By Caitlin Lambert

May 5th, 2017

With such a wonderful writing community out there to become involved in, we are constantly being inundated with advice and tips. It’s easy to take every piece of this advice and follow it to a “T.” The problem with this is that we sometimes don’t understand the other side — what can happen if we don’t moderate all these tips. Here are three things that you’ve been told are good, but which might actually be killing your novel.

Too Much Description

Creating a realistic, fleshed-out world for your reader is something you definitely want to do. Two ways to accomplish this are by painting a rich setting and describing detailed character appearances. Where this becomes problematic is when you as the writer over-describe. If there are large blocks of description weighing down your manuscript, the pacing is going to be choked. Great flow requires a balance of action and description, as those descriptions become relevant. If your MC is arriving at a palace, it would be completely appropriate to describe what the palace looks like. On the other hand, if on page one you begin describing the entire kingdom, including the palace, when your MC lives in a village miles away, then that description is irrelevant.

Another issue that arrives with description is that we as writers often want to impose our exact idea of the setting and characters onto the readers. In other words, we want them to picture that kingdom exactly like we do, or envision the love interest exactly as we see him/her. But here’s the thing… no one ever will. Even with incredibly accurate descriptions, the only person who will ever see your novel exactly like you do is YOU. Unless you can draw out images of your setting yourself, no one will see your world the same. And that isn’t a bad thing. Part of the wonder of reading is being able to envision worlds and characters. Don’t underestimate readers by thinking every little detail has to be explained to them. Let them experience that world-building themselves.

Too Much Dialogue

Dialogue is a good thing to have, and it can break up large paragraphs on the page — making the story more visually appealing. Dialogue can also reveal a lot about a character’s personality. Without enough dialogue, the story moves too fast. Few emotional connections can be established, as dialogue is usually the number one way that our characters interact and share their feelings.

On the other hand, what happens if you have too much dialogue? The exact opposite thing will occur – the story will be purely words, and no action. Characters who spend the whole time talking about doing something, but never actually do it, are not very interesting.

Finally, dialogue can become incredibly boring if there is no substance in what the characters are saying. What important thing is being revealed by this conversation? Even if it is just a relationship-builder, give every word meaning. If characters are simply speaking to hear their own voices, the story will drag, and you’ll find readers skimming ahead to get to the “good stuff”. Avoid this. Dialogue can be one of the best places to reveal emotion and tension. Don’t lose this opportunity. Be concise, and make every word count.

Too Much Action

This point seems completely contradictory to the others, but it actually compliments them. Again, it is all about balance. If there are two words you will hear me say A LOT on my blog, it is engagement and balance. One of those words deals with blogging, and the other with writing. Balance, balance, balance. Too much dialogue = too slow. Too much action = too fast. Simple, right? *insert nervous laughter*

Action is a good thing — it is what keeps a reader glued to their chair, or awake until 3 am. But if heart-pounding action is happening to unimportant or unrelatable characters, what is the point? Readers want things to happen, but they want them to happen to interesting people they care about. In order to accomplish this, there has to be a balance. Alternating between scenes of action, dialogue, and “fillers” will help maintain this balance. (Note: fillers do not mean empty scenes that simply take up space; see here for a post on fillers Take the time to build deep, three-dimensional characters, and then put them in heart-pounding scenes with high stakes and gripping twists. Voila! That’s a book readers will devour.

What are your thoughts on these three silent killers? Have you had trouble with them? Do you agree or disagree that they can be dangerous to your novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts… comment below!

Author’s Bio:


Caitlin is the mind behind her blog Quills & Coffee, where she shares tips, tools, & encouragement for writers. She writes YA sci-fi/fantasy novels and is currently querying her second book, WHAT LIES ABOVE, while drafting her third. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her reading, composing piano, and adding endless destinations to her travel bucket list. Or quite possibly eating dark chocolate.

Connect with me!

Website: Quills & Coffee



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  1. Hi Caitlin, Your advice is great. I agree with all three points but… the problem, I have discovered, is that in editing I sometimes get over zealous with the pen and whole chunks of dialogue are cut, along with descriptive passages. However I then, on re reading get to insert selective bits. I find it a chore and yet know there is no simple way around this.

    • Thank you! And yes, I sometimes encounter this problem too, although I have to often flesh-out scenes since I write them pretty thin on the first draft. And if you find a better way, let me know 😉

  2. Hi Caitlin – Although I have never ventured into fiction writing – I am an avid fiction reader! And your tips are spot – on approaching it from the reader’s POV!
    I did find a gem in your comments re: description that I think applies all across the board for all writing genres and something I wasn’t aware of before. YES, we do want/maybe even expect that the reader will see the “kingdom” as we see it. But you are so right – this will never happen. Such a freeing thought to describe what we see in our minds eye and let our readers see what is in theirs. Blogging/commenting is a wonderful way to see the unique interpretation of each individual reader. It never ceases to amaze me how different each ones’ perceptions can be. One of the reasons I love blogging 🙂
    All the best on your next book(s).

    • Thank you so much for your comment and encouragement! I absolutely love what you said here… About seeing each unique perspective. You are so right, and it is one of my favorite things about blogging too! And thank you for the well-wishes! WIP #3 is coming along well… Halfway done =) Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Caitlin, This is such a great post. Very practical. Just reading it makes me think that to get balance there is much practice involved! Like walking on a balance beam perhaps? Not an easy task, but with practice it becomes an art form that looks effortless even though we all know that it is not! I will check out your dialog tag blog because I always have trouble with dialog and knowing how to keep it moving and clear. Thanks for posting and welcome to Two Drops!

    • Thank you so much! I am so happy to be a part of the Two Drops family now 🙂 You are exactly right about the practice and balance writing takes. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but that’s when we just step back, take a deep breath, and remember that our love for stories drives our writing. That always helps keep me grounded! I hope you find my dialogue post helpful too! Thank you for your comment and your warm welcome!

  4. Caitlin, thank you for this post. I’m not writing a book, yet. However, I find your post helpful for keeping a watchful eye on maintaining balance in what I will write in the future. Thank you, John.

    • You’re so welcome, John! I’m glad it was helpful! Good luck on your future endeavors, and thank you for the follow 😉

  5. The biggest challenge I find about dialogue (as a reader) is knowing who is speaking. The story I am currently writing has a lot dialogue in it, but I have found it best to break the dialogue with a little narration about either what one of the protagonists is thinking or give some history about the discussion.

  6. Caitlin! What a wonderful reminder! Thank you! … and timely … I’m going through the second draft of my novel and noticing … ak! … So. Much. Dialog! … I love listening to people talk and the words they use and the words they don’t use … but I think my characters need some exercise … well, back to work. Blessings!

    • Aw, thank you! And you’re so welcome! Don’t you love that editing process ;)? Dialogue is so hard to get right… I have this really long conversation in WHAT LIES ABOVE (the novel I’m querying), and making sure the dialogue didn’t get stale and boring was probably one of the hardest parts of my revision!

      Thank you for your comment! Blessings on you too!

  7. Hi, Caitlin. Thank you for submitting these easy to follow tips. I read daily and your advice on balancing descriptions, pacing, and action are certainly true for the MC in fiction, but I think they are also relevant for nonfiction as well. How so? If it’s only a description of what works without examples of how to, people can picture something entirely different than the writer intended, much like your castle may be dissimilar to mine. Good job! Again, I’m glad we could publish this for you and our readers.

    • Thank you so much, Marilyn! You are exactly right 🙂 And thank you for the invitation to submit to Two Drops… I am so happy to be a contributor to your site!

  8. Some very great tips. I too have been writing a story series on a writing site. I have written 17 parts, and these tips will help me a lot.
    At times, my characters are into little elaborated conversations, so I will try to tone them as per need.

    • I’m so glad this helped! Sometimes longer conversations are needed, most definitely, but the question to ask is always “Why?”. Why do I need this conversation? What are my characters – and my readers – benefiting from it?

      Good luck with your story series, and thank you for commenting :)!

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