episode.

    Posted by Michael
  4. August 7, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

    Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain…

    Yeah, the beat goes on. And for further edification, here’s a transcript!

    Today’s recipe: one cup dialogue, one heaping teaspoon blocking, a sprinkling of beats. Stir well. And…

    Posted by 'nother Mike
  5. August 9, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

    Holy response time, Batman! This was MY email!

    I’ve been getting to a really good place in my writing, but this has been a jarring weakness for some time. I’ve done countless internet searches, posted questions on writing forums, even bought a few helpful books, and still I struggled with it. After so much frustration, I finally got what I needed from you guys!

    You four are fantastic! (*Phew*… got really close to a cheesy reference there) But seriously, thank you so much for all the hard work you’ve done to make this podcast, and thank you especially for choosing my question to cover. I know it’s exactly what I need to take my writing to the next level.

    To show my gratitude, I’m going to go buy a another book off!

    Posted by Nick Anderson
  6. August 12, 2013 @ 12:05 am

    [...] Episode 8.31 of Writing Excuses looks at how to combine dialogue, blocking, and description to tell your story. Join Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells at their writing retreat (complete with an enthusiastic crowd!) as they talk about the two ways you can approach this subject: either with these three elements doing double-duty to answer the reader’s questions, or with what Brandon calls the ‘pyramid of extraction’. “Huh?” you ask. Don’t worry: you’ll know exactly what he means less than 18 minutes after you download it!! [...]

  7. August 18, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I hadn’t put much thought into the various ways to create a beat other than through dialogue attribution.

    Posted by William E Wall