Episode 86: Acolyte of Shadow: Fantasy Critique


In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of Acolyte of Shadow, an as yet unpublished fantasy novel by Daniel Kellberg. They discuss dialogue, descriptive beats, pacing, and backstory.

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Show Notes

Delivering backstory through dialogue is storytelling within a story. Generally, anything longer than three consecutive lines of speech by one character comes off as lecturing, so, even if your character is supposed to be a bore, demonstrate it once then move on. Backstory should be sprinkled, not shoveled. Can you spread out the delivery of the details of backstory for dramatic revelations?

Examine your reasons for telling backstory through dialogue. Why is one character telling so much to another character? Would it be more dramatic and interesting to have the other character discover this information in bits and pieces and then confront the “telling” character for more? Allow the listening character to challenge the teller to break up the lecture.
— Joni M. Fisher


Editorial Mission—What’s your dialogue doing?

Effective dialogue serves a variety of purposes. You can use it to reveal backstory and other information to the reader (and your characters), but make sure it’s serving other purposes as well. Here are some other things your dialogue might accomplish: 

  • Reveal character, goals, motivations
  • Demonstrate character’s reactions to one another and story events
  • Reveal setting, mood, tone
  • Increase tension and conflict
  • Advance the plot
  • Create a change in the scene with revelation or action
  • Increases the pace of the storytelling
  • Reveal theme 

Take a scene in your story that is heavy with dialogue, and check each line against this list. Does the dialogue do more than reveal information? If it’s being lazy, try revising or cutting it.

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Inline Critique