I’m reading along in a draft manuscript thinking things are looking OK. I have an external conflict (a plot to assassinate the Regent, for example), and I have a Hero and Heroine who kissed on page 50 and who each think the other could be behind the plot. I have Chemistry, and snappy repartee, historically accurate settings, and my, this could be a half decent book!
This is not good. Any time the reader skims, the writer is on thin ice. It’s a short hop from skimming a few paragraphs, to skimming a few pages, to putting the book down and forgetting to pick it up Ever Again.
A few occasions of Did Not Finish are inevitable—not every book can work for every reader—but they are a blow, and one wants to avoid blows.
Readers generally skim descriptive writing, but they are less likely to skim dialogue.
So…. One of the questions I ask myself when working on revisions is, “Can I put any of this description, any of this internal reflection, into dialogue?”
A fine idea, but dialogue requires two characters, and this is often the best reason for compelling secondary characters. They get the protagonists out of Navel Gazing Mode, and give the reader and the author a break from having Him and Her on the page together incessantly.
I suspect it’s because when we read, we’re in the POV character’s head, and just as when somebody talks to us in real life, it’s hard to ignore somebody talking with us on the page.
Then too, many of us have had the experience of smacking into a revelation in the course of a conversation. I’d been in therapy for three years, and been a parent for two-and-half years, when the nice lady casually asked me, “So what about your father? What’s he like?”
THREE YEARS I’d babbled on about my situation, my upbringing, my woes and wants and whims, and in that entire time, I’d failed to even sketch my father for the professional whose job it was to help me organize my issues—and mind you, when I was growing up, my dad was (physically) home for dinner every night at six.
That there was your basic Life Changing Moment, and I think it could only have happened in the context of hours and hours and hours of dialogue.
I also think readers are drawn to dialogue because from way, way back, we’re programmed to learn audibly. We learn (in part) from stories, from songs, from anecdotes and all of that requires paying attention when somebody else opens their mouth and makes sounds. People who pay attention to dialogue and discourse are people who learn early and well how to hunt for dinner, plant the yams, and otherwise get on in life.
So watch for the dialogue. On the page, in life, it can be where the most significant advances are made on the character arc and in solving the external conflict.
Have any memorable dialogues befallen you? Have you read any dialogue scenes that really, really stuck with you? To three commenters, I’ll send gift certificates for a six month membership to Discover A New Love.