Is Your Book Dialogue Heavy?

ImageIt was a busy weekend that included a trip to a library book sale and a stop at a Barnes & Noble to replace my defective Nook Tablet. I then spent a considerable amount of time working with all of the children’s books piling up around here. I’ll be busy this week until I catch up.

I also took some time to do some reading. I have a couple of hardcover books that I started quite a while ago, and I wanted to finish them. One was a mystery; the other was chick-lit.  Both were good stories, but I found myself feeling irritated with the latter. There was too much dialogue, and I became weary of listening in on conversations. I was relieved when there were short bursts of description or information. The story moved too quickly with nearly all of it told in dialogue. New characters came on the scene and added to the conversation with nary an introduction made. There were entire chapters, albeit short, consisting entirely of dialogue. I forced myself forward to the predictable ending.

Have you ever had ice cream that seemed whipped, full of air, and not satisfying? ImageThat’s what this book was like – full of air. The actual story itself seemed small. The book was by a well-known author who has published many books. This is their style.

I did a few online searches, and there are articles, blog posts, and opinions that are as numerous as the stars about dialogue. Some say there is no such thing as too much dialogue, and others say there is. Many of the comments fell into two camps:

Pro: Many new writers have too much exposition in their writing and not enough dialogue.
Con: Characters are loud when they talk too much, and they need to shut up so the story can move forward.

Writing style is subjective. What one person enjoys, another may dislike. I found this heavy use of dialogue interesting. I don’t recall it from my past years of being a voracious reader. Is this a fairly new thing?

I grabbed a couple of books from my bookcase. One from the 50’s, and one from the 60’s. The book from the 50’s has a style I enjoy. There is plenty of dialogue, but everything in the scene isn’t explained in dialogue. Perusing one chapter, I find a nice mix of dialogue and paragraphs which show and/or tell.  Instead of two characters talking about something that happened previously, it’s more enjoyable to read about the experience – which is more detailed with descriptions and feelings than their conversation would convey. The book from the 60’s seems to have a ratio of 40:60 with dialogue being the former. This book, too, was more enjoyable to me than the current book.

I checked several vintage books that are in the public domain. Three that I looked through were similar with pages and pages without dialogue, but when dialogue was used, one person might talk for a full one to two pages on my Nook. There were some long-winded people back in the day. One of the books seemed to have a nice balance between dialogue and exposition, but none were dialogue heavy.


Just because I like giraffes.

As a reader, I know what I like. I know I’ve read dialogue heavy books before and haven’t always enjoyed them, but I didn’t realize why. As a new writer, I tend to look at styles more closely now, and am more aware of why I like or dislike a style.

This isn’t a case for or against heavy dialogue. I was simply aware of why I found reading one particular book more irritating than enjoyable.

Have you noticed if there are styles of writing that aren’t as enjoyable to you as others?

16 thoughts on “Is Your Book Dialogue Heavy?

  1. I think that there is such a thing as too much dialogue–it does stretch out information that could otherwise be given in a few paragraphs. I have that problem in my own writing, so successive drafts usually have me taking out dialogue and putting in exposition (although I’ve found the cheat of having a chatty first person POV. Hafta crack down on that soon….)

    • My books have a first person POV, too. It seems to make exposition easier to write through the eyes of my main character. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I took a quick look at your blog. I’ll definitely be by soon to do some reading. 🙂

  2. As a reader, I know what I like. I know I’ve read dialogue heavy books before and haven’t always enjoyed them, but I didn’t realize why.

    Same here.

    It wasn’t until recently (after having read an article at Writers Digest) that I realised that the best type of dialogue in storytelling isn’t spoken dialogue at all. Its the silent 70% of communication done through the body language of the character.

    So rather than have the characters spell everything out; you let their body language and physical reactions to the world around them become the narrative dialogue instead.

    • Yes, well said. As much as I enjoy dialogue (love to hear people talk), there are certain aspects of a story I want to learn in other ways. Plus, when dialogue is in normal speech patterns, it is refreshing to read more expressive words in the exposition.

  3. I’m with you on this one. I also like dialogue to “sound” real, not like a dissertation or history lesson. One of my goals is to be able to clearly show cross-talk… when you have two or more different conversations going on in the same group of people.

    • I tried to put myself into the conversations in my books and speak as people do in real life. I think I managed that part of writing ok. I’m still not sure about the tags, but no one has complained about them yet. 🙂 Cross-talk happens in real life all the time. I never thought to try that in one of my books. A new challenge. Thanks, T.W.

  4. I haven’t yet encountered a book that I thought contained too much dialogue, though I’m sure such a novel could get tiring. On the other hand, I have encountered books with too much description and not enough dialogue. There really needs to be a balance of both.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it!

    • I’ve been enjoying your blog from afar for quite a while. Your new release seemed like a good time to speak up. 🙂 I never had a problem with dialogue before, but I’ve noticed some current books are heavy with dialogue and wondered if it was a trend. I’m sure one author could do it justice far more than another. I’ll have to decide one book at a time.

  5. I love dialogue (this is why I write plays) but, Lordy, dialogue without direction is just maddening.

    And poorly written dialogue is some of the worst writing there is. I can’t even count the number of books I’ve read where I thought, “Who in the hell speaks this way?”

    • I started a book like that a few months back. No contractions were used in the dialogue. It was very strange to read, and I put it down after a few chapters. I’ve had the itch to try to turn one of my books into a screenplay – to try the style of writing, but also to see it formatted for a movie. 🙂

  6. It depends on how the dialogue is managed, for me. Some of it is just too repetitive and seem like a lot of dialogue is added in for a clever one-liner or something that the book could do without. Some people have dialogue for the sake of dialogue, and it ends up being too much for me. When it’s done right I can handle it.

    As a writer, I tend to have a lot of dialogue, but I try to keep it interesting and relevant. If it doesn’t HAVE to be there, I tend to remove it. That’s what I do a lot of when I go through and edit my books. It’ll stand out to me and I’ll think, well, this is kind of dumb. And I’ll take it out.

    So I don’t really mind too much dialogue, it just has to be done well enough, definitely.

    • I agree, Daniel. Especially with repetitive dialogue and cleverness. I hate when I come up short with word count (need 50K for my books), and I have to go back and add a scene. It’s usually dialogue, and I can think of one scene that an editor would have told me to ditch. It really asted time, but it had a humorous bent, so maybe readers will forgive me that one.

  7. Maddie,
    How right you are! Dialogues can make or break readers’ preferences for an author! I do have a few in mind, of a recent generation, which made me give up on a book altogether, or pick up a couple more to read in parallel.
    I find Alexander McCall Smith uses the perfect balance of narrative and dialogue, and this is why I have given him and his books prime place in my recent blog on dialogues. (By the way, hope you don’t mind me having highlighted your post in my new blog).
    Keep up with your great posts,

  8. Dialogue with direction can be a wonderful read but too much that flounders has us running for the hills. I think Carrie said it right. A nice balance is always the best. Thank you so much for stopping by our blog & we look forward to crashing yours & reading more of your lovely posts on books & writing. Happy Holidays!! 🙂

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