Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#1
I am just a rookie writer but I actually love and subconsciously have a habit to drag out a conversation between characters. It does not actually add much to the story but gives an insight into the personality of a character (At least in my perspective, I don't know about what the readers think). I try to keep the conversation 'interesting and fun' most of the time.

-So what I wanna know is how much dialogue should one write in a chapter, on average 2500 words?

-What is the basic proportion of dialogue and writing scene description and plot delivery?

-Also are there things that one should avoid in dialogues??? What are they?

-Are there any limits on writing dialogues?? And if yes, when should one stop?

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#2
That's a difficult question, and one I've been considering myself. I tend to write too much dialogue as well, especially in some scenes.
I don't think there are any hard numbers, and I won't try to give any.

What's probably the most important is to keep the plot moving. Not really relevant dialogue can bog the story down just as much as too many descriptions. A trick that might help there is to combine the dialogue with some action. Just describing what characters are doing while they're talking can be good, but of course it's nice if it moves the plot along. Especially for exposition dialogue. And of course, to keep the dialogue interesting, the usual tip is to have the talking characters be in conflict in some way. Like conflicting goals. I don't think that should hold true all the time, though. And just showing their conflicting worldviews can create a subtle kind of conflict, or at least tension.

Things you should try to avoid, off the top of my head: Bad grammar and punctuation, obviously. Stilted and formal dialogue when it's not appropriate, or dialogue that doesn't sound different from narration. Also, using too much slang or dialect, especially when it makes the dialogue hard to read or understand. Having all characters sound the same. Characters telling other characters what they already know. There are probably many other things.

And if you want to write really long dialogue, it might be good to break it up in some way, like having something interesting happen in the middle, so the readers don't get bored of just talking.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#3
Up to now my own novel had barely any conversation going - the MC can't really speak and he rarely understood others when they spoke - and I've just put up an info heavy almost monologue.

Here is what I tried to keep in mind:

Break it up - if there is a change in speaker, OR if there hasn't been a change in speaker for a long time, stop the dialogue (or monologue) and add in some flavor text. This can be describing something in the situation, body language or offer aid in interpreting the 'mood' of the speakers. The best speakers use the body a lot during a conversation or a presentation, the best writers do the same. When the speakers change it is confusing if there is no indication who is saying what, especially if there are more than two people involved.

It has to be relevant - both to the plot, to the characters involved and to the reader. My chapter was a lot of exposition about what had been going on in the story. The characters didn't know one another well, but there is a part of them which makes them trust one another. Their relation can be summarized as mentor and student. No matter what it is that I want the readers to know, it has to go through this filter or you'll get responses like 'how did she know' or 'why did she tell him this in the first place'. Once that is figured out, I went to cut out the parts that the readers wouldn't care about. Details about the world I created that are better shown elsewhere, if at all. I so want to tell everyone all about it, but that may not be the best idea.

Edit:
I want to stress greatly that the only reason I kind of get away with long paragraphs of talking is because 1: it is an orientation lecture on, well, 'playground rules'. People expect one person to do the talking and 2: the MC barely speaks at the moment (monster mc, slow progression over time) and 3: readers have been really wanting some of this information

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#4

Anonymous Wrote: -So what I wanna know is how much dialogue should one write in a chapter, on average 2500 words?

-What is the basic proportion of dialogue and writing scene description and plot delivery?

-Also are there things that one should avoid in dialogues??? What are they?

-Are there any limits on writing dialogues?? And if yes, when should one stop?
Most dialogue IRL takes place in chunks of five words or so. Most amateur writing tends to have characters be too wordy.

I usually aim for max one sentence before the dialogue tag and one after. Any dialogue that's supposed to be flowing and natural I'll try to keep to one sentence at a time. One character speaking three sentences in a row is borderline monologue, and more than three sentences will feel like a monologue for sure.

My other general rule of thumb is to aim for at least one paragraph of reflection after every two to four lines of dialogue. I also try to pepper stage direction into the flow of the conversation.

I have found that if I follow these rules of thumb than I can do an entire scene or chapter as one conversation without anything feeling off.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#5
I'm basically saying what everyone else has already said.

Writing a story is very different from the formal writing taught in most English classes, but one of the good rules I learned is that a paragraph shouldn't be more than five to seven sentences long.

There are several fictions on RR that I do like, but they can be difficult to read because they have one massive paragraph of dialogue followed by another, and then another, and then another.

Break up the dialogue. Add in body language. Use a sentance or two to show how the setting of the scene fits the mood of what the characters are talking about.

My chapters are usually around 4k to 6k words long or longer, so I have a bit more room for drawn out dialogue, but they'd be boring as hell if I only had people talking. Even using a sentence or three to have a character think about what the other person said can do a lot to help the scene flow more smoothly.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#6
Every sentence should serve a purpose. This includes dialog. This of course can’t be a justification to made it feel unrealistic. So small talk can be summarized by writing with something along the lines of “after exchanging pleasantries..”. Now if your dialog doesn’t break this rule then I don’t see a problem writing a whole chapter with dialog. Assuming of course it’s done well. 

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#7
Be careful about moving the plot with dialogue. You dont want the characters exposing the plot in an unnatural way. One thing that is worse than telling and not showing is having the characters tell, while still not showing. 

Also, try to regularly remind yourself: what is this charcater trying to achieve by talking?

A limit with dialogue is this: It's trickier to really reveal the deeper parts of a character's personalities and desires with dialogue alone. It is without making it seem awkward, at least. Just try it in practice. You'll see what I mean. If you don't, try having someone else look at it.

For beginner levels, I think less than about 40 percent of a chapter should be dialogue. As you get more experienced, you'll find more oppurtunities to kind of break the basic rules and truly express youself in a unique way.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#8
I approach dialog a bit differently. My objective with dialogue is to humanize the characters who are interacting. The MC often encounters antagonist on her journey, or potential antagonist. 
If they are merely trash in its purest form than the value of conflict is minimal. There is no reason not to get the jump on them, shoot them then and there, and move onward to the goal.
Life goes forward, no compromise with the greater reality made, no lessons learned.
But if the human bits are shown than it complicates things. My MC is forced to make ugly choices and the journey's outcome means at least a little bit more in the scheme of things.

Taking that approach until I feel it has been sufficiently accomplished and feels satisfactory, I never really worry whether there is too much dialogue.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#10

Anonymous Wrote: -So what I wanna know is how much dialogue should one write in a chapter, on average 2500 words?

-What is the basic proportion of dialogue and writing scene description and plot delivery?

All chapters are not created equal. What you're trying to do in Chapter One may be very different from what you're trying to do in Chapter Four of the same story. So there's no way to get a hard-and-fast formula for what percentage of the word count, in a "typical" chapter, should be dialogue. It all depends upon what a specific chapter's purpose is within the larger plot. Fulfilling that purpose may need a ton of dialogue, or it may need little or no dialogue. 

For instance, I've seen mystery/thriller novels where "Chapter One" (sometimes called the "Prologue") focuses on the thoughts and actions of a character whom the author intends to kill at the end of the same chapter. (This may not be obvious to the reader until it happens -- at first, we may think this guy is going to be a major character all through the story.) So the plot of those first 10 or 20 pages might show that character running through the streets, frantically trying to shake off pursuers, looking for a good place to hide some crucial piece of evidence which is on his person and which he doesn't want his pursuers to find, and so forth. Maybe he even manages to stun or kill the first assassin who comes at him. Maybe he thinks he's safe now. Then he gets killed by someone else! (The reader may or may not know who killed him, depending upon whether the author is writing a whodunit.) End of chapter. There may have been almost zero dialogue in this sequence, because we were seeing that one character running around frantically, not trusting anyone he met, and not having time to stop and shoot the breeze with that cute girl who sold him a train ticket on Page 5. 

(If there was any dialogue in that chapter, it may have been very terse: "One ticket to Chattanooga, please." "Here you go, sir. Let me get your change." "No, keep it -- I'm a hurry!" Or the author may have simply skipped the dialogue in favor of just telling us, in a single sentence, that the man paid cold cash for a ticket to Chattanooga.) 

Now we move on to Chapter Two, and we meet the real hero of the story -- such as a police detective, or a CIA agent, or someone else who is standing over the dead body after it was discovered. The hero is trying to reconstruct what happened, and figure out where the dead man might have hidden his final report (or whatever important item he supposedly was carrying). 

After the investigation has been going for a day or two, Chapter Four might include a long discussion as the hero and a few other people are comparing notes on what they have now learned about the last few hours of the dead man's life, and the circumstances of his death. 

They examine the results of the autopsy report. They talk about it.

They examine the last report the dead man had managed to turn in to his superiors before the bad guys caught on to who he was. They talk about what this tells them about what he had learned or hoped to learn, and where they should go to ask more questions.

They construct a timeline of what is known about the dead man's movements and actions during the last few hours of his life. For instance, that cute girl at the railroad station remembers selling him a ticket to Chattanooga around 8:30 PM, and she has described to the police how sweaty and nervous he looked as he was paying her for it, and how he was in such a hurry he didn't even want to wait for his change. They talk about what gaps still need to be filled in this timeline. 

They also speculate about where he might have hidden the roll of microfilm (or whatever) so that his enemies couldn't take it off his corpse. (Unless, of course, they did take it off his corpse, but the hero has been ordered to work on the assumption that it is still hidden somewhere, waiting to be found.)

So Chapter Four might be mostly dialogue, because the author needs to show us how the detective hero is learning useful things, and in the process he gives us a rundown of what the hero already knows about the dead man's activities, and what reasonable deductions he is making from the available evidence, and if we go back and double-check Chapter One, we may be able to see that the author put in a few clues about things which the detective has not yet figured out the dead man was doing. (For instance, maybe he doesn't know that the man ducked into the restroom in a Taco Bell for a few minutes, just before he bought his train ticket, and conceivably he could have hidden something small in the restroom, or elsewhere in or near that building.)

Likewise, later chapters may have very different percentages of dialogue in them, depending upon what is needed to get certain things done in a particular chapter. For instance, if there's a big action scene in which the hero is fighting an assassin in a dark basement, there probably won't be much conversation going on. The assassin doesn't want to deliver any long-winded speeches to explain who he really is and why he's doing this; he just wants to kill the hero as quickly as possible and then disappear into the streets of the crowded city before anyone else comes along. On the other hand, there might be a chapter near the end in which the hero is explaining how he figured it all out, and which parts he could prove in court, and which parts of his reconstruction of the case are more speculative. In that chapter, it could be 80 or 90 percent dialogue!

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#11
Listen, in the book Nekomonogatari, two characters have a conversation that lasts so long one of the characters breaks the fourth wall to mention how long this conversation has been, and then they proceed to extend it even further. That one conversation ends up being something like 40 pages in a paperback book. And it's engaging the entire time. So, anonymous buttfart, the only rule is that if you make a conversation, it has to be entertaining and not just flat exposition. Do that and you can make it however you want.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#13

Gennon Wrote: All dialogue must do two things: 

1) Show character or further the plot (or better yet, both).

2) Have conflict (could be a tiny amount or a lot).

You surprise me a little on the second one. I've certainly seen it said before that "conflict" is vital to an interesting plot, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone say that every time we write some dialogue in a scene, there should be some sort of "conflict" within the dialogue. 

Of course, that raises the question of definitions. If two characters in a conversational scene are close friends, and they are planning their next move, and they don't argue with each other about what to do next, does that mean there is no conflict in their dialogue? Or would you say that some conflict is implied because these guys are (let's say) planning how they will attack some sort of problem that needs to be solved? (Not necessarily "attack" in the sense of "commit physical violence.")

So I'd appreciate it if you could clarify just how broadly you are defining "conflict" in this context. It might make it easier for the rest of us to understand what you meant to imply, and then we could carry on from there with the discussion of how that would work in particular situations. 

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#14

Lorendiac Wrote:
Gennon Wrote: All dialogue must do two things: 

1) Show character or further the plot (or better yet, both).

2) Have conflict (could be a tiny amount or a lot).

You surprise me a little on the second one. I've certainly seen it said before that "conflict" is vital to an interesting plot, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone say that every time we write some dialogue in a scene, there should be some sort of "conflict" within the dialogue. 

Of course, that raises the question of definitions. If two characters in a conversational scene are close friends, and they are planning their next move, and they don't argue with each other about what to do next, does that mean there is no conflict in their dialogue? Or would you say that some conflict is implied because these guys are (let's say) planning how they will attack some sort of problem that needs to be solved? (Not necessarily "attack" in the sense of "commit physical violence.")

So I'd appreciate it if you could clarify just how broadly you are defining "conflict" in this context. It might make it easier for the rest of us to understand what you meant to imply, and then we could carry on from there with the discussion of how that would work in particular situations.


Conflict takes on a thousand forms. One way is the implied conflict you mentioned. The best dialogues, however, have layers of conflict. 

IMO, there are three main types of conflict:

Interpersonal Conflict: Two or more characters fighting (overt disagreement), seducing (getting others to abide by their schemes), negotiating (a cooperative venture but one side comes out better off than the other).

Personal Conflict: Is one person uncomfortable about the topic but goes along out of fear/self-distrust? Does one give in due to circumstances they can't control? Or do they do something against their beliefs for a greater good?

External Conflict: Is there a greater barrier beyond the grasp of all involved in the dialogue?

Although you can write dialogue without any conflict, you'll be writing it for yourself. No one cares for pleasantries. That's why every popular television series has conflict in nearly every second of every scene. Sometimes it's forced, but it's far better when it isn't.

Re: How much Dialogue, is too much??

#16
In my experience too much dialogue happens if the author immerses too much into a scene. You scene takes lives before your inner eye and the characters start to interact on their own. And when you write down the result you end up writing the dialogue and not everything else that happened. The problem is that dialogue itself is only a little part of every scene, and in writing you even only get the text and not the inflection. That's fine if you are writing the script for some play or the like as there will be actors there to fill the missing parts. (Though to see how much there is missing, imagine the worst amateur actors to cab imagine playing the scene). In a story it is even worse: There are no actors there to read and fill the blanks but the reader's imagination has to supply all the actors and let them play in their head. If you manages to fill the reader's mind with enough information about the actors (and managed to get it stuck), then this can be glorious.
But most of the time most of the readers are not as familiar with the characters as you as author are, so they cannot reproduce what is actually happening and only get some mostly boring or hard to follow dialogue dragging along.
What you might want to try is taking a step back there. Imagine the scene you imagined was real and ake all the dialogue you got and use it like a protocol of that scene you have and then try to narrate that scene instead (depending on your story by one of the characters, by some ghostly 3rd person character following alone, by an all-knowing god of that universe, by whoever) and think how you would tell the imagined audience how you would narrate this story.
You might still come up with some dialogue, but it should be much more to the point (not necessarily the point of the discussion, but the point of the narration, of what the narrator deemed important and wanted to express).