Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gift of Gab or Dialogic Flab?

by Rachael Phillips

 Like all good little fiction writers, we attend conferences, classes, and webinars that forbid us to pad the narrative in our novels. Books and articles, too, shake a finger in our faces and demand that we keep our descriptions lean, clean, and healthy, with only a small dollop of adjectives to sweeten our offerings.

 With all the caloric concern about narrative, I’ve heard little about indulging in too much dialogue.

 Except from my critique partner. She pinpointed several scenes in my current novel—consisting mostly of dialogue—that she believed served no purpose.

I had to admit I encouraged my characters to talk because I like to talk. We find each other fascinating conversationalists. My partner, less than mesmerized, insisted our dialogue should further the plot.

But that wasn’t all. She said my last novel’s epilogue needed to shed some pounds. Half its weight, actually.

She was kidding, right? I agreed that I’d set the action in three different scenes—too many for an epilogue. But I’d crafted those last encounters between my characters to summarize the camaraderie they’d experienced in my novel. I’d put rich words into their mouths that readers would roll on their tongues for days afterward.      

My partner complimented me on my wordsmithing. But she still suggested I trim down the exchanges: “Seems like you’re taking awhile to wind it up, like you don’t want to let go of the characters.”
Tell me, what right does a critique partner have to be right?

After spending survival camp with my characters for months, huddling at 4:30 a.m., interviewing them, arguing with them, clobbering them, and rescuing them, I wanted to coffee klatch with my buds one last time. So the dialogue ran on . . . and on . . . and on . . . .

Meanwhile, the future reader would no doubt give up on the book, give in to weighty subliminal suggestions, and head for the refrigerator.

How about you? Have you ever had to put your dialogue on a diet?


  1. Yes and it involved cutting witty and wonderful characters too. They still live in my mind, even though they'll never see an audience. It's like touring Europe and only showing 3 photos in summary.

  2. Mary, What a great analogy! Exactly how I feel. Perhaps they will pop up in future novels, and reviewers will wonder why we didn't include them in the first place!

  3. I do know what it's like to not want to say good by to a character. There are a few books and projects I look back on and wish I could visit again. This post was as delightful as all the others of yours I've read. I love reading Rachael Phillips!