Over the past half century, discussions of thought and speech in the novel have been dominated by the category of free indirect style or discourse, which blends the points of view of character and narrator. Ann Banfield influentially argued that free indirect style has been the most distinctive formal achievement of the novel since the early nineteenth century. Such arguments implicitly contrast free indirect style with dialogue, which overtly sets characters’ words off from other elements of narrative using typographical features (such as quotation marks and paragraph indentations) or speech tags. But dialogue has received relatively little critical attention.

Recognizing the importance of dialogue to readers and writers of novels, as well as its relative critical neglect, we propose that dialogue does not constitute a stable, sharply bounded, and utilitarian alternative to more complex narrative functions. Instead, this special issue of Narrative seeks to generate discussion about dialogue’s distinctiveness and significance as a narrative element. We invite consideration of the interpretive possibilities, aesthetic effects, and epistemological questions that arise from the demarcations of speech in the novel. We welcome proposals for articles that consider the functions of fictional dialogue and explicate the complexity of its effects in the novel in any period, language, or medium.

One-page proposals are due 1 January 2017. If accepted, articles of 6,000–7,000 words (including notes and works cited) will be due in September 2017. Please send queries and proposals to Laura Green ( and William A. Cohen (