Often it begins with "As you know..." followed by a character telling another character stuff the author needs the reader to know. That's bad.

Dialogue reveals character and advances plot. Characters can make observations about the past if it's done well, "I never did agree with the king's decision to close the monasteries last year." There, we got some history, a timeline, AND a character snapshot.

And, by the way, keep it short.

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Comment by John McFetridge on October 14, 2009 at 3:58am
I, too, wouldn't be very interesed in a book without dialogue. But Jon's point a out the dialoue not advancing the plot is right on the money, I think.

Eddie Coyle is a good example because the dialogue never advances the plot, it often advances the character's agenda (everyone in Coyle wants something).

I'm not a fan of those high-concept ideas where the plot is king -- though they can make good movies, a kind of passive storytrelling, I just don't find them satisfying enough as a book, which I think is a lot more interactive.

I do prefer books that seem almost plotless, where the story is the result of whatever action the characters are taking.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on October 14, 2009 at 3:44am
A book without dialogue reminds me of 'Clan of the Cave Bear.' Something like a thousand pages and no one said a damn word in it.
Comment by John McFetridge on October 14, 2009 at 3:37am
Yeah, Dana, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a great example.

It fits in with Eric Clapton's line, "Don't listen to the notes I play, listen to what I leave out."
Comment by Dana King on October 14, 2009 at 3:34am
I re-read THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE last week. Higgins's books are mostly dialog, the later once even more so than EDDIE COYLE. He's able to advance the plot without resorting to some form of , ":as you know," by approaching the situation somewhat obliquely, having neither character say exactly what happened, or is going to happen, and letting you figure it out. very effective. He also had a gift for letting you see what just happened by listening to dialog about the event, that might never actually say exactly what happened. The dialog keeps the pace moving--he's left out ALL the parts people tend to skip-- and trusting the reader to figure things out for himself keeps you more locked into the story, for fear of missing something.
Comment by Jon Loomis on October 14, 2009 at 1:16am
Because it's almost always cheesy--if you're advancing plot through dialogue, even if you don't have your characters say "As you know--" they're still saying it. Better always to let the reader see an important plot-point in a scene, rather than summarize it in dialogue. Sometimes one has no choice, but I try very hard to avoid advancing plot in dialogue. I'm much more interested in having my characters tell each other jokes, or talk about food, or their love lives.
Comment by Pepper Smith on October 13, 2009 at 1:54pm
Why shouldn't the dialogue advance the plot? I'm not talking about turning it into an info-dump, but you can certainly learn things through it that advance the plot. Otherwise dialogue risks becoming frivolous decoration.
Comment by John McFetridge on October 13, 2009 at 1:39pm
I had a professor suggest we read it out loud. I found that helps.
Comment by Jon Loomis on October 13, 2009 at 1:14pm
A lot of writers would argue that dialogue shouldn't even advance plot.
Comment by Dana King on October 13, 2009 at 2:01am
Amen. Characters should talk, not make speeches.

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