Talk Talk

In my last post I wrote about the first problem the editor I hired had encountered with my manuscript. This was all to do with the target audience, and how I was a bit, well… off target with it. You can read about that here.

For the second in this series of blog posts, post professional edit, I’m going to talk about…well…talking – or rather dialogue – and how this impacted on my manuscript feedback.

Talk Talk. 

Anyone who knows me knows I am a bit of a chatterbox, and that most of what I say is long winded. I am verbose. I know I am. I use twenty words in the place of one, and if retelling a story of an event I go off at more tangents than Steve Davis playing at The Crucible. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know this verbosity extends into my writing too.

So why should this be any different in my fiction writing? Well surprise surprise, it wasn’t! Although the editor’s criticism wasn’t as broad as stating I was verbose or even that the manuscript was too long. No, the problem stemmed it seemed from my use of dialogue. The sheer volume of conversations my characters were having which didn’t do much of the following:

  1. Reveal Character
  2. Propel the Plot Forward (this was the key problem)
  3. Set the tone of the Story (or the scene)
  4. and Reveal Off-screen Information

(I have taken this list from Drew Chial’s most recent blog post: “What first dates can teach you about writing dialogue.” Give it a read if you are starting out in writing. There are some useful tips and hints here which I’ll be bearing in mind for my re-writes.)

So back to the problem with my use of dialogue which my editor highlighted for me.

Most telling was the fact she said: “While dialogue is important to bring scenes to life, you seem to over-rely on dialogue in the place of action, and it seems to me this might be because you’re more confident in your dialogue than your action writing.”

Well, quite. Yes, I am probably more confident writing dialogue simply because I’m one of those verbose, wordy people rather than a woman of much action. I have always held words in higher esteem than actions, despite the fact that I do now (with the grace of age and wisdom) recognise that actions speak louder than words. But it doesn’t surprise me one iota that this particular aspect came out as a criticism.

“Much of the novel is taken up with character dialogue” (I think I held a misconception this was the best way to show character and move plot forward!) “often where characters are musing on events that have happened or may happen, or what they should do next.”

Obviously this over-reliance on dialogue creates a problem with pace, but more than that it means the story isn’t moving forward.

This comment was then followed by a hilarious – I couldn’t help but laugh- chapter by chapter synopsis, highlighting exactly where the novel wasn’t going and it was all down to my over-reliance on dialogue. Although hilarious, it was also difficult to read and digest at first. It meant pretty much everything I’d written was pointless. Well it felt that way then.

Eventually though, once I had digested this part of the edit, I was bowled over by her astuteness in realising that my over-reliance on dialogue  is because I do find it easier to write than action. I find it easier to think about how characters will speak and what they will say in a situation than what they would do. I find it easier to show who my characters are this way. Why I have this bias, I’m not entirely sure. It’s odd though, because I see so many writers saying they struggle with writing dialogue and then here’s me with too much of the stuff, but which unfortunately is surplus to requirements. (It makes me wonder whether I should write scripts instead of trying a novel! I’ve always enjoyed writing plays and assemblies for school in the past. As dialogue is key there, I wonder if I’ve taken too much of that into novel writing? Hmmmmmmmmmm.)

So, anyway, I was very conscious of working on this problem in my new version of the story. But guess what? In the first few drafts of the first few chapters I found myself falling back on developing the characters through dialogue! Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh!

However, this time I’m at least aware of my tendency to do this, so I am able to fix it and work away from that now. I am currently tightening up and working on writing more ‘action’ or at least getting to know the characters through what they do/how they react rather than solely relying on what they say.

Of course dialogue remains a useful and necessary tool to writers to help propel plot forward, to reveal character or ‘off-screen’ information and to set the tone. However what I’ve learnt from this is, there are other ways to do those things too and I need to work on mixing those up a bit more in this new version.

Coming up in future posts: the problem with pace; inconsistency in character; point of view; showing not telling and…The big one: (lack of) Narrative Structure.

Yes, you may be beginning to see why I am still a novice and why a complete re-working of the original idea was necessary!

Until next time… 🙂


Filed under Editing, Writing

4 responses to “Talk Talk

  1. Interesting. Just be careful that you don’t go far the other way and prune your dialogue down to nothing but the bare essentials. I think this is a matter of personal preference. I’m much more engaged by stories with great dialogue than a lot of action no matter how well it’s described. Don’t lose Joanne in the exercise of conforming to someone else’s opinion, even if it’s a professional one. ☺

    • Ah thanks, Graham. I very much doubt I’ll be losing me! 🙂 I too engage with stories with a lot of dialogue over action in many cases because for me people are at the heart. However this focus ties in with the other editorial points made. None are stand alone even though I am treating them as such in these posts. 🙂

  2. Terry Tyler

    I use a lot of dialogue, too. As for professional critiques, don’t set too much store by them, it’s only one person’s opinion. I know of one debut novelist who paid out a fair bit for one of these; when I read the book I wondered why the ‘professional’ hadn’t told her how unrealistic her dialogue was, and how she’d actually written a whole novel on something she clearly knew little about. I was not the only person who thought this; I discussed it with another reviewer. We came to the conclusion the ‘professional’ was more interested in being ‘nice’ so that she got repeat work/recommendations.

    Perhaps a lot of dialogue is just your personal style. I actually like lots of it, and prefer it to chunks of narrative. The only tip I’d give you is to make sure that the dialogue is RELEVANT, not just chat. There’s a bit about that in this article:

    • Thanks, Terry, as ever, for your responses which always help me focus that little bit more. My issue I think with the dialogue wasn’t so much that there was a lot of it (though there *was*!) but that, as you point out here and in your article, much of it did not do the job it should. I probably relied on it too much for exposition and so yes, that needed to change. However, going back over my new stuff last night where there was dialogue I realised it’s different this time round. I have used it to show character, humour, and move plot forward as opposed to simply allowing my characters to ramble on (ie chatting to expose certain plot points!) I do think my dialogue when used properly is stronger than my narrative especially in showing the characters and is realistic. But that’s just my own gut instinct. (something I’m coming to set more store by the more I learn.)
      It is interesting what you say about a professional eye as yes, it can at times be very subjective I think. To be fair to my editor I don’t think she was in any danger of trying to be nice about this! She was very down to earth and to the point with all of her points and I would bet if you’d read my stuff, you’d have agreed with her. I guess as a whole it didn’t work because there were too many elements I wasn’t fully competent in. Still, it’s better to find out now than submit a substandard piece which is not ready for publication, however I choose to do that in the long term. 🙂
      It is so good to have the advice of people such as yourself too. I really appreciate it. I’m also finding as I go through this journey I am having less doubts about myself. Simply the more I learn the better I can become.

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