I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of dialogue in novels lately. One of the reasons my book was rejected by a publishing house is because it had too much dialogue and the Editor said that novels with too much are generally weak novels.
For me personally as a reader, I love dialogue. I tend to skip the paragraphs of expoistion in a book and go straight to the dialogue. Especialy towards the end and in the grips of action. And when books begin with pages and pages of exposition I get bored easily. To me, the story and action come alive when the charaters are speaking to one another, and I learn more about the characters from what they say and how they act.
While a lot of writers say they have trouble with dialogue, I find it the easiest to write. And, I’ve been told that my dialogue is written very well. Writing a character’s internal thoughts and paragraphs of exposition are harder for me. For me, narrative can become repetitive over time and they are boring to me.
I suppose, though, that a novel can have too much dialogue. Especially when conversations drag on and on to the point where it feels like the writer was just trying to fill space and add words to their total word count. Too much dialogue or conversations that drag tend to slow a story down. Perhaps that is what she meant and I should go through my draft to make sure that every word spoken by my characters is actually needed, that each conversation moves the story forward and it’s just mindless ramble.
But at the same time, I don’t know if one could label a novel with too much dialogue if that is the best way to tell the story. I guess the only way to describe it is a balancing act that each writer must balance themselves using their own judgement. While researching the topic I came across some great advice on the Writer’s Digest website on how to strike a balance. They are basic rules you can follow when editing your drafts.
- Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)
- Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)
- Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative.)
- Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds? (Use narrative.)
- Likewise, are my characters alone in their heads when my characters in conversation would be more effective and lively? (Use dialogue.)
- Is my story top-heavy in any way at all—too much dialogue, too much narrative or too much action? (Insert more of the elements that are missing.)
- Are my characters providing too many background details as they’re talking to each other? (Use narrative.)
Off the top of my head I know there are certain conversations which do not follow these rules. The only problem for me know is how to edit them and have them show don’t tell. Because I know of a few that I changed to fix that problem.