Our world moves quickly. We drive fast cars, fly across the world in a few hours, and watch screens that jump from scene to scene in an instant. Let your characters talk too much, and your book will move slowly. Have a slow-moving book, and you’ll lose readers. If you fear your book has this problem, less dialogue can help you write a book people want to read.
Why You Need Less Dialogue
Your characters have a mind of their own. They go where they want, think what they want, and say what they want.
Unfortunately, some of them talk too much. They can’t help it. They have a thought and just have to spit it out. The only problem is that when a character is talking, that character is not doing. And action—doing—is what moves your story along.
Granted, there are exceptions to this rule. Some books are nothing but dialogue. But those are far and few between. (Check out this University of Pennsylvania article to see how much dialogue is in a few popular books.)
So if you want your story to move, you need more action and less dialogue.
What Is Too Much Talking?
Now that you see the need for less dialogue, you have to determine if your book has too much talking. This is where things get tricky. Because there’s not really a rule that says how much talking is too much.
How do you know if you need less dialogue?
1. Your characters go on for pages and pages. Whether one character talks nonstop or a handful of characters go back and forth, pages of nonstop dialogue is exhausting. It can also get confusing if you don’t label the speakers well.
2. Characters talk about what’s going on around them. Don’t turn your characters into narrators. That’s your job. When characters spend time talking about the weather or a ball rolling down the street, there’s too much talking.
3. It feels excessive. Because there is no hard rule, finding excessive talking requires feeling around for it. As the writer, this can be hard to recognize. Get a second reader to check out your manuscript. Ask for honest feedback about whether there’s too much talking. Better yet, read a section of dialogue out loud to someone who hasn’t read the book. Then ask what the dialogue was about and who said what. If people can’t keep up when you read it out loud, that’s a sign you have a problem.
How To Fix Excessive Dialogue
Certain genres are more likely to have too much talking. Write a space trilogy or fantasy that needs miles of background story? You’re at risk for excessive gab. Your characters can’t help it. The good news is that you can.
No matter what type of book you’ve written, less dialogue strengthens your story and is more engaging to read. Here’s how to limit dialogue.
Pay attention to what’s happening. Characters don’t talk in total darkness. Their senses are at play, and they’re noticing the world around them. You should too. Even if your characters are sitting on a front porch drinking sweet tea, the world around them is full of action. Describe what’s happening! Maybe a dog barks in the distance, a line of cars streams by, or leaves rustle in the wind. Then again, maybe the air is stale and still. Plug these details in to break up lengthy dialogue.
Find other ways to tell backstories. Dialogue is an easy way to tell a backstory. It’s also one of the worst. Spend three pages letting a character drone on about his mean mom and absent dad, and readers tune out. Instead, trickle your character’s backstory throughout the book.
Kill unnecessary chatter. You are you readers’ guide. They expect every word to matter. Fulfill their expectations by removing dialogue that doesn’t add to the story. Remember—you don’t say everything you think. In the same vein, you shouldn’t write everything your characters say. It’s fine for them to have conversations, but you don’t have to share every one of them.
Show responses. If one character asks a question, the other character doesn’t have to answer out loud. The character can respond with action. When Susan’s dad asks if she’s ever going to clean her room, she doesn’t have to speak. Show her storming out of the room. Then let the reader hear the banging and clanging in the distance that indicates she’s either cleaning her room or destroying it.
Let Us Cut Your Talk
Book editing isn’t easy, but it makes your book pop. If you want to publish but you aren’t sure how to keep your characters from oversharing, we can help. At Argyle Fox Publishing, we’ll help your book have less dialogue and more action. We can also help with picture book pacing! Whatever you need, we’ll work to help readers fall in love with your story and not get lost in dialogue. Take the first step toward bringing your book to life by submitting your manuscript for consideration.