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Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue

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A fine combination of this, Wall of Text, and an astonishing lack of Show, Don't Tell.

Rival's Pidgeotto: I can blow you all off this bridge with one wing tied behind my back.
Jasmine: Wait, since when were we on a bridge?
— Azza's Nuzlocke Run, Nuzlocke Fan Comics
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Conversations don't take place in a vacuum. Other things don't stop happening just because characters are talking. Many beginning writers forget this, writing long chunks of dialogue without any narration or dialogue tags to break it up, and in the process, the reader becomes lost in the Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue.

Like an unintentional version of the White Void Room or Blank White Void, the reader is given no reminders of the setting in which the dialogue actually occurs: For all they know, the scene could be completely bare and blank, with nothing to look at, no other characters and absolutely nothing occurring whatsoever aside from the dialogue in question. In the very worst cases, the writer may fail to even set the scene in the first place, giving the reader absolutely nothing at all to visualise what's happening. Another problem is that it's easy to lose track of who's saying what, especially if there are more than two characters involved in the conversation.

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Sometimes an author may do this on purpose, for example to keep The Omniscient Council of Vagueness appropriately vague. Other than that though, the Featureless Plane Of Disembodied Dialogue is uncommon in published literature, because professional editors tend to frown on it quite heavily. It's very common in live theatre, however, since it's easier to strip the stage bare of scenery than it is to transform from one set to another.

The trope also finds quite a bit of intentional use in stylized visual media for a number of purposes: Film Noir, for instance, is fond of using Chiaroscuro and minimalist staging to put an extreme focus on the actors and dialogue. Part of Alfred Hitchcock's Signature Style involved abstract shots giving this impression to create a dream-like disconnect between characters and their surroundings, while Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone together cemented it as THE trope for tense confrontations where the scope of the world is reduced to the participants and their immediate surroundings (if that far). More esoteric works frequently seek to further separate dialogue and context- say, a conversation is carried out in voiceover while closeup shots of various objects in the room are displayed.

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Compare Script Fic; indeed, many examples of this trope are script fics clumsily converted into prose to get around FanFiction.Net's ban of the format. See also Talking Is a Free Action, Wall of Text, Inaction Sequence and Speech-Centric Work. When the dialogue itself is being used as a substitute for describing the scene, see Show, Don't Tell and Expospeak.


Examples:

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    Fan Fic 
  • Dark Secrets: A review of this fic was the Trope Namer.
  • Hogwarts Exposed: Used throughout, but taken Up to Eleven by the fourth chapter of Too Exposed which is a Script Fic in all but name.
  • Mai's Ramblings: Every entry is completely encased in quotation marks. Some fans have speculated that Mai is telling it all to a psychiatrist in his office.
  • Prince of Darkness No More: Particularly bad towards the end of the first part, where it's lampshaded in the author's notes.
  • In Hermione's Talent, it's not only the Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue but the Featureless Plain of Disembodied Singing as well.
  • The Fans inhabit one of these in With Strings Attached most of the time, though hints as to their setting come out in the dialogue, and the different Fans are delineated with different quote-substitutes (i.e., Jeft's dialogue ~is surrounded by tildes~). Word of God has it that she took the technique from Piers Anthony's Cluster series. Note that whenever the Fans interact with the four there's physical description, since they're meeting in a mental space (albeit one that's usually a big white blank anyway, though all the characters are visible).
  • Oversaturated World: Group Precipitation is a collection where there are some minifics less than 200 words, so environmental description is sometimes non-existent:
    • Yet Another Revolution, by Tophe:
      "Show some respect fer yer elders, Jackie, Ah ain't deaf!" barked Granny. "Ah understand that Shimmer girl turned inta a sun goddess and changed the world bah magic."
      "Uh, good. You just seem weirdly... chill about all this."
      Granny smiled. "Ye say tha world's changed forever. Ah've heard that before. They said it when Fence Gates invented tha Internet. They said it when they split tha atom. An' by gum, they'll say it again someday!"
      "Ah don't think this is entirely comparable."
      "They said that before too. Now, since y'all can lift fifty stone onehanded, there's some chores need doin'..."
    • He'll Save Every One of Us, by Masterweaver and FoME:
      (Masterweaver)

      "Huh. Flash Sentry made the news."
      "What, again?"
      "Yeah, apparently he singlehandedly stopped a corrupt company from demolishing an orphanage using nothing but a slinkie, his guitar, and the power of apple pie."
      "...Par for the course. Popcorn's ready."
      "Ooo, good, movie's in two minutes!"

      (FoME)

      "Flash Sentry says he wasn't fully aware of what happened, but you were there with him. What can you tell us?"
      "Well—"
      Applejack put a hand over Pinkie's mouth. "No comment."
      The reporter blinked. "But—"
      "No. Comment."
    • Encoded Toil Inn, by Masterweaver:
      "Hey." Sonata grinned. "I was just thinking about how we all got back together."
      Adagio groaned. "Oh, don't remind me. That experience was horrible."
      "I dunno, I think it was kind of funny," Aria mused.
      "Yeah, well, I was just wondering... what ever happened to that one guy? You know, the one that had the thing?"
      "We left him at that theme park, remember?"
      "Well, yeah, but—"
      "Wait, I wasn't there for this. Who was this guy, and was the thing that thing?"
      "It was indeed, that thing. See, here's what happened....."

    Literature 
  • Jane Austen, to a surprising degree. She may tell you what house a conversation is happening in, and maybe the room, but she spends very little time describing the surroundings. Somewhat justified in that most of the action actually is in what is being said, implied, and not said.
  • John Green uses this in certain scenes of An Abundance of Katherines, when Colin and Lindsey talk in a pitch-black cave.
  • In True Grit, Charles Portis does this for one scene. However the scene takes place in a courtroom where no one is doing anything other than sitting and talking.
  • In Lost in a Good Book, Thursday and Harris pull this off deliberately, with a long stream of conversation with no indication of who said each line, to trap another character who may not be real (and who turns out to have escaped from his own book).
  • Vox is a transcript of a phone conversation over a chat line. The trope is even somewhat lampshaded in the book.
  • Steven Brust occasionally likes to narrate a scene strictly through the dialogue. In To Reign in Hell for example, dialogue between two characters in a fight scene indicates all of their actions.
  • Ender's Game deliberately does this with the conversations between Graff and Anderson, and the conversations between Graff and Carlotta. The comic book adaptation depicts these conversations as a page with nothing but script written on it.
  • This happens from time to time in S (by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst) because Jen and Eric's dialogue is entirely carried out through marginal notes in a book. There's very little physical description because the form doesn't really allow for it; we don't get to hear much about the characters' appearance or what their college or town looks like. It's surprisingly unimportant. By contrast the novel they're commenting on has plenty of description.
  • Strongly advised against in How NOT to Write a Novel.
  • Isaac Asimov is famous for this, and a list where this trope is averted would be very short:
    • The Black Widowers story "Northwestward": Despite including a fair bit of activity by the characters and describing their food and drink, the Milano is left relatively bare of description.
    • "A Boy's Best Friend": Only Jimmy and Robutt are described, due to this story's Flash Fiction format. His parents, and the home where they live, are left entirely to the audience's imagination. When printed in Boys Life magazine, it was accompanied by art to help the reader imagine what living on the moon would be like for kids their age.
    • "The Dead Past": Some descriptors for the main characters are used, but never very detailed and few rooms are described, or even named. The opening scene, specifically, presumably takes place in Director Araman's office, but it could just as easily be occurring in a hotel, given the details included.
    • "Dreaming is a Private Thing": There apparently isn't very much in the office; a nondescript desk, implied chairs, and a helmet for experiencing dreams.
    • "The Feeling of Power": The characters of Aub and Shuman are the only ones to rate a description, even when other characters are the only ones present in a scene. The rooms are all empty of description, although chairs and tables are implied, not textual evidence supports their existence.
    • "First Law": As typical for Dr Asimov's short fiction, there is little description for the characters or the setting in this story, emphasized by the Framing Device where Donovan is telling the story of what happened to him on Titan, which describes the sky in some detail, but doesn't describe anything else.
    • "Flies": Despite taking place during a college Class Reunion, which would imply a large crowd of hundreds of people, the only description is of the three characters. The flashbacks are expected to take place in different rooms, but there isn't any description to differentiate them from each other, or from the present day.
    • Foundation Series "Search by the Mule": Normally generic in his descriptions, Dr Asimov Lampshades it for the Interludes, because the exact location and names of the Second Foundation characters are being held in a deliberate aura of mystery. The title refers to the way the Mule is trying to find them, and they've kept themselves hidden from the galaxy for hundreds of years.
      The Executive Council of the Second Foundation was in session. To us, they are merely voices. Neither the exact scene of the meeting nor the identity of those present are essential at the point.
    • Franchise: Most of the main characters get a line or two of description when they're introduced, but rooms are completely bare of details unless a character interacts with the furniture.
    • "The Gentle Vultures": Captain Devi-en receives the most description, aimed mostly at giving a sense of the Hurrian appearance. The other two main characters have even less description and the Hurrian Moon base has absolutely nothing described about its appearance. The story focuses instead on the idea of aliens who wait until nuclear war and then swoop in to fix everything afterwards, for a price.
    • "Gimmicks Three": The two main characters, Shapur and Isidore Welby, don't get much description aside from Shapur's sulfuric stench and tail. The room itself is actually a blank bronze cubicle.
    • "Green Patches": While the human characters are given some reasonable descriptions, the ship itself could be any shape, colour, or size, and this problem extends to the interior as well.
    • "Hell-Fire": No descriptors for the main characters are used, or for the room itself. They don't matter; the description is reserved for the slow-motion film of an atomic bomb.
    • "Homo Sol": While the aliens are described with unusually coloured/shaped appendages, almost none of the setting itself is, taking place in rooms of the audience's imagination only.
    • "The Hazing": While the Humanoid Aliens are given some basic descriptors, none of the humans are given physical distinguishing traits.
    • "I Just Make Them Up, See!": None of Isaac Asimov, the fan, nor the setting are described because none of it is relevant to asking the Driving Question; "How on earth [does Dr Asimov] give birth to those crazy and impossible ideas?"
    • "The Imaginary": Humanoid Aliens from the same planet are given consistent descriptors and aliens from different planets can almost be told apart without their names, but buildings and rooms get less than minimal description. Notably, the strange glow from the squid is never given a colour, perhaps to support the assertion that it isn't electromagnetic in nature (light and colour are part of the electromagnetic spectrum).
    • "The Immortal Bard": This particular story shows quite a bit of physical activity from Dr Welch, seeking out glasses of alcohol and checking his pockets for Shakespeare's signature. Despite this, the supposedly crowded room may as well have been taking place in an empty parking lot due to the lack of interaction. Nor do we get a physical description of either character aside from the clothes worn by Dr Welch.
    • "Insert Knob A in Hole B": The characters and setting are barely given any description, Dr Asimov relies on the Studio Audience being able to see his fellow panelists and the context of the panel itself to paint the scene. The only room mentioned in the entire space station is the airlock.
    • "Jokester": Most of the story takes place within the rooms of Multivac, the massive computer system, and is sparsely described to minimize the potential for getting future computer design obviously wrong. The characters themselves have even less description, as Dr Asimov focuses on character dynamics instead.
    • "Kid Stuff": The elf and Jan Prentiss are described in detail, but the office where the story takes place only has a desk and typewriter, and the wife and son are only given short descriptors.
    • "The Last Trump": After The End of the World as We Know It and everyone starts waking from death, the buildings disintegrate, nobody pays much attention to people's bodies, and even the landscape itself starts to level out.
    • "The Message": This story is written with very clear imagery for the setting and emotion, but the character descriptions are, as usual, treated as sparse and unnecessary.
    • "True Love": (Justified Trope) The story is told from Joe's perspective, a computer program that has limited sensory input. Joe doesn't describe anyone's appearance, considering them pointless in comparison to personality and temperament.
    • "The Watery Place": The aliens are described as wearing expensive suits, but the two human characters aren't described. The setting is barely mentioned either, aside from a desk and window.
  • Thomas Harris employs this in The Silence of the Lambs when FBI trainee Clarice Starling is Consulting a Convicted Killer, Dr Hannibal Lecter. The two are in the basement of an insane asylum with no other (important) characters paying attention or even present, making the use of this trope more palatable; additionally, Harris gives the characters such prominent voices and motivations that telling them apart becomes easy, even after pages of unattributed dialogue. Tellingly, The Film of the Book renders the corresponding scenes primarily in alternating close-ups, allowing the conversation to dominate.
  • A key feature of the novel J R by William Gaddis. Most of the novel consists of dialogue with no attribution and very rare and minimal descriptions. The reader often has to use the dialogue to figure out what is going on. This is done deliberately to create a feeling of chaos and "noise".
  • Tends to crop up in Agatha Christie during courtroom scenes and The Summation. Especially prominent in Five Little Pigs, which is told almost entirely through a series of dialogues Poirot has with the witnesses to a crime.

    Theatre 

    Roleplay 

    Web Comics 
  • Sonichu, as shown in the page image, combines the Wall of Text with very limited backgrounds to this effect.
  • White Dark Life, being an amateur work, occasionally falls into this in the roleplays. (It can generally be assumed that the roleplays start out in the same location as the comic they're attached to. However, if the location changes, good luck keeping up.)

    Web Original 
  • Cirno And Purple Steve: Justified in chapter 11 because it actually takes place in a featureless plane.
  • Project Banzai uses this deliberately when anything is happening in Heaven.
  • SCP Foundation uses this in a lot of its interviews, adding to the chilling effect most of them get. Granted, the reason why they're featureless is they're written as actual interview transcripts instead of any sort of narrative.

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