Character Talk   18 comments

Do you embrace dialog or narrate your way around it? Why?

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Dialogue

I love dialogue and often my first draft of a scene will be nothing more than dialogue. I’ve said before that my writing process is essentially my characters telling me their stories, but often their way of telling a story is to have me listen in on dialogue.

Due Out October 20

After I’ve written that very initial draft, I go back in and add narrative to make the scene more approachable. Those conversations in my head almost never have the room they’re in, the clothes they’re wearing, the image of sunlight slanting through a window. It’s just words.

Most of human interaction involves talking with one another, so it makes sense that fictional characters would interact via dialogue. I’ve read some books that were almost entirely narrative and that can get tiresome to slog through after a while. I definitely embrace dialogue.

However

You can do too much of a good thing.

When I first started submitting my work to beta critique, someone commented “You really like dialogue!”

That’s all he said. There was no negative connotations to it, but his comment bothered me. I thought about it. I reread the section he was commenting on and I realized that too much of a good thing can bore the reader. Even with the bits of narrative interwoven in the conversations, it was just this wall of talking and I had to ask myself if it was really necessary.

I came to the conclusion that it isn’t always useful to embrace dialogue. Now, I sometimes rewrite dialogue into narrative to break up the scene and give readers relief from so much talking. Think about when you fly over the Midwest and watch the landscape unroll beneath you. Is it the miles upon miles of alternating corn fields that get your attention or the occasional field that does something different? I know I wonder about the different field so much more than the ubiquitous corn fields.

Variety is the spice of life and writing and if I’m reading through the third draft and I’m getting tired of Ben and Peter still trying to work out the repair of their friendship by talking about what Ben can’t forgive and Peter can’t take back, well, then I might just entertain the reading audience with Peter’s thoughts on the conversation rather than a repeat of a similar conversation. I don’t want them rolling their eyes and skipping the conversation where Ben thaws and Peter assures him he won’t regret the decision — although this being Peter, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to keep his promise of good future behavior — he has a history, after all. Still, Peter means well and despite his character deficiencies, he can have some pretty funny thoughts about his conversations with Ben.

Mix It Up

I think good writing has a mix of styles in it and too much of any one style can get boring. That doesn’t mean you need to abandon one type of writing in favor of another. It’s means writing shouldn’t be a monoculture where books are almost entirely narrative or almost entirely dialogue. I prefer dialogue over narrative, but I dial it back for variety’s sake and I think that’s a good decision.

When all is said and done, I want to write approachable books that keep readers turning the page.

Posted October 19, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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18 responses to “Character Talk

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  1. I prefer dialogue. There’s the need for author intervention in some areas, like the old standing in front of the mirror recalling the horrors of war for 2 or 3 pages, or a page and a half tour of a long driveway or a good old fashioned J D MacDonald man vs morality riff. But mostly? People. My first editor said that the beauty of dialog in fiction was the ability to avoid the extraneous BS that happens in real conversations while maintaining a “real” feel.

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    • I actually enjoy a little of that extraneous stuff. Makes it feel like listening to a real conversation. But I try not to overdo it in my own writing. But a character commenting on the flowers another character is tending goes a long way to make a conversation feel like my neighbors talking over the back fence. I strip the extraneous from my short stories, though. Word limits matter there.

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      • Amen, I overwrite dialogue and then have to get after it. And it’s the little stuff that reveals character, enhances a scene way better than saying Mary had a wild garden.

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      • I was being facetious about the mirror and backstory. The extraneous stuff is the call and response and bunny chasing we can avoid. I have characters get into an argument over who has control of the tabasco bottle. So…

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      • A local beta reader who sometimes goes deep on my books calls it “winnowing”. She has a similar philosophy to you and I about dialogue — the more the merrier and she LOVES the short bunny trails and a fight over a Tabasco bottle would make her so happy, but I also get these notes from her — “Time to winnow.” I appreciate her efforts. She writes True Crime novels based in Alaska. I read her books and I hear Humphrey Bogart back-narrating a Micky Spilane movie, only I see her face. She’s got to be 70 — sweetest little old lady — and it’s absolutely a weird experience.

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      • I had a backstory/time collapse dump in dialogue as example for this week and canned it. It went from 1500 to 1200 and still felt fat. But I’d rather hear it from a character than “and the Jimmy did this, and then he did that, and then he…”

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      • Show, don’t tell. Dialogue, done right, is showing.

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  2. I’ve embraced more dialogue as I’ve grown in confidence over the past 7 years. I started out with virtually none, and now there’s probably more dialogue than narrative in my latest book.

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    • Okay, I’m a voyeur. I love to sit somewhere and listen to someone else’s conversation. Years ago, I used to have to drop my husband off at work at 5 am Sunday mornings and then I had to be at church at 9:30 am. I found, if I went home, I’d fall asleep on the sofa and not make it to church, so I started stopping at an all-night diner. I’d drink coffee and read a book, sometimes read the Sunday School lesson (later, I would spend it reviewing the Sunday School lesson I was teaching that morning and writing the next week’s Sunday School lesson). But, the side benefit was that there was this group of old men who always occupied the booth behind me and I would listen to their conversations. They were a non-partisan group. I remember one was a retired doctor, another was a retired building contractor and a third was a retired university professor. Then there were three others. They’d talk about EVERYTHING, but especially the current news, and they disagreed OFTEN, but they did it in a friendly fashion and it was a great way, as a 20-something, to hear what the older generation thought and why they thought it. I never outed myself with them because that would have been awkward, but as a reporter for the local newspaper, I’d use what I overheard to track down “the other part of the story” in local articles.

      When that diner closed, I lost track of them, but I’ve remained an inveterate voyeur since then.

      A couple of months ago, a similar group formed at my favorite Sunday morning coffee shop. They used to meet at another diner that closed because of CVD19. I’ve been eavesdropping on them and thoroughly enjoying their conversations. On Sunday, a friend of mine sat nearby. She’s a pretty girl and one of the men knows her, so he invited her into the conversation and then she invited me into the conversation. I didn’t tell them I’d been eavesdropping because I want their dialogue. It never occurred to me that those “old farts” years ago were a wonderful source of dialogue, but my goodness, they certainly are! It feels awkward when you first start, but if you can master the technique of pretending to read a book while listening to the back-and-forth, it’s well-worth the exercise.

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      • There ya go. I’m a listener out there in the real world. It was the only way I could my gig. And I’ll eavesdrop anywhere. The ones that kill me, though, are the cell phone convos in public…I mean some people have nothing on their minds.

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      • I think all writers are guilty of eavesdropping on conversations! I mastered that art of reading but listening during childhood when my mother and aunts got together. It;s amazing what you find out!

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  3. I plan to rewrite an older book of mine (never released) It’ll be interesting to see how the role of dialogue changes in the rewrite.

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  4. It’s good to mix things up a little. Looking back on my old work, I can see how much my style has changed. I missed out on so many chances to use dialogue to make my scenes better.

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  5. I’ve had parts of my first draft be only dialogue, too. Often times that’s what drives my story at first. Later, when I have time to sit still in each scene and look around, then I add the setting bits.

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  6. Balance is important!

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