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White Wall Syndrome

In today's podcast episode, I talk about using dialogue tags to combat White Wall Syndrome and achieve the ideal balance between dialogue and description — but after recording and listening to the full episode, I realized it might be nice to have a visual of the examples I have used in the audio!

Before I get to those visuals, a few notes:


A few times, I state that the biggest exception to the rule of stitching together dialogue and description is in a fight scene. I want to state here that there are, of course, other exceptions to this rule, and that I'm not saying that blocks of description are bad — instead, I'm saying that if they can be avoided, avoid them. Use those "blocks" sparingly.


There is a universal tendency amongst all readers, and that is the temptation to skim through the text if blocks of description get too heavy. Typically, they will skim until they get straight to the dialogue — which is why it's so important to avoid "blocks" of anything. This is also why making sure your descriptions have actual relevance to the narrative is necessary — and, again, make sure all of your descriptions are subjective, not objective.

Anyway, back to visuals of the examples. Here's the first example in the podcast episode, which demonstrates what White Wall Syndrome looks like:


Ethel Wetbridge motioned to a nearby chair. “You may sit there. Though, I won’t be serving you tea or anything — this isn’t a social call.”

“Of course,” Anna said, finding the chair. “Where is everybody else?”


“It’ll just be us tonight,” said Ethel.


“Is it possible to conduct a séance with only two people?” asked Anna.


“Three people,” Ethel said.


“What?” Anna looked around. “Where’s the third person?”


“Oh, you can’t see him,” said Ethel. “My late husband, Earl, will likely join in.”


As you can see, this is very dialogue heavy. To further demonstrate this, I'll highlight the only instances of description:


Ethel Wetbridge motioned to a nearby chair. “You may sit there. Though, I won’t be serving you tea or anything — this isn’t a social call.”

“Of course,” Anna said, finding the chair. “Where is everybody else?”

“It’ll just be us tonight,” said Ethel.

“Is it possible to conduct a séance with only two people?” asked Anna.

“Three people,” Ethel said.

“What?” Anna looked around. “Where’s the third person?”

“Oh, you can’t see him,” said Ethel. “My late husband, Earl, will likely join in.”


I can't recall if I noted this in the podcast episode today, but if I didn't, I want to reiterate that this scene has taken place after Anna has entered Ethel's house for the first time — so, the reader hasn't had a chance to get a visual of Ethel's house at all, outside of knowing there's a chair nearby.


Here's the next example, which demonstrates how using a block of description can be a little problematic (i.e., boring):


Ethel Wetbridge motioned to a nearby chair. “You may sit there. Though, I won’t be serving you tea or anything — this isn’t a social call.”


"Of course,” Anna said, finding the chair. It was barely stuffed, with a heavy slope eroded into the seat of it after one too many occupants. The carpet was an outdated, forest green that spotlighted just how long it’d been since Ethel had vacuumed the place. The curtains matched the carpeting. It was an ugly, cramped room, crowded with mismatched furniture and too many dead houseplants. There was an old piano in the corner that looked like it was older than Ethel. Blah blah blah . . .


Now, last but not least, here's the example I used to demonstrate how stitching together both description and dialogue (with interesting and informative dialogue tags) is one of the best ways to combat White Wall Syndrome:


Ethel Wetbridge motioned to a nearby chair. “You may sit there. Though, I won’t be serving you tea or anything — this isn’t a social call.”


“Of course,” Anna said awkwardly, edging closer to the chair in question. Its floral upholstery was sun-bleached to the point of being sepia, each armrest speckled with food stains. “This one here, right?”


Ethel’s eyes blinked like an owl’s. “Yes. Obviously.”


With great reluctance, Anna eased into the foul-scented chair. Unfortunately, it seemed to fit the motif of Ethel’s style — or lack thereof. Nearly every square foot of the living room’s walls was covered in ornately carved cuckoo clocks. Immediately, she dreaded the top of the hour, which would likely be an assault on both ears and nerves. “So, where is everybody else?”


“It’ll just be us tonight,” Ethel barked, trying and failing again to strike a match. The green carpet beneath her feet was now riddled with the debris broken matches.


Anna cleared her throat, making way for what she feared might be a stupid question. “Is it possible to conduct a séance with only two people?”


“There will be three people,” Ethel corrected her. Just then, her fifth match lit. The room smelled almost instantly of sulfur dioxide, summoning Anna’s favorite childhood memory: The Fourth of July, nearly twenty years ago, when she was a girl. Her dad had set off fireworks illegally in their back yard. It had been magical.


“I thought you said it’ll just be us tonight,” Anna said. “Where’s the third person?”


“Oh, you can’t see him,” Ethel replied slyly, casting a chill down Anna’s spine. “My late husband, Earl, will likely join in.”


I hope this was helpful, writers! Have a great weekend! :)




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