Question: Okay, I know this question seems quite stupid but I'm asking it anyway.

I was wondering how do you know if your story has too much dialogue? I know I have a bit of a descriptive problem. Lots of my scenes consists of dialogue, conversation between two to three characters. Is that terribly bad, I mean to me, it's how I can comfortably depict my characters, through the way they speak.

Do you have any tips to overcome this issue?

Answer: The fact that you ask this question suggests that you think you may have too much dialogue.

Assuming you're right, here's a couple of things you might do...

1. Don't let dialogue happen in a vacuum. In other words, don't just write ping-pong dialogue with nothing else happening in the scene. Dialogue is great for revealing character and relationships and how they evolve. However, scenes can involve other things such as...

a) Plot. Having your characters do something while they talk - ideally something that forwards the plot - lets your scene do double duty.

b) Inner conflict. Have you included the main character's internal responses, thoughts, and emotions? It can be rather fun if the main character is trying to carry on a conversation while thinking about something completely different or observing something happening in the distance.

c) Setting. Little reminders of what's present or happening in the environment can help ground the scene and help it feel authentic.

d) Body language. While you usually can't relate what's happening in the head of anyone other than the main character, much can be communicated through other characters' physical gestures and facial expressions. Gestures are a great way to add subtext.

2. Always go through your dialogue and take out every line that isn't necessary. Make sure you know what the core of the conversation is (the relationship change) and cut the rest. Put as much exposition as you can in narration rather than dialogue.

3. You might also try breaking up a dialogue with an action event, and then resuming the conversation afterward. Variety can help a lot with pacing.

Comments for Dialogue

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Jan 02, 2014
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for the suggestions, I find that I do a few of them, but thanks for the other suggestions, I will try and include more of the setting descriptions and some of the other suggestions.

Jul 08, 2014
I do this too
by: Jennifer

I'm not sure if the original question-asker is still following this, but I struggle with how much dialogue to include as well. I think I'm pretty good at writing it, and I find it fun to write... probably because it's something we do every day (i.e., talk to people). Writing prosy descriptive scenes is much harder, because we don't think that way in our heads (well, most of us don't, anyway). This makes me wonder if leaning too heavily on dialogue to advance the story is common amongst new writers.

I do think dialogue can be valuable for revealing things about your characters, but I agree with Glen that it's good to make sure that it serves a purpose toward advancing the plot. Additionally, instead of constant "he said" or "she said," mix it up a bit with other markers, such as:

He glanced at his watch. "We really need to get going. The babysitter is charging us $20 per hour."

She frowned. "I know, but I'm having so much fun. Can we stay just one more hour?"

Or you can use different verbs that give more color to the dialogue (i.e., substitutes for "said"), or, for a few turns, you can skip the "he said/she said" altogether and just trust that the reader will follow along. Usually, it's easy enough to do if it doesn't go on for too long without another marker dropped in.

Maybe you're already doing all of this, but I figured I'd just throw it out there.

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