How Much Dialogue is Too Much?

When I first heard the expression, “You can go blind listening to that story,” I took a second look at the prose in question.  I quickly agreed that the long stretches of unbroken dialogue were tiresome and cut off all senses with the exception of hearing.

And then I revisited my own writing.

I love dialogue and often fear that I overuse it.

While dialogue serves many important functions, it is only one element of fiction. It definitely has its place, but it shouldn’t take over the story.

How much dialogue is too much?

At a recent dinner meeting of Guelph Writers Ink, Cindy Carroll suggested that thirty percent of the novel should be dialogue. Elsewhere, I read that the percentage should be closer to fifty.

Truthfully, I don’t think there is a magic number out there. Instead, I try to keep in mind that characters who talk too much can be just as annoying as real people who dominate conversations.

In their upcoming thriller, Some Kind of Peace, Scandinavian authors Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff skillfully weave dialogue and narrative to create tension. This is especially apparent in the therapy sessions where psychologist Siri Bergman interacts with her patients.

If I focus only on the dialogue, I would probably stop reading the book.

Dialogue Only Excerpt

“I’m happy for your sake, Sara. Truly. How long have you known this man?”

“Oh, a few weeks. But we’ve been seeing each other a lot. He gave me this bag.” She held up a Gucci bag. “He takes me out to dinner. He’s nice to me.”

Sara looks at me, waiting for validation.

“Sara, you’re a grown-up and hardly need my approval before you start a relationship.”

Actual Excerpt

“I’m happy for your sake, Sara. Truly. How long have you known this…man?”

Sara looks down at the carpet, resting her upper body against her knees and rocking slowly back and forth.

“Oh, a few weeks. But we’ve seen each other a lot. He gave me this bag,” she adds, and as if to prove the legitimacy of the relationship, she holds up an oversized, monogram-patterned Gucci bag.

“He takes me out for dinner.”

I say nothing.

“He’s nice to me.”

Sara shrugs and looks questioningly at me, waiting for validation.

“Sara, you’re a grown-up and hardly need my approval before you start a relationship,” I say, but my tone of voice reveals how worried I really am.

It doesn’t seem right. A middle-aged, successful man courts a young girl with bright green nail polish, a charming borderline personality, and arms and legs zebra-striped with scars from razor blades and knives. I realize to my own surprise that I’m afraid he will exploit Sara.

Any thoughts out there?

Nailing That First Page

At last night’s dinner meeting for Guelph Writers Ink, we discussed a variety of topics, among them the all-important first page of a novel. Opinions varied around the table with most of us agreeing that the first page must introduce the protagonist and include a crisis or conflict of some kind. While it is important to set the scene, it should be done without getting bogged down in too many descriptions.

Those of us who write crime fiction must also consider the following question: Is it necessary to place the dead body on the first page of a novel?

In a recent article, bestselling author Louise Penny offered the following advice: “If you’re writing your first work of crime fiction, place the body near the beginning of your book—preferably on the first page, perhaps the first sentence. In later books this won’t be as necessary, but agents and editors like it established early, so readers know what they’re getting.”

I am a fan of Louise Penny and inclined to follow her advice. She has walked the walk and achieved literary success with her mystery series. Her first novel, Still Life, was turned down by 50 publishers and agents before it found a home with British literary agent Teresa Chris.

In my WIP, I had originally introduced the dead body at the bottom of the second page. But after reading Louise’s article and getting advice from other writers, I reworked the first chapter and placed the dead body in the first sentence.

Any other thoughts out there?

My First Month on Twitter

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At the April dinner meeting for Guelph Writers Ink, Cindy Carroll dared me to start tweeting.  While I had set up a Twitter account in November, I still hadn’t tweeted. I didn’t know where to start and  felt that first tweet had to be significant.  I also wondered if anyone would follow me. No one in my family or immediate circle of friends was tweeting. Would I be the only person on Twitter without any followers?

Cindy had heard my excuses before, but that night she decided to force my hand. She found my Twitter page and became my first follower. I hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a tweet.  As I join the world of Twitter, I keep in mind Nancy Thayer’s famous quotation: It is never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise.

The next morning, I discovered a second follower. I thanked her and tweeted five more times that day.  I was hooked! I started spending more and more time each day in Twitterville, reading other people’s tweets and responding to them. I welcomed all their replies and learned all about mentions and retweets. I discovered some interesting hashtags–#amwriting, #writing, #cozymystery, #leadfromwithin, #lifeclass, #quote–which I visit regularly. I also participated in several twitter chats.

Four weeks have passed and I am very pleased with my Twitter progress.

482 Tweets

557 Followers

703 Following

Dinner with Writers Ink

Last evening, seven of us gathered at Symposium Restaurant for our April dinner meeting. We are celebrating the second anniversary of  Guelph Writers Ink.

A bit of history…

After completing Dennis Fitter’s creative writing course, a group of us decided to meet on a monthly basis to discuss our writing journeys. We came up with the following mission statement: We will inspire and encourage each other to write on a regular basis. Last year, Cindy Carroll and several members of Guelph Write Now joined us.

Lots of discussion and advice floated around the table as we discussed epublishing vs traditional publishing, agents, manuscripts and social media. Patricia Anderson, Linda Johnston and I have decided to bite the bullet and start tweeting before the next dinner meeting. No more excuses!!!

Congratulations to Linda Johnston–winner of the door prize.

A reminder…Dennis Fitter’s book, Mexico City is now available.