1. Alex_Hartman
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    Alex_Hartman Contributing Member

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    Too much dialogue?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Alex_Hartman, Sep 28, 2008.

    What happens if you feel like you are writing too much dialogue, but it's important dialogue? I guess that I see long bits of dialogue when I'm reading, but when can you tell that there is just too much? And then how do you get rid of it? :confused:
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I have never encountered this problem, so I'm not sure I can give the best advice. But you could try cutting down the less important dialogue. Have some one read it and see what they think is the weakest dialogue parts. Add more description where needed. Check to see if any of the dialogue is repetitive. Try to condense long dialogues into something shorter. I suggest looking at word choice. Sometimes a single word can be substituted for a phrase.

    Also, you could try turning it into a play. If all of your dialogue is important to the story as you claim it is, then I would suggest trying to make a play out of it and see how it turns out.
     
  3. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    I think dialogue is a great way to give information, but perhaps you need to break it up. Your characters can have different conversations in different scenes, to give the reader information in chunks.
     
  4. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on what the dialogue is expressing. If you're conveying a heap of back story through a conversation between characters then lengthy dialogue is acceptable and your reader hopefully should be more engrossed in the 'story-teller' feel of the writing than worrying about the lack of narration.

    If it's an advancement of the plot then you can make it feel less monotonous or one-dimensional by punctuating your dialogue with your character's internal monologue, their facial expression, body language, description of surroundings. In general, always break it up with these techniques ie. don't let half a page of conversation go by without adding imagery or an additional thread of thought, or else the picture in your reader's mind is going to go very flat indeed.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If the story is turning into "talking heads", you may need to introduce a complication into your story to require the conversation to be broken up by actions.

    Dialogue should be about revealing something about the character in relation to other characters. There are other, better ways to reveal backstory.

    Discourse can be used to reveal both sides of a debate, but that should really be broken up across a number of conversations, unless it can be covered in one brief exchange. That gives readers the time to absorb the arguments and also begin mulling over the possibilities.

    Keep in mind that there is much more to good dialogue than the words spoken. Pauses are significant, as are tone and gestures. The reactions of other people in the scene also matter. All this requires considerable work on the part of the author to put it all together well, and on the part of the reader to pick up on the subtleties (or to discover that there are none after all). So dialogue is powerful, but like strong wine, it can leave you dizzy from indulging in too much.
     
  6. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    Like Cogito said, there are other ways to tell what's going on and what has happened besides using dialogue. I find using dialogues the easiest, but I also find what I write becomes really cheesy if the whole thing is just conversation after conversation. It gets to be too much.

    It may be important, but is it necessary? (just like in life, there are things that are important and things that are necessary) Important and necessary are two different things. Be careful when it comes to drawing the line between the two of them.
    Personally, I just cut some of the unnecessary dialogue out, as I keep on writing, if it becomes necessary, I put it back in. It doesn't hurt to take it out and see if it is really necessary.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Is other stuff happening, or are the characters actually doing other things (that is, is ACTION taking place), while they're talking...?

    I don't mind lots of dialogue, given that there's actual STORY going on at the same time. If it's just characters talking and talking and talking, but nothing else is happening, it's like hitting the pause button. Other stuff has to be happening too. My characters chatter like crazy, but they're usually also doing stuff like fighting off bad guys, searching for things, traveling, meeting others, etc. etc., while they're talking. And other action happens WHILE they're talking (i. e., the entire story does not revolve around their discussions).

    Lots of dialogue is fine but not if you have to pause the story to engage in it.
     
  8. Alex_Hartman
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    Alex_Hartman Contributing Member

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    The part I was writing at the time didn't involve my characters doing much. They were just sort of sitting there waiting for history to be over and getting annoyed at each other. I can see it being important to have your characters doing other things at the same time because then you have other things to break it up with, that makes sense.

    I think that maybe I just need to break things up a bit more when they are talking...and they should probably be doing something.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    By waiting for history to be over, I assume you mean history class. I hope you mean histiry class, rather than waiting for the end of time!

    So is there a history teacher in the room? Wouldn't he or she be giving them harsh lookms, or worse, if they are holding a conversation in class? Or other students trying to study could shush them or kick one of them in the ankle.
     
  10. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find that I'm heavy on dialogue as well. It's an easy way to get to know characters. Also, some of my characters have important secrets and information that my MC tries to draw out of them through dialogue. I just make sure dialogue is broken up with action, as everyone else mentioned. Even if two people are sitting together in a bland room chatting it up, there's still a lot to take in; gestures, facial expressions, posture, tone.

    One thing I've been trying to overcome lately is monologing. I often have one character do much of the talking while the other provides prompts or questions; it's just not realistic. Now I'm focusing on keeping the conversation even. A person isn't a text book; you can't turn to a page and get all the words you want to read. Realistic dialog involves giving and receiving. That's what I've been focusing on lately and it helps a lot.

    I highly recommend putting more emphasis on these two things. You can't have too much dialog if it's well-written and helps the story.
     
  11. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    It is not the length of the dialogue that matters most, but its substance. How much meat is added to the layer of exposition? One can write two sentence and it will have profound effect on your characters, given the mood and atmosphere, compared to thirty sentences with needless, frivolous detail. So length does not matter if there is heart.
     
  12. Vendredi-is-Friday
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    Vendredi-is-Friday New Member

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    Hello.

    I have to agree with what Eyez has said. It is possible to have lengthy dialogue, and for that length to be acceptable, just as long as the reader stays engaged and is not lost in the tangle of conversation. Also, if you are writing a story, you need to be mindful of whether or not the dialogue is actually moving the plot along. Sometimes things become added to stories that are purely aesthetic, but that ends up having no bearing on the plot development, and so it becomes superfluous and even confusing.

    Perhaps the best way to answer this question ("How do you know if you have too much dialogue?") is to actual post a stretch of dialogue and have some of us help you determine if the dialogue is engaging to a wider reading audience or if it needs to be toned down.

     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That requires context, though, so it is better addressed in the Review Room. The dialogue itself without the context can't really be judged as to its effectiveness without some clues as to how much subtext is being conveyed, and whether the dialogue is going over ground that has already been covered elsewhere.

    In the Writing Issues forums, we try to discuss the principles that help a writer decide for himself (or herself) whether the writing element is being used correctly/effectively. Examples, if used, should be compact and to the point, which in this case isn't really in line with a question like "How much is too much?"
     
  14. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    I've never really encountered a story with too much dialog. Personally I love dialogue, even if it's not to the point or adds absolutely nothing to the story; it creates atmosphere, think about Pulp Fiction, or for that effect, any of Tarantino's movies; Tarantino is the master of dialogues.

    Like Cogito said; don't turn it into a talking head story; describe actions, feelings and surroundings that change/are important during the dialogue
     
  15. Alex_Hartman
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    Alex_Hartman Contributing Member

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    Yes, I did mean history class, sorry about that.

    When my characters were getting annoyed with each other, the teacher wouldn't have cared because there was less than two minutes in the class anyway and everyone else would have talking also.

    And thank you to every one else. That helps me a lot. =D
     
  16. captain gonzo
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    captain gonzo Member

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    I never seen too much dialogue. I prefer telling the story through what people say, it makes it seem more like its actually happening for me, I think to much narrative is a far bigger problem (those huge blocks of description, killed so many books for me).
     
  17. tuttle300
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    tuttle300 New Member

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    It might be a good idea to read it out loud to a trusted friend
    If it drags in some parts maybe they can let you know and you can edit from there-- but as long as needed info is being given to the reader and the dialogue crackles and keeps interest, I should think it can be as long as need be.

    Also-- READ other writer's books---and focus on THEIR dialogue and see what you like and don't like
     
  18. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    Why was my post deleted...? :confused: I put some work into that!

    (edit) mods didn't delete my post--I think I had it on "preview" and just forgot to hit "post". That'll learn me.

    (editedit)

    Ok here's what I said originally:

    We have two guys talking in class. (I'm not going to weigh in on "how much dialog is too much" until the end of this post, because I'm sort of rushed for time.)

    FIRST EXAMPLE:

    "Why, Francis old chap, who I've known for several years now and who is my best friend, I'm so effing bored in this history class of ours, I can't believe it!"

    "You are certainly right about that, Patrick my bosom buddy since sixth grade, who I can always count on to help me wing my exams because he actually studies and I dont! Oh goodness! Look at Mrs. Albergetti! Isn't she the ugliest female you have ever seen in your life!?"

    "Indeed she is, Francis! In fact, she may be the single ugliest female teacher in the entire school district!"

    "Somehow I think you're right, Patrick! Darn! My head itches! I'm going to scratch it now!"


    This is an example of an amateur writer trying to get too much into his/her dialog. Francis and Patrick know each other already, so there's no need for them to reiterate the details of their acquaintance; moreover, they also are aware of each other's opinions regarding the attractiveness of various females. (IMPORTANT NOTE: I'm using heterosexual males in my example, but not out of strict preference! It's just an example.) If it sounds unrealistic to you--that's why so many professional writers sneer at amateur writers, and can point them out so easily. An amateur writer feels that he/she needs to explain everything. (Plus: Who can sit in a class and have some sort of extensive dialog with anyone but the teacher/professor? No one that I know!) (Please correct me if I'm wrong on this. Everyone I know who's currently in high school or college will get into trouble for having a conversation in regular class, study hall excepted.)

    SECOND EXAMPLE:

    "Ugh.... so bored...."

    *giggle* "Sweat stains!"

    *guffaw* "Yeah..."


    Francis and Patrick know each other, PLUS they are in history class where they will probably get disciplined if they have a long involved conversation. This would be closer to their actual real-life conversation.

    However, the reader doesn't know them, so what they do actually say is going to seem unrevealing of situation or character, if not downright moronic--unless the writer (that would be you) inserts some action into the story, to wit:

    Patrick mimed pounding his head against the desk, much to the delight of his best friend, Francis. After this display he collapsed onto his opened history textbook, caught Francis's eye, and whispered: "Ugh... so bored..."

    With an appreciative grin, Francis jerked his chin toward the front of the room, and said with a low giggle: "Sweat stains!"

    The history teacher, Mrs. Albergetti, her shrill voice droning nonstop, was at the moment stretching her four-foot-ten-inch frame to insert a line of text at the top of the blackboard.

    Patrick replied, with a silent guffaw, "Yeah!" and then mimicked Mrs. Albergetti's typical squinch-faced expression so perfectly that Francis, scratching his scalp with a pencil, had a hard time concealing his resultant mirth.


    To answer your question: There can never be "too much" dialog if it's GOOD dialog that makes me want to keep reading. Even two lines of bad dialog (as in my first and second examples) are too much. It's the writer's responsibility to put some action, though slight, into his/her dialog.

    I mean, look at it this way: If there are two guys chained to a dungeon wall, having a conversation--there is still action taking place around them, right? Things are happening to them: They're itching, they're suffering. Maybe they can hear noises outside the dungeon. There are flies buzzing around their wounds, there are cockroaches and rats scuttling across the floor.

    Even in history class, there IS action, and THERE CAN BE dialog.

    Good luck, and have fun! yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  19. Paytie
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    Paytie New Member

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    I was having troubles with my dialogue with my book as well.
    I asked a friend if I was going over board, she said I was; so I simply deleted the parts that were not as important as the other key parts of my characters appearance.
    I guess you can know yourself if your going over board with your dialogue, you can try taking out things then reading it/trying to picture what they are doing/what they look like in your head to see if your description is enough for your reader to be able to visualize what you wrote affectively.
     
  20. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    My rule for dialogue is:

    Only use dialogue for charactorisation... (well 90% of the time, depending on effect)
     

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