University of Iowa

“Who’s Talkin’ Here?”: Dialogue vs. Narration in Prose Fiction

Weeklong July 15 to July 20 2018

No matter what kind of story you’re telling, narration and dialogue will do the heavy lifting. But how do you find the right balance?


This is a nuts-and-bolts craft workshop that welcomes fiction writers of all levels. We’ll look at brief samples from contemporary writers (Zadie Smith, George Saunders, et al.) and will do several writing exercises that will allow participants to generate new text or to experiment with their own work-in-progress. Each writer will also be invited to workshop a short story or novel excerpt.


We’ll consider questions like dialogue tags, dialect, idiolect, profanity (yes, swearing is an artful activity!), and slang. We’ll also explore when to give your characters a rest and let your narrator do the talking. The common saying, “Show don’t tell” isn’t always true, but this fact begs the questions: How do I show? When do I tell? We’ll look at options of external narration and internal narration of characters’ actions and thoughts. Writers will leave this workshop with a keener appreciation of the tools at their disposal and how they might serve their story.

Short Story