How is everyone? Still alive? Survived NaNoWriMo, and life in general, for the last month? Congratulations, even if you didn’t manage 50k words in November, as long as you wrote some words, you can always add more.
I ‘won’ NaNo again, though not by a wide margin this year (only 53k compared to my usual 65k+), and for the first time without any hope of being able to revive the story as it stands. Aside from the many plot holes (also something I don’t usually excel at) I kept having this sinking feeling that there was just way too much dialogue.
It’s hard to find a good balance between action and talking. While there are many non-verbal cues, talking is still the best way to convey who a character is, and what is going on, especially when you’ve got a big cast and a convoluted story-line. When I first did NaNo, I had not nearly enough talking, just action-beats all the way through. Then I did ScriptFrenzy to try and get better at dialogue, and ever since I’ve had a lot of talking in my novels, especially with this story that started out as a script. So where is the line between helpful dialogue and story-stalling conversations?
As with any sort of writing ‘advice’ or contemplation, the answer is that ‘it depends’. There are some great writers out there who have amazing novels that are almost no action, with a large amount of dialogue. I mean, if it worked for Shakespeare… Then there are great novels with almost no dialogue, except inner dialogue maybe. And not all of these novels are necessarily action-packed to compensate. Every writer has their own style, their own balance, crafted out of many millions of words and thousands of hours of practice.
That doesn’t mean however that readers aren’t attracted to a certain kind of balance for a certain kind of story. Specific genres (again with the exception of the great, exceptional books in those genres) tend to come with specific balancing acts. High literature is considered more wordy, more dialogue-y, than fast-paced fantasy or thriller novels. Romance obviously requires some dialogue, at the very least as foreplay to the main ‘action’. Sci-fi has both dialogue and action in a fine balance of the scales. We’re all readers here, we know what we like to see when we pick up a certain type of book.
That’s not to say that dialogue is opposed to action. Dialogue can create action and momentum just as easily as it can stall things entirely. Easy reading however does not make for easy writing, and it’s a lot easier to stall your story with conversation than it is to help move it along. There’s a reason why so many writing guides mention exposition as the Big Bad that must be avoided at all times; it’s a common newbie mistake.
So how do you make your dialogue support and propel the story, the action? Honestly, I don’t know. But I’m trying to find out. So if you read this, and you have your own experiences wrestling with the dialogue in your novel, then do please share. If you’ve read a novel that makes excellent use of dialogue, then please share that. Maybe we can figure it out together.