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Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

When you’re writing fiction, how much dialogue do you need? a student in a recent class asked.

Great question.

Dialogue happens in scenes, so pacing might be your first consideration. Scenes heavy in dialogue read quickly, so you might avoid writing three or more chatty scenes in a row.

(On the other hand, you might not — “how much dialogue?” is a stylistic choice. Your choice.)

Next, consider your genre.

A psychological thriller might have less dialogue than a romance novel, or a mystery, for example, because the psychological thriller is concerned with characters’ state of mind: their thoughts.

Most importantly however, think about your readers’ entertainment.

Entertainment trumps all other considerations.

When you’re writing fiction, you’re creating an entertaining experience

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining? (Ask your beta readers.)

All scenes can be improved, so check:

  • Your transitions, into and out of each scene;
  • Scene setting: is it clear who the viewpoint character is, and why he’s there?
  • Have you given a nod to time and place? (Check your timeline for continuity);
  • Who “wins” the scene (does every character in the scene have a goal?)

I like writing dialogue, so if a scene’s flagging, I’ll kick it along by adding dialogue, or spicing up the dialogue — anything to add entertainment value.

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining?

What’s your style?

How much dialogue? is always a matter of style. You’re the boss; it’s your style for that novel.

The first time I read Robert B. Parker’s Western novel Appaloosa, I was struck by the amount of dialogue: that’s Robert B. Parker’s style.

As we’ve said, novels with lots of dialogue read more quickly than novels with extensive narrative. Done well, these novels are page-turners. Unfortunately, if the dialogue’s done badly, readers won’t finish the novel.

Tips for better dialogue

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write better dialogue.

1. Focus solely on your dialogue for a scene first (this helps you to write more dramatically)

As I said in this article:

When I write scenes, I write the first sentence, and the last sentence of the scene. I also write down what effect I want from the scene.

When you write “business” — the action part of the scene, description and other narrative — with the dialogue, your dialogue can fade into the background. You pay less attention to it.

Try writing your dialogue first: your readers will pay more attention to it than to anything else in the scene, so you should too.

2. Avoid repetition: it waters down your dialogue

As I suggested in 3 Fiction Writing Tips: Editing For Story Flow:

…when you’re lightly editing for flow, look for any “as you know” constructions, such as: “As you know Bob, my wife Tiffany is an accountant.”

Basically, avoid repetition. Nuke repetitions when you find them.

If you’ve spent three paragraphs describing the sun setting when you open the scene, avoid the sunset as a topic in your dialogue.

3. Keep your dialogue in character

Not easy, but necessary.

From John Sandford’s Silken Prey:

After a couple minutes of silence, Virgil said to Lucas, “At least we know he’s not lying to us now.”

“How’s that?” Lucas asked.

“His lips aren’t moving…”

From Philippa Gregory’s The Queen’s Fool:

I showed him a sulky face. ‘I am commanded by the king, I am commanded by the Duke of Northumberland, I am commanded by his son Lord Robert Dudley, I am commanded by my father; you might as well join in. Every other man in London seems to think he can order me.’

In summary…

Generally speaking, novels today feature more dialogue than novels written even a decade ago. Always however, the amount of dialogue is up to you. Have fun. 🙂

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

eBook: $5.99

Do you enjoy writing and publishing your books, but find that marketing them is a challenge? You're not sure what works, so your efforts are muddled, half-hearted, and inconsistent.

What if you could market in just 15 minutes daily?

More info →
Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Writing Fiction: 3 Easy Tips For Subplots

Writing Fiction: 3 Easy Tips For Subplots

One of the most fun things in writing fiction is creating subplots.

Unfortunately when creating subplots it’s easy to (literally) lose the main thread of the plot. When this happens, readers stop reading. Let’s look at some tips to help.

When you’re writing fiction, your primary aim is to keep readers entertained, and reading

Firstly, let’s be realistic. Subplots require words. If you need those words for your primary plot and character development, keep your subplots short. Also consider that if you’re writing a short story or novella, you almost certainly won’t have space for a subplot.

From Plot Your Novel: 3 Tips for Sizzling Subplots:

Subplots are easy. All you need to remember is that a subplot isn’t just an unconnected story dumped into your book to bulk it up; it’s a way of adding richness to your story. A subplot always relates directly to your main story in some way.

Let’s look at how subplots can help when you’re writing fiction.

1. Subplots increase the tension and keep readers reading

No matter the genre, you need to keep readers entertained because they have many options for entertainment today. So your primary reason for developing a subplot is to increase tension. You want readers turning the pages wondering what will happen next.

You can manage subplots any way you choose, but I like to hint at the subplot in the Setup phase of a novel (the first 25%), then develop it, and have it alternate with the primary plot.

When you do this, you can hit an OMG! moment in your primary plot, and switch to your subplot for a couple of scenes to increase tension.

2. Use subplots for a change of pace: to add humor, or romance

You may love chocolate cake, but you don’t want to make an entire meal of it.

So, whatever your genre and main plot, a subplot can add a needed change of pace. Shakespeare often added humorous scenes to his tragedies. When there’s too much gloom and doom, you need a contrast so that readers appreciate the next horror scene.

Whatever your genre, humor is always welcome. Try creating a character or two for comic relief.

Consider adding a romantic subplot, if you’re writing in a genre (science fiction, thrillers, mysteries) which doesn’t need romance. In these genres, a romantic subplot not only aids character development, it also provides a useful change of pace.

3. Develop your characters: think opposites

Have you seen the movie The Odd Couple? It’s a gem because it’s the perfect illustration of a strategy you can use when you’re writing fiction to make your characters memorable.

Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. Your subplot could involve your sleuth’s hapless sidekick, as he tries to do something or other. The sidekick is the opposite of your sleuth — think Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

You may be writing a romance. A secondary character could be the polar opposite of your heroine or hero. Think Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind, and Jane and Lydia in Pride & Prejudice.

Not only does creating opposites help with your character development, the contrast between characters provides a change of pace.

Subplots make writing fiction easier

The change of pace which a subplot provides is often as beneficial to authors as it is to readers.

If you get stuck when you’re writing a novel, explore creating subplots. If a subplot adds nothing, you can remove it later.

Have fun with subplots, and write on. 🙂

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

eBook: $5.99

Do you enjoy writing and publishing your books, but find that marketing them is a challenge? You're not sure what works, so your efforts are muddled, half-hearted, and inconsistent.

What if you could market in just 15 minutes daily?

More info →
Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

Fiction Writing Basics: How To Make Sense Of Chapters

Fiction Writing Basics: How To Make Sense Of Chapters

When you’re new to fiction writing, you worry. One of the things you worry about are chapters.

Beginning authors send me questions like:

  • What’s a “chapter”?
  • How long/ short is a chapter?
  • How do you know when you’ve written one?

By the way, you might find this article useful, Fiction Writing Basics: Scenes, Narrative and Chapters if you’re not sure about scenes, etc.

In fiction writing, you’re the boss — take charge of chapters

When you’re writing your fiction, you’re in charge, and a chapter’s length is an arbitrary decision which you make, and you can make it at any time.

There aren’t any “chapter police.” 🙂

Years ago I read a mystery with a chapter consisting of ONE word. From memory, it was one of Don Westlake’s mysteries. The chapter was either at the midpoint twist, or at the “oops” milestone: the 80 per cent point of the novel.

I remember being startled by the device, but in that novel, it made perfect sense; and it worked.

Let’s look at why you might decide to combine a bunch of scenes into a chapter.

Reasons to create a chapter

The best reason is “because I need one.” That is, you instinctively feel that you should have a chapter here, and here, and here… Your intuition is usually a good guide to what a novel needs.

Let’s look at some additional reasons.

1. Chapters provide an entertaining structure so that readers will enjoy your novel

You build your novel so that it’s satisfying to readers. Therefore, certain things must happen in certain parts of your novel so that readers will enjoy your book.

For example, in the first third of the novel, you’re setting up your characters and plot for payoffs later. So, it’s a good idea to corral those scenes into chapters; it makes for a better reading experience, and a better writing experience.

My scenes tend to average from 1500 to 2,000 words. In several of my mystery series, I have three scenes per chapter, and I aim to end the Setup phase of the novel at the end of chapter three.

That said, it depends on the novel — the Setup might end at the end of chapter two, or the end of chapter six.

2. You may create chapters in service of your plot

Psychological thrillers seem to be all the rage over the past few years, after the success of Gone Girl. In novels of this type, you’ll often see chapters which focus on a range of dates, and/or which are narrated by one of the main characters alternating with another.

For example, let’s say that your thriller’s main characters are: Betty, Tom and Jim. In chapter one, Betty and Jim are in place to murder Tom, Betty’s husband. Betty narrates the chapter.

Chapter two is narrated by Tom, who survived the murder attempt. Then the novel goes back in time: “Three years earlier…” Your three main characters alternate in narrating chapters. Readers discover why Betty and Jim want to murder Tom, and how Tom escapes.

Novels with alternating points of view are fun to write, and they work well in many different genres.

Keep in mind that when you’re creating chapters, your aim is always to surprise the reader, and involve him emotionally, so that he keeps reading.

3. After your first draft, in revision, you might create chapters to corral your plot

I number my scenes when I’m writing fiction. A few years ago I suddenly realized that I’d got to scene 40 of a novel, and hadn’t created any chapters.

Did I need chapters? I decided that I didn’t and kept writing.

However, in revision, I soon found that I needed the structure that chapters provide, so that I could set up additional open loops, and their payoffs. (Read this article for more on open loops.) So I created some chapters.

Fiction writing: you’ll develop confidence with chapters over time

You learn to write fiction by writing lots of fiction. Over time, you’ll develop skill and confidence with chapters. You’ll also experiment with unique ways of telling your stories, and you’ll use scenes and chapters to do that.

Have fun. 🙂

Plan, Write, And Publish Serial Fiction In Four Weeks

Plan, Write, And Publish Serial Fiction In Four Weeks

eBook: $5.99

Why write serial fiction?

Everyone's busy today. A serial is by its nature, faster to write, and publish, than a novel.

It's a quicker read too, and many readers appreciate this. While a reader may hesitate before committing hours to a novel, he can read an episode of your serial in minutes.

If you’re a new author, a serial serves to introduce you to readers. A reader may not be willing to commit to a novel by a new author, but be willing to read an episode of a serial.

More info →
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.