Is there any rule of thumb or general acceptance of how much of a novel should be narrative vs. how much should be dialog? There seems to be a lot of unwritten rules out there that will determine whether a novel is considered publishable or not.

 

Garry-

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Unknown to me but then I'm new here and I have never published anything yet, so in terms of what is marketable I wouldn't know. Personally I prefer not to stick with a formulae, not that I suggest at all that you do. I personally believe it's a personal preference and I wouldn't go counting words for it. I am aware that I'm pretty dialogue-heavy myself and sometimes I even question if I'm suited for crime writing since I tend to be fairly character-based. I love description personally but it can bore me to death as well. Not that I have the skill but I believe is a bit like a painting: a few key strokes can paint the picture but detail is often crucial to the story. I love dialogue but I'm aware that I over-do it... Does this make any sense?

Okay, I would say a happy medium but follow your style weather is dialogue based or narrative based. Basically, I realise that I'm not saying anything though in real terms but this is how I personally feel.
I think much of that is determined by the fashion of the times. I'd say roughly the last decade or more, the fashion has favored dialogue. But even so, novels told mainly through narration were published. It is up to the author to decide how much dialogue and narration is best to tell the story he/she has in mind, which skill set one is more comfortable using, and of course one's personal writing style.

When it comes down to having sold a novel then being asked to make changes, the requested edits may include more or less of dialogue or narration in certain sections. But I don't know of an 'unwritten rule'.
I love dialogue, it moves the story. I'm also one of those writers who loves too write dialogue myself. I don't like passages of narrative because it turns into just telling. Dialogue shows. There's a place for both but dialogue really helps you connect with the characters and makes them come alive.

Best Wishes!

http://www.stacy-deanne.net
To me, this is one of those things you simply have a feel for or you don't. I recently read a self-published e-book mystery on my Kindle. The mystery part was good, but the author — a lawyer — rendered parts of it dreary and flat by presenting whole chapters of courtroom dialogue with very little narrative bracketing or counterpoint. It was as if she just did a cut-and-paste on a court reporter's transcript, and it gave the book a bland, unpolished feel. It could be fixed with a good story editor's help, but it is telling that she had no sense of how or even whether to do this for herself. Smart authors know when to step in and a) paraphrase portions of less dramatic dialogue; and b) use narrative inserts to heighten and broaden the atmosphere.

I think it's one of those things where you can read book and take workshops and study craft and get an idea for the right balance ... but at some point, what makes the balance work is a writer's instinct for it. You can't teach everything, and at some point craft gives way to art. And, like I said, you either have that or you don't.
It's been over six months, so I'm entitled to once again quote master (storytelling) craftsman Elmore Leonard. Number Ten in his ten rules of writing:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.
Hooptedoodle. I will use that word somehow tomorrow.
There is no rule, but there are reader preferences. Dialogue, especially brief exchanges that leave most of the page uncluttered, can read more quickly, but it slows down action because people sit around talking to each other. Narrative is more economical and uses fewer words, but it tends to make text look dense on the page and that discourages many readers.

In other words: consider your audience.
Just from rough observation, I would guess that 20% of my story is narrative and 80% is dialog.

Garry-
walk and talk, IJ
My answer is the always popular, "It depends." Two key things it depends on are:
1. How does the story want to be told? Some stories lend themselves better to being moved along through dialog. Some prefer narration.
2. Which do you do better? This probably should supersede Number 1, as it would be wise to avoid stories that want to be told in a manner that doesn't best utilize your strengths.
For me the key is how the narrative and dialogue fit together. If the style of one is too different fom the other I find it jarring and it takes me out of the story.
I think you're right, Dan. I once quit a writers group because of one member who hated dialog. She didn't want to see any at all and never stopped complaining about it.

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