What do you consider your biggest strength when it comes to writing? I think dialog comes close to the top of the list for me. I’ve had several people remark on it. Yeah, I keep my mouth closed in real life, but my characters blab away…
Truthfully, I overdo dialog. In fact, in the past I have had beta readers comment on my over use of dialog. Not all – I’ve had others that had positive things to say about it.
I have started editing “The Old Mill”, a book that I posted here as a serial. One thing that I discovered, to my dismay, is that I have entire chapters that are 100% dialog. Some are phone conversations. Others are people sitting around chatting. After I did one quick pass through the book I almost felt that it would be easier to make it into a play than a novel. Not just a play, but an Elizabethan era play, with few stage directions. Or perhaps an opera.
Ouch. How do I fix that?
I am now in the middle of a rewrite. One thing that I am doing is changing it from all first person to third person. Every chapter is in one person’s POV (well, for the most part), but the chapters can be in different POVs. OK, most are in the main character’s POV, just third person. But I have added other POVs, which really helps develop the characters and makes the entire story more three dimensional.
Does this help with the dialog issue?
Well, I have added several new chapters and these chapters have very little dialog. Much better. But when I “convert” a chapter from first person to third, I have been leaving most of the dialog untouched. OK. I have added a lot of action, internal feeling and observation, which helps. But most of the dialog is still there.
I’ve pulled a couple of chapters apart and tried to figure out how I could get the same information across in different ways, but have drawn a blank. For now I will save that for the third draft and just concentrate on what I am doing for the second. I mean, the amount of dialog, while essentially unchanged, is getting diluted, but diluted in a positive way that helps the story. Fine.
But it still bugs me when I go to a new chapter and see pages of nothing but dialog. Argh, makes me want to scream! I read through, it all flows smoothly from one idea to the next, is all logical, it has a great natural rhythm, it sounds good. But I’m not writing a play! I then think, “Well, I’m sure others have conversation like this.” I grab a random book and leaf through it. Nope. Very little dialog, just page after page of prose without a single quotation mark.
OK, let’s try this again. As I write this I open a hard cover version Stephen King’s “Outsider” randomly to page 222-223. Uhm, all dialog. OK, pages 358-359. See, no dialog! Not a single quotation mark. One more try. 470-471. Mostly dialog.
Anyway, am I being to harsh on myself about dialog? Do you think dialog can help move the story along, or does it slam on the breaks for you? Is putting across main points as part of a natural conversation too much “Telling” and not enough “Showing”? Let’s have a conversation about dialog :)