Haha, I just was asking about this recently. ;) I know some readers are turned off by it and won't buy a book with a lot, but that's a personal preference. I'm sure there are also people who will flip through a book and see hardly any dialogue and say, "wow, that looks boring."
I read a couple of good pieces of advice the other day from Kristin Nelson on this and linked them on another forum. Um...I'm now wondering if it's in poor taste to link another agent on Nathan's forum. I'm going to, but if you'd rather I wouldn't, Nathan, just let me know and I'll remove them. I kind of think you won't mind, but I'll take them down if you do.
Anyway, I was reading through some of her posts for the first time the other day and came across these, which actually paranoid me and had me wondering if I was doing an okay job or not (luckily the consensus was I'm probably okay. ;)). Anyway, it was interesting and something I don't recall seeing before, and she hit on something that goes beyond just whether or not the dialogue is good. So they're just a couple of pitfalls to watch out for.
I do think a lot of it depends on how good the dialogue is. If the dialogue is boring or poorly written, it's incredibly hard to get through. And dialogue isn't an easy thing to learn, but the process of writing this book will improve you a lot. I used to actually avoid dialogue because I wasn't very good at it. Then I got to a book that I realized needed
a lot of dialogue, and I had no choice, so I learned.
As for "he said," etc., there are other tricks of the trade. I'm not a big fan of "said" myself, so I've actually had to train myself to put it in. On the other hand, you don't want dialogue that looks like this:
"Way to go, Bob," Sally said.
"Yeah. Next time you want to try unplugging the coffee pot before you decide to clean it," Max said.
"Oh come on," Bob said. "Like you've never made a mistake."
Actually, that doesn't bother me all that much, but it's easy to see how having said with every sentence or as the only dialogue tag could get old.
I'm gonna post a bit of dialogue I have in my story as an example. Not sure if it's a very good one, I just pulled out a random scene with three talkers (which are much harder because you have to attribute more). Hopefully it doesn't suck haha. Anyway, here goes:
“I am.” He (Edison) rolled onto his back and stretched. “If either of those two is shady it’s going to be her.”
Nathan looked up. “What makes you say that?”
“Too normal,” Edison said. “Blends in too well. Cynthia…she’d have to be the world’s best actress. No one’s that good.”
Mario grinned. “Seemed like you’re type, Eddie.”
“How can you not like a girl who knows Reservoir Dogs?”
“I also think she would see straight through ninety-eight percent of your bullshit.”
Edison laughed. “Might make an honest man of me, you’re saying? I highly doubt that. Might kick my ass, though.”
I had a writing teacher do an explanation once about dialogue tags with things like "nodded, smiled," etc., and it was probably the most useful thing we ever had in that class. It's also really easy to overuse those as well (I'm constantly going back and taking them out or changing them), but it gives you a good way to avoid saying "said" every other sentence.
Two other things to consider that I just thought of. One, if you can have character action in there that relates to the plot somehow that's the most ideal. Meaning you don't want to be using something like, "She pushed the hair away from her forehead" five times a chapter. I use that a couple of times, but it's more to demonstrate body language. You have to think about things like that and what you're trying to indicate with the character.
The second thing is pacing. Dialogue moves faster and can be a bit exhausting if there's too much of it, I think. Sometimes you want to slow it down some, and there are some really easy ways to do that. Inserting actions can slow it down some, but you can also include setting situations, etc., to help the reader keep a good visual of what's going on. (That's something else that's easy to lose in dialogue. If there's too much, the reader might lose the mental image). Here's another example I pulled out of mine:
“You bring breakfast?”
Mario reached into a side pocket of his bag and tossed Edison an apple.
“I was thinking of something more along the lines of chocolate with sugar frosting.”
“It’s called fruit, Eddie. It’s full of something scientists like to call ‘vitamins.’”
“Are you saying monosodium glucosamine isn’t good for me?”
Mario set a scanner on the table and looped the earpiece over his ear. “How’s your hand?”
Edison opened his fingers and flexed. The knuckles were stiff and starting to purple. “Not bad. I had my gloves on. I think that took a bit of the impact.”
The extra stuff slows down the dialogue a bit, but the bumps (there's probably a real name for that, but I call them bumps) reflect on what's going on, give a visual, and relate to the plot (he's setting up his electronics equipment, not just doing something random for no reason). At least, they hopefully do.
I might not be the best examples of this stuff, but these are things I think about when writing dialogue. If you have a lot of it, they're definitely things you'll want to consider. The flow is most important. Also, if you're worried about how the dialogue sounds in general, a good trick is to read it aloud. If it sounds unnatural it stands out more. :)
This turned into a much longer post than I had intended! Sorry about that, but hopefully it helps some.