Country Song, Lead the Way

I like to write dialogue.

I feel prideful and ashamed when I say this – but it is one aspect of writing a story where I feel that I really shine as an author. Please don’t hold my arrogance against me.

Dialogue, the back-and-forth banter between two characters, can really help a writer’s creativity sparkle. Dialogue obviously conveys information to a reader, but it also helps set the tone for the story and maps out the relationship between two characters for the reader. We all know how we interact with lovers, friends, family, strangers, enemies…so seeing how two characters interact tells us so much about them and their relationship.

And writing dialogue is so much easier than description or exposition. Well, for me. Other writers dread writing dialogue. I guess this post would be different with another writer tapping the keyboard keys, but…

There is a caveat to my above proclamation of love for dialogue, though.

Most people (as was pointed out a long time ago by my long-term developmental editor) communicate so much information in non-verbal ways.

Like the country song goes: You say it best when you say nothing at all.

Consider this scene from one of my LGBTQ+ YA Books, A Surplus of Light:

Against all instinct, all nature or nurture, I found my hand sliding slowly through the water to Ian’s.  He looked down, surprised as I grabbed his hand.  Then he looked over at me.  His eyes looked black in the dark as they met mine.  But as my fingers slid between his, he accepted my hand.  We stared at each other for a very long time, then turned our attention back to the bats, our hands still together.  The bats fed for several minutes.  And it was the most glorious and exhilarating minutes of my life up until that moment.

Do you think this small part of a scene would have been helped at all with dialogue? I did. This scene was ten times longer in the first draft. Not kidding. I felt that this scene was more powerful with the characters describing what it was they were feeling, discussing it…it was embarrassing when I was told to cut 90% of what I’d done and to “get your head out of your ass.”

I get told that a lot by my DE. It’s only fair. I tell him “go fuck yourself” a lot. Sometimes I say it in French. Just to give it a little “Razzle Dazzle.”

In rewriting the scene (and pulling my head out of my ass), I realized that sometimes, actions committed in a vacuum of silence are so powerful. What happens when a person caresses their lover’s cheek and stares into their eyes lovingly, desperately wanting to feel other parts of them?

How does one express how they feel when they stare across a busy airport terminal to see that their spouse, whom they haven’t seen in a year, has come back from war?

What could a character say as they are standing in a church, their hand laid on the closed lid of their mother’s coffin? What would be more moving? A soliloquy about their mother…or a shaky exhale and downcast eyes as they desperately will themselves to not fall apart?

Sometimes…words just don’t do life justice.

It’s a tightrope walk, deciding whether dialogue or description is best. How much dialogue is too much dialogue? How much isn’t enough? When do you stop describing things?

The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is: when it feels right. Honestly, when you get to a point where you feel that you’ve said/described just enough to make things clear to a reader, you should stop. Reading, fundamentally, is about imagination. If a reader did not want to fill in some details on their own, they would watch a movie or television show.

But, if you pay attention, even characters in movies and T.V. shows do not express everything through monologue/dialogue. Sometimes all it takes is a simple look to convey an infinity of emotion.

Try it with your characters. See if something they said can be conveyed better with a simple action. You might be surprised at how much more moving the scene is and how much it emotionally resonates with your readers.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase