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 https://www.caitlinlambert.com/single-post/2017/04/12/Turning-Filler-Scenes-Into-Killer-Scenes). 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!
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 www.caitlinlambert.com
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