Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Post Reply
User avatar
Crystal
Posts: 92
Joined: December 16th, 2009, 9:43 am
Contact:

Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Crystal » December 18th, 2009, 2:37 pm

I was just wondering if your characters can talk to much? Sometimes I feel like I have quotes around everything.

It is a story being told first person so I feel that these conversations are important but I don't want a story filled with he said, she said, they said... :)
Working my very first attempt at a mystery novel. 1st draft

User avatar
jrector
Posts: 8
Joined: December 17th, 2009, 4:48 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by jrector » December 18th, 2009, 2:53 pm

There is if it's bad dialog, otherwise, knock yourself out. Gregory Mcdonald's 'Fletch' novels are 99% dialog, and they're great books. As far as dialog attribution goes, if you're clear about who's talking you don't need it at all. Cormac McCarthy, for example.

Do whatever you want, as long as it works. There are no rules.
Author of The Grove and The Cold Kiss

Kaitlyne
Posts: 103
Joined: December 6th, 2009, 7:41 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Kaitlyne » December 18th, 2009, 9:59 pm

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.

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2008/07...-mistakes.html
http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2008/07...es-take-2.html

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.

User avatar
Crystal
Posts: 92
Joined: December 16th, 2009, 9:43 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Crystal » December 18th, 2009, 11:42 pm

Jrector, thank you. I hope it isn't all bad dialogue. I actually hope none of it is bad but IDK yet.

Kaitlyne thank you so much.

That was very helpful. Adding character action to the dialogue seems to be what I am doing already, so I guess I have some sense of doing it right.
I know that as a reader I tend to have to re-read dialogue because I skim over it for some reason. I don't want my readers to do that.
Working my very first attempt at a mystery novel. 1st draft

User avatar
shadow
Posts: 302
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 5:06 pm
Location: The moon
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by shadow » December 20th, 2009, 10:54 am

not really. It depends on your story. Good luck.
All things writing, visit my blog http://arielemerald.blogspot.com/

ImageImageImageImage

User avatar
charity_bradford
Posts: 45
Joined: December 19th, 2009, 3:38 pm
Location: United States
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by charity_bradford » December 21st, 2009, 9:20 am

There is a great section in "The First 5 Pages" by Noah Lukeman that talks about dialogue balance. I recommend the entire book for any first timers. There are lots of great tips on how to improve your novel before approaching an agent--practical, easy to digest and implement.
If you are a mother and a writer you have to make the time to write. No one is going to give it to you.
http://charitywrites.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Scott
Posts: 116
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 3:14 pm
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Scott » December 21st, 2009, 10:16 am

The answer for me is "yes". But if you're one of those authors who has found a way to break the rules in an interesting way, awesome. If not, it's going to come off very chatty, I think.

User avatar
Crystal
Posts: 92
Joined: December 16th, 2009, 9:43 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Crystal » December 21st, 2009, 10:45 am

Charity, thanks for the book suggestion. I have been researching some books that might be helpful and I hadn't come across that one.

Scott, thanks. I don't want it to be chatty. I think I'm just paranoid at this point. I am at an a troublesome point and it seems that dialogue is the only way around it. I just don't want to add to much of it.
Working my very first attempt at a mystery novel. 1st draft

Kaitlyne
Posts: 103
Joined: December 6th, 2009, 7:41 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Kaitlyne » December 21st, 2009, 7:20 pm

Is it a situation you could explain? It might be possible that there's another way around it that you haven't thought of yet, and maybe we could give you some ideas. Of course, it could be that you just need to have the dialogue there.

ThinkBlue
Posts: 13
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 6:38 pm
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by ThinkBlue » December 22nd, 2009, 3:01 am

Good dialogue is difficult to pull off and you shouldn't put in quotes what can be summarized. If it's unnecessary or sounds forced, trash it. If it kicks ass, more power to you.

Chimera
Posts: 3
Joined: December 22nd, 2009, 11:35 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Chimera » December 22nd, 2009, 11:39 am

I think too much narration is a more dangerous and far more likely pitfall. A lot of writers I see in my creative writing classes use 90% narration, and in general, I think it leads to too much summary and not enough scene. I also dislike using too much narration because it makes me feel like I think my words are more important than my characters'. I gotta let my characters speak!

User avatar
Scott
Posts: 116
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 3:14 pm
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Scott » December 23rd, 2009, 10:18 am

Crystal wrote:Scott, thanks. I don't want it to be chatty. I think I'm just paranoid at this point. I am at an a troublesome point and it seems that dialogue is the only way around it. I just don't want to add to much of it.
Chimera makes a good point, but I think a similar pitfall is true with dialog. It can be tempting to allow your characters to speak the story. If you're a conversational type of writer, or tend to communicate a lot through speech (or emails, etc.) you may find setting up circumstances and "telling" a story comes natural. Showing one, where the business is also in the action, may not just fall out.

This may be a crazy question, but is a novel the best way to tell your story? Screenplays are mostly dialog, or having been related to an agent for some time, I know that's mostly what they look at first time through.

User avatar
Crystal
Posts: 92
Joined: December 16th, 2009, 9:43 am
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by Crystal » December 23rd, 2009, 10:58 am

This may be a crazy question, but is a novel the best way to tell your story? Screenplays are mostly dialog, or having been related to an agent for some time, I know that's mostly what they look at first time through
No it is definitely a novel. And after another good read through of the first few chapters I have concluded I have a very good balance of dialogue and narration. It is flowing well and so far my readers are crazy about the story.
Working my very first attempt at a mystery novel. 1st draft

saskia
Posts: 8
Joined: December 21st, 2009, 11:46 pm
Contact:

Re: Is there a such thing as too much dialogue

Post by saskia » December 23rd, 2009, 2:25 pm

Crystal,

Yes there can be too much dialogue. But there can be too much narration, description, action, any type of writing. A reader gets tired of reading any type of writing that goes on for too long. As a writer you have to mix it up so you don’t exhaust your reader. Of course there are exceptions to this “rule” but I think they are few and far between.

A book has its own rhythm and pace and a lot of that rhythm is created by the length of each type of writing and the switches between them. If it only had one type the rhythm would be flat and boring. The question is not only how well you do each type but how long you let them go on and how smoothly you switch between types. I think you never want to be caught with the reader thinking – how long will this go on!

The book charity_branford recommended is very good and I think worth reading for anyone writing novels.

My 2 cents
-S

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest