I’m no mathematician, but if I had to guess, I’d say about eighty percent of my novel is dialogue. Yes, that’s over three hundred pages of it, and I’m not planning on cutting back on the number of witty exchanges during the revision process.
Some writers view dialogue as a filler, something to entertain, maybe amuse, but not necessarily progress the plot. Some just get so caught up in their own prose that they forget to let the characters talk.
Confession: I used to be the second kind. As I tried to transition from the ‘younger’ sounding writing style I’d been so attached to growing up to something a little more mature, I found myself relying too heavily on overbearing descriptive language and obsessing over ‘setting the scene.’ All those extra dense paragraphs started to weigh down the work, making the plot drag and sucking the life out of my characters.
And then I decided to stop caring so much about what type of marble the mantle was made of and more about what the man leaning on it was saying.
Of course, I didn’t do away with descriptive language completely, but I became far more selective with what I chose to describe. This creates a more crisp image in the reader’s mind, letting them know what to pay attention to when they enter the room with the protagonist.
But doesn’t all that dialogue get repetitive? Not if it sounds realistic, and varied in tone. But then how do you recreate living, breathing personalities with distinct voices on a mute page? Don’t worry about making characters in the same book sound wildly different. One could speak entirely in statements followed by exclamations, while another deadpans almost every line. There are two characters in my novel that drop a couple of F-bombs. There is one who never so much as mutters anything remotely resembling an expletive. Ideally, a reader should be able to identify a speaker without having to rely on “X said” after each sentence.
Dialogue is far from ‘filler.’ In fact, when used correctly, it can propel the plot more effectively than dense paragraphs ever could, making the reader feel as if they are part of the story rather than being told one.
And one more benefit to including more dialogue––turn on your television, log into your Netflix account, open the HBO app on your phone. More than ever before, people consume stories by watching them play out before their eyes on screen. They’re used to fast paced dramas and quick-witted comedies and want a similar experience when they open up a good old-fashioned book.
So, you want to write? Start talking.
Until the next chapter…