Too Much Dialog?

One of the comments made by an agent who considered In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People was that the book has too much dialog, not enough narrative. She had (and presumably read all of) a partial manuscript, about the first 80 pages plus three pages containing two disconnected scenes that I had written ahead. Too much dialog? I certainly want to consider her comments, as she is a publishing industry professional who sees many books and many manuscripts.

I re-read the book in November-December-January for editing purposes. My goals were: fix the many typos I knew it had, take care of a few items identified by beta readers as unclear or not the best, and add/fix a few plot items I realized were weak. A couple of these plot items I discovered only while reading. I said something late in the book that conflicted with something early in the book. A change was needed either late or early.

To fix all these things, in consideration of the agent’s comment, I used narrative. I considered reducing the dialog in a few places, but found I liked the dialog and didn’t reduce any.

This dialog vs. narrative, or maybe scenes vs. exposition, is the subject of a recent blog post by editor Victoria Mixon. Her example author is Dashiell Hammatt, author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. I haven’t read either of those, so I’m a bit hampered in understanding her arguments. She compares the two books, written many years apart, and mentions how Hammatt adapted to reader preferences changing around him.

Mixon says that exposition has become big in the last twenty or thirty years, at the expense of dialog. But, she says, dialog isn’t dead. I suppose I’m not quite sure what she means by “exposition” and “scenes”. Are these the same things I’m calling “dialog” and “narrative”? It seems to me that my novels are all scenes. No where do I have the type of intercalary chapters that Steinbeck used in The Grapes of Wrath. Everything in both my novels involves the characters of the story doing something or having something happen to them. How is that not scenes, even if there is no dialog?

Sigh, I have much to learn about this business of writing. And much to figure out on how to write the best books possible. Hopefully I’m not over-analyzing here.

One thought on “Too Much Dialog?”

  1. David, at OWL readings last Friday, dialog held my interest, gripped my attention. Description and metaphor added emotion. I intend to capture such balance on my next write or edit session on my book.

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