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I am in the process of writing a novel, and I'm just trying to get some ideas and thought on this. I am not sure yet if I want to completely remove all dialogue, but at this point I feel that dialogue would wreck the characters and the image I am trying to convey. But I am just curious to see others' thoughts on a novel with multiple characters but no dialogue at all.

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Why do you feel dialogue would be a problem? –  Neil Fein Oct 11 '13 at 22:23
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Well yes, but you can write a novel without the letter "E" too. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsby_%28novel%29 The question is, would it be any good? –  Lauren Ipsum Oct 11 '13 at 22:27
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@LaurenIpsum I could imagine a lack of dialog might contribute to a sense of social malfunction in a group (e.g., at first minimal, mechanical communication might seem appropriate for a certain military or similarly regulated social group, but the reader could slowly develop a sense of unease) or isolation of an individual. It might be used to intensify the significance of some other verbal input for the protagonist (e.g., a letter received before leaving or a book that is being read). With skill, avoiding dialog in a novel might be a powerful means of expression. –  Paul A. Clayton Oct 12 '13 at 0:08
    
@PaulA.Clayton Or it could be the novel Alice's sister was reading in Alice in Wonderland: "it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?' " I've wondered about that for years. –  Lauren Ipsum Oct 12 '13 at 0:28
    
@LaurenIpsum A lack of pictures and conversation might be okay in some non-fiction (e.g., not all philosophy follows the Plato/Socrates model). I would not be surprised if many educational books in the 1850s lacked pictures and conversation (perhaps in some cases with little loss). –  Paul A. Clayton Oct 12 '13 at 1:09

6 Answers 6

Short answer: yes.

The question is complicated, though, by what counts as 'dialogue'. If you read - for example - Birgit Vanderbeke's The Mussel Feast (Peirene Press, 2013, trans. Jamie Bullock) you won't find any direct speech - i.e., dialogue in quotation marks. But there's plenty of reported speech in there. It's a more difficult technique than direct speech, but the reward is that the entire texture of the prose is conditioned by the narrative voice. There's a greater cohesion, something a little more like storytelling and less like conventional prose fiction. I bring this up just an example, to show that the question has more nuance than just dialogue vs. no dialogue. It's a question primarily of form, and secondarily of content. You haven't gone into much detail about the aesthetic considerations in play, so I can't offer any advice specific to your piece.

And as for writing a novel that most people would like (mentioned in another answer this this question). Screw that. Write a novel you think is the best novel you can write, and would be enjoyed by a reader with precisely your taste. If your taste coincides with the zeitgeist, so much the better. But if you're not writing for yourself, you will be able to smell your novel's inauthenticity from the other end of the block. (The other, complementary piece of advice is to read both broadly and deep, so your taste is as informed as it can be .... but that's a given.)

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Is it possible? Yes. Actually you could write it right now.

But, I think it's the same as asking yourself:

  • Is it possible to make a movie with no sound?

  • Can it be enjoyable to date a girl/boy who doesn't talk?

Yes. Maybe. For some. But I'm pretty sure most people won't like it.

So the question actually is: Do you want to write a novel that MOST people would like?

If the answer is no, well, then go on.

(PS: If you write the novel and many people like it, then I retract what I said.)

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E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel Ragtime had no dialogue in it, although it did have descriptions of conversations. The book did not contain any dialogue in "quotes." It's a widely acclaimed novel, and has even been turned into a film (released in 1981, directed by Milos "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" Forman) and a Broadway musical. So it is possible. But Doctorow is a damn good storyteller, which helps.

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The following English language novels have no dialogue:

The following German novels have no dialogue:

The following French novels have no dialogue:

I'm sure there are more.

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I think it would be possible but a bit boring. Furthermore your readers want information of how your characters would respond. And no one would know, how they get along with each other. The dialogues between the different characters are very important. By the words they say, the readers will know how they relate to each other.

Besides, the dialogues make certain situations more interesting and give them a bit variety. It makes everything natural. In addition your characters would get more personality.

But I have to say that I like such ideas. They are special and trying something new is always good. Make your experience.

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It's like... a silent movie. It is good in short stories. But in novel, maybe if it's a first person perspective. But if not, make sure the story is compelling. Good luck!

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