f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 7 of Dialogue – Too Little? Too Much?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, January 14, 2005

Day 7 of Dialogue – Too Little? Too Much?

Do you remember the great AWPS debate of 2004?

AWPS stood for Average Word Per Sentence. A reader had brought up the fact that, often, the more literary a book was considered, the higher average word per sentence it contained. This then led to a lot of counting and dividing and we had a list of books and their AWPS. It was all very… mathletic.

What I ended up personally concluding from that was that the main force determining AWPS was actually the relative amount of dialogue in a particular work. And that I preferred, in general, for writers to keep their dialogue pretty sparse.

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This is not the case in many of the proposals I see. I see gobs of dialogue. Pages, sometimes, with nary a break for any action or narration. It’s all rather pedantic.

We’ve talked a little about using Find/Replace to help your cause as a writer. Here’s another quick pan-and-can you can use. First print out your full manuscript, perhaps even single-spaced to help yourself. Then, simply scan through it page by page. Don’t read, just look at the pages. Narration is going to show up as chunks of text. Dialogue is going to be pinned, often, to the left side of the page. Unless you write long dialogue. If you see lots and lots of pages that stay left, you may want to go in and see two things:

1. Is this dialogue taking the place of explication?
2. Why do we need to hear this coming out of a character’s mouth?

Novels aren’t plays. They aren’t movies. They are narratives. And so they should be mostly, well, narrated narrative.

How much dialogue is too much? I don’t know if there’s a magic number or percentage. (Although there may be and I’m going to talk about statistics and metrics in writing next week.) In the end, though, your characters should only say the bare minimum they need to. Because nobody likes a person who simply runs on at the mouth.