As You Know, Miss Snark

Miss Snark-- I am currently revising my novel and am feeling a little stuck. I was wondering what your thoughts of dialogue in fiction are. When is it too much? How do I know when I have too many words coming out of my character's mouth and not enough coming out of my own?

I don't want to belabor the story with too much description--I intend for my novel to be a "fun" read for teens. I've looked at the dialogue and taken a great red marker of doom to it--I've cut all dialogue that doesn't directly affect the characters or their situation and I've made sure that the dialogue that is still in the text shows the characters. Even so, I'm tempted to add chunks of description that I'm afraid would be superfluous just so I don't have too much dialogue. Am I being paranoid? (no, obsessive. Paranoid is when you think someone is out to get you)

What is your opinion on this? I know this is more of a writing question than a submitting one, but if anyone knows what kinds of things make a book not work, I figured it would be you.

I tend to like dialogue more than exposition for moving a story along right up until "As you know Bob". AYKB (which comes from the estimable TNH at Making Light, I think) is exposition badly disguised as dialogue. "As you know Miss Snark, a literary agent is someone who represents an author to sell manuscripts to publishers, and they earn 15% commission".

You can disguise it as "holy moly Miss Snark, you're only going to get paid IF you sell this? What kind of socialist enterprise are you running over there at Snark Central anyway??" if you're clever.

I think more authors err on the side of too little good dialogue. It sounds to me like you're heading in that direction. You might invest in a set of fresh eyes with a critique group. Or give it to a kid. That's your target audience. See what s/he says.


-ril said...

Dialogue is one of my (several) weak areas. I tend towards too little dialogue and have to remind myself that people in the real world, occasionally, interact. Then I have to make sure that not everyone speaks just like a wooden version of myself.

One book that I've found useful is "Writing Dialogue" by Tom Chiarella (Story Press), which also includes chapters on film and radio, media that are all dialog.

I found the exercise of trying to write a short play or script also helps me build some dialog skills.

Inkwolf said...

I have to force myself to write description. I never have anything to say about the setting. I love dialog...nothing sparks the humor like getting two characters together and letting them go at each other. It's more like transcribing than writing, sometimes.

Catja (green_knight) said...

'As you know, Bob' is part of the Turkey City Lexicon
(http://www.sfwa.org/writing/turkeycity.html - precise contents vary according to version)

To the original poster I can only say that different people add superfluous description in different places. Some put it in dialogue, some in description, some in internalisations. The common thread is 'superfluous.'

If you feel you're putting too many words down on the page, you probably are...

Scribbler said...

I have a tendency to write too little description, personally. This could be that I often write first person or third-person limited and want to share the protagonist's thoughts so the reader feels what s/he feels, blah blah blah, but since taking a playwriting class I feel more confident in my dialogue.

In addition, I read an article on writing (reliable or not, it was helpful to me at the time) that said when you use description, you stop the action. That helped me write more dialogue to make the story more immediate.

Then again, that's just the rambling of a writer still new at the craft.

Writers' Block said...

The West Wing is television, but the back episodes in syndication are still a great, current lesson in physicalizing dialog. I could swear the writers take a schematic of the White House and draw little motion paths for the characters, then write the dialog with a stopwatch, while walking the simulated distances. There is never a scene in which two characters get trapped in a room talking just to expose.