I was a script writer before a novel writer. Been doing script writing and short story writing since the 1970s, but I didn't write a novel until 2006. And I've been told by many readers that my writing style (when it comes to novels) is EXTREMELY non-standard. And I think, it's because I'm used to writing in stage play format and short story format, and short story format has more in common with script writing then it does novel writing which is why I'm always saying the common advice to write short stories to practice before writing novels is BAD advice. If you are writing short stories in the same format as novel, well there no way around saying it: your stories are gonna be shit. I wish people would stop telling novelist wannabes to practice with short stories first. Not saying novelist can't write short stories, just saying the writing style from short stories to novels, is so different that using one as practice for the other is bad advice.
But back to your question before I have myself a 10 page rant on why I think that is bad advice!
Now for me, being someone who wrote scripts first and novels later, I have a tendency to write my novels in a weird sort of "novelized-script" format. Many readers have referred to my novel writing style as "avant garde" or "artsy-fartsy", which depending on how you look at it could be either good or bad.
Personally, when I look at a novel and see that it is block upon blocks of descriptive text and narration, I don't even bother to read it.
I personally find descriptions of scenes and settings, and even descriptions of what a character looks like, to be dry reading.
I've no interest in it at all.
I look for novels that have a high rate of dialogue. If the novel is 70 to 90% dialogue, I'll pick it up and read it. Otherwise, I'll pass.
I like a character driven story.
I'm not a fan of plot driven stories and I tend to avoid them.
When I look for books to buy, I often go to The Writer's Market, and read through the listings of publisher submission guidelines, looking specifically for publishing houses that request: "Character driven stories" and then I search for that publisher's website and take a look at the list of books they publish and buy those, because I know if the publisher is asking for character driven story, then they will also state something like: "Must contain at minimum 70% character dialogue."
In the publishing industry, a story is considered plot driven if it has less then 70% dialogue and character driven if it has at least 70% dialogue. If you have less then 75% dialogue in your story, then it is NOT character driven and I want nothing to do with it.
MOSt novels however, are plot driven, and finding a character driven story, is next to impossible. MOSt novels published are 60% description and only 40% dialogue. (According to several studies that have been done.) Which means for me, as a reader, most books are slow moving slogs of dull, dry, bored out of my mind, reading.
I prefer fast paced reading, and to have a fast pace, that means your paragraphs have to be fewer then 20 words long. And the only way to have page after page after page of none stop, heart pumping, fast paced, 20 words or less paragraphs, is with steady, none stop dialogue for page after page.
The more dialogue, the faster the pace. And every time you insert descriptive or narrative text, you kill momentum, dead short, and the pace has to slowly start all over again.
The longer the descriptive text and narration, the slower the pace becomes and the more difficult it becomes to pick up pace again later.
So in the end, for me, I think the answer to your question is, to use lots of dialogue, almost no descriptions, and tags at the barest minimum. But this is because this is the style I personally prefer to read. That doesn't mean this style of writing is better then another style. There are lots of styles of writing and different genres use different styles.
Me, I like reading the more Literary styles with heavy character driven plots. And these are written in a very soap operas script format, of nearly all dialogue and nothing else.
I LOVE these and prefer them, though the way I use them, they are not tags, but rather descriptive lines between dialogue. I'll show you an example in a sec.
You say this...
Then give this as an example...
There is a very simple reason why you have a wall of text there, and it's called: you are not using one of the very basic rules of grammar.
Basic 5th grade grammar rule:
Also, there are exactly ZERO tags in your example.
The correct is this...
"I just love them."
Blackcat picked her nose.
"I love what they do for rhythm and how they break up the dialogue."
She glanced at her finger, lip curling with disgust.
"But sometimes I suspect I abuse them."
Blackcat wiped her finger against the wall.
"Like I abuse entire bars of chocolate and my fiancee's ears with Billy Talent."
She swiped fingers through her hair.
"I want to stop, but I don't know how."
Blackcat chewed her nail.
"How can I determine what is pertinent and what's gratuitous?"
Only one thing was certain: Blackcat knew she didn't used to have this problem.
It's only a tag is the whole thing is all one sentence.
(SOURCE: I have a degree in teaching High School English)
I write Slice of Life Literary Fantasy in the Ernest Hemingway Style. This means my novels are 90% dialogue, and rarely use dialogue tags. Here is a 3 page sample from one of my older novels, so you can see EXACTLY how I do dialogue in my books:
Days passed in a blur, as the trio made the long trek back south in search of The Gremlin. Following the directions given to then by the saloon girl, they were able to find Luke Swanzen’s old sheep farm, which the aged Gremlin had moved into.
The old house was fallen in from disrepair. Around it was many acres off wooden fences, surrounding many hundreds of sheep happily grazing.
“My god,” Quaraun exclaimed. “Look at all the sheep!”
“Dis definitely where our Ghouly live," Unicorn said.
They soon found themselves knocking at the door.
The old orange robed wizard answered the door.
“Quaraun?” The Gremlin was clearly shocked to see the three of them. “What are you doing here?”
“We don’t know.”
“Well, you might as well come in, now that you’ve found me.”
Someone behind Gremlin ran from the room, scurrying up the stairs. A door slammed somewhere on the 2nd floor.
“Is there someone else here?”
“That was Sunta. He lives with me.”
“Sunta? You don’t live alone?”
“I used to. Not any more.”
“Who is Sunta?”
“He’s, uhm... he’s... a friend.”
“You sound uncertain.”
“I’m uncertain if I should introduce you to him. He’s... shy? Shy’s a good word.”
“You sound like you’re lying.”
“So what else is new? I’m still a thief too.”
“And you still have sheep.”
“Ever so many sheep.”
“Is it just you and Sunta here?”
“Are you happy together?”
“Why the questions, Quaraun? You jealous?”
“When we saw you before. You were very sad. And very lonely. It made me sad that you were alone.”
“Well,I’m not alone now.”
“Are you lovers?”
Gremlin was silent a moment before answering.
“What an odd question. You are jealous. I know you too well, Quaraun. We are. Sunta and I are lovers. But SI don't think you'll ever meet him. Sunta is... shy.”
“Obviously, considering he ran away when we came in.”
“We don’t get visitors much. It’s been years, and... he was badly injured. His injuries... you understand what it is to be scarred. He doesn’t like people to look at him. His face... He can’t talk.”
“He is mute?”
“Something like that.”
“How do you communicate?”
“It seem irrelevant since you didn't you didn't know of his existence five minutes ago. I’m a Thullid. Remember? We have no need of tongues for speech.”
“The hive mind. Do you have that now?”
“Yes. And so does he.”
“He is a Thullid as well?”
“I think we are the last two left alive. Humans mass massacred the Thullids.”
Gremlin slowly made his way to the stairs.
“Sunta,” he called up. “Come down. It’s Unicorn. You’ll like to see Unicorn. I know you would.”
Gremlin waited a moment then returned to the others.
“I don’t think he’ll come down. He’s easily frightened. Like a little jack rabbit.”
"You always called me that."
"Well, not many out there with foot long ear, no is there? Rather unique feature of your's. Does it upset you, I call someone else a jack rabbit?"
Quaraun ignored the question.
“Does he know Unicorn?”
Gremlin nodded, then sat down in his red armchair.
"You still have that chair."
"Yes, and in the garage, you'll find I still have the 1974 AMC Gremlin as well. I'm creature of habit. I don't like change."
"You're also a hermit who doesn't go outside other then to try to rewrite your future by disrupting your past."
Gremlin glanced over at GhoulSpawn.
"And I'm disrupting your life GhoulSpawn?"
Quaraun didn't give GhoulSpawn a chance to answer.
"How did you find someone to live with you? I was of the opinion, you were absolutely, completely, and insanely obsessed with me? I wouldn't thought you would even consider making time for any one else."
"I don't. I'm still obsessed with you Quaraun. That hasn't changed. It never will. I do love you. That was never a lie. I still do."
"But I died."
"You died. You both died. You and Unicorn. And I was left alone."
"You went to tthe ends of the world to change history and try to bring me back."
"And now you live with someone else?"
“You didn’t come here to talk about Sunta. Why are you here? What do you want?”
“To go home.”
“Home. I remember home. I suppose I should remember being here with you, visiting me. It is my past after all.”
“Do you remember coming here?”
“Sunta?”Gremlin called upstairs again. “Do we remember visiting us?”
Gremlin waited for an answer but got none.
“No. We don’t remember visiting us. But we did have a lobotomy. More than once. We don’t remember much any more. Either of us. Me or Sunta. Poor Sunta. They tortured him.”
“White Rock. He was in White Rock as well. We both were. He’s alive. But after what they did to him... I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
“Would you like some tea? I will make us some tea.”
Gremlin got up and disappeared through a side door, returning moments later.
“Water is on the stove.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It’s good to see you.”
“What happened to the moon?”
“Ah, you noticed that.”
“I’m a Moon Elf, of course I did.”
“What do you want?”
“We want to go home.”
“Black Tower’s gone.”
“I don’t know how to get us back home without it.”
“Sunta!” Gremlin called out to his companion. “They want to go home. They want us to risk opening another portal. At risk of changing the future we have now. Do you want that?"
“Why don’t you bring him down here, you won’t have to yell.”
“Haha. Bring him down here. No. Sunta does what Sunta wants. You always did, didn’t you Sunta?”
A high pitched whistling sound came from the other room
Gremlin left the room again.
Unicorn slid up close to Quaraun and whispered: “I think we should leave. He not sane.”
“No, Unicorn,” Gremlin called out from the kitchen. “I’m not sane. But everyone knows that. I'm also not gone deaf. I may be half sheep, but I'm also half Elf still. I have impeccable Elf hearing. And so does Sunta. He hears you Unicorn. He knows you're here."
Gremlin returned from the kitchen carrying a tea set on a tray and set it on the table in front of the red chair.
"Still have my chair too Quaraun, and all of my Dungeons and Dragons books. I've really not changed much Quaraun."
The old half Elf walked up to Quaraun and handed him a teacup.
"Drugged with your favourite pink sugar cubes, just like you like it."
Quaraun set the cup on the table.
"I don't have time for LSD, Gremlin."
Gremlin turned to GhoulSpawn.
"Be careful not to touch me. As I am you and you are me. We don't want to create a rip in the fabric of time now, do we?"
"No," GhoulSpawn whispered. He was still scared of his future self.
"Escape while you can, GhoulSpawn, before you become me. Tea?”
Gremlin handed a tea cup to his younger self.
“Don’t worry. I don’t drug it like he does.”
“Can you send us home,” GhoulSpawn asked his future self.
“Home? Haha! Why not stay here and watch the end of the world. You're just in time for it. It should happen any day now.”
“Quaraun,” Unicorn said. “We need to leave.”
Gremlin handed Unicorn a teacup.
“Sunta tell you to leave?” Gremlin asked the Phooka. “He did didn’t he? He can talk to you. He always could talk to you couldn’t he?”
“I am so very sorry,” Unicorn said to Gremlin. Then grabbing Quaraun’s arm, forcibly dragged the Elf towards the door. “We have to leave right now.”
Before Quaraun had a chance to protest, Unicorn dragged the Elf from the house. GhoulSpawn looked back and forth from his friends to his future self, uncertain what to do. Gremlin sat back down in his red armchair and stirred his tea, while staring back at GhoulSpawn.
“What happened to you?” GhoulSpawn asked.
"You became me and I went insane. This is your future GhoulSpawn."
Gremlin pointed to the stairs.
“He’s right at the top of the stairs if you want to see him.”
“Quaraun. Or what’s left of him.”
“Left of him?"
"Sunta is Quaraun."
went back in time, hundreds, thousands of times. Trying to change
history. He died. He died horribly. I couldn’t let him die like
that. And one day I succeeded in changing the past. So he didn’t
die. He lived. He lived through what they did to him. But they still
did it. And now that is all that is left of him. I’ve not dared use
a portal again. I became terrified I would make it worse for him if I did. I destroyed Black Tower. Before I changed history
again and made it worse. I wanted him back. Now I think it had been
better had I let him die. I fear to try to change this, for fear, if
I change it again, it’ll be even worse for him next time. I take
care of him now. And we wait this world to end, that we may both die
and have to suffer no more. Go. Look at him. See what he has become.
And then find a way back to your own time and don’t let this future
happen. Please. Undo what I did. Don’t let this happen to him.”
"We're stuck here, without Black Tower."
"No. You're not. The portal around Black Tower are still there. You have to find the ruins and then don't go back home. Go to the future, when Unicorn is dead. The future without Unicorn. That's the one when things went wrong. It's the baby. He was lonely without Unicorn. He got hurt, and was rescued by a Human girl. She was pregnant. On the run from an abusive husband. He found her. Found her taking care of Quaraun. He beat her and killed the baby. She tried to kill herself after the baby died. Quaraun felt terrible. He blamed himself for the baby's death. So he married her. She's his 2nd wife. The one he's hiding from you and Unicorn. She was supposed to die. Had he not been there, she would have died with the baby. But because he was there, he saved her life, made her his wife, and she gave birth to a half-Elf that never should have been born. That's the event that triggers everything that leads to Ongadada. This future you are witnessing now... this devastation... it doesn't happen, if that half Elf baby is never born. You have to go back to the dad that girl's husband beat her and stop Quaraun from saving her life. Otherwise this is your future."
"How am I supposed to do that. I don't know. All I know, is if you can't stop him from saving her life, then you have to murder his half-Elf baby. And he'll hate you forever if you do that."
"I can't kill a baby. I can't even kill a fly."
"I know. I've gone back in time so many hundreds of times... to kill that baby.... and I can never do it. I can't take a life. I don't have it in me. That's why you have to stop him from rescuing that girl. She's supposed to die. She's not supposed to be rescued. She's not supposed to have his baby."
~From "GhoulSpawn and The Lich Lord's Lover" (Volume 22 of The Quaraun Series)
So, from that sample text from one of my novels, you see how it is I mixed SOME action into the dialogue, but not much, leaving most of the action to the reader's imagination.
Well, that's how I do it anyways.
Hope that helps.