Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Process Examination #19: Talking Heads

As I approach the 60K mark in the official first draft of THUMB (which excludes some 25K or more of backstory and an excised draft POV), I've come to sense a particular trend. This thing is about 80% dialog. Possibly more. My critique partners have consistently labeled dialog as one of my strengths (one of my weaknesses apparently being a knack for constructing sentences as if German and not English was my first language--my elementary school Host Nation teachers would be so proud), and seeing as how I rely so much on dialog in composing the story at first, I must at least feel very comfortable with that piece of writing craft.

I got to thinking about that a bit last night and today, thinking of the big conversations I've given my characters throughout THUMB, recalling how Act 1 drags because I was more likely to make my characters talk about something that had just happened rather than describe it happening. And I had a curious idea: no matter how visual and complicated and multi-layered the right brain creates the story, the left brain needs to have it verbalized, even if only in the proxy of fictional characters talking to each other about the story.

This creates two possible complications (well, two I can think of at the moment):
  1. Revisions are going to be an interesting balancing act of translating dialog into action and description. Will this scene work best as folks arguing, or will it work better as folks doing something in conflict and saying very little?

  2. My subtext is actually text, for the most part, in this sort of draft. I will need to bury the too-honest or too-straightforward lines into action, body language and different dialog.

I'm sure when I dive into revisions after completing the draft that I'll find all sorts of other problems with dialog-heavy prose. This might also explain why my drafts want to drag on forever. I can't have my characters just shut up and do something. They discuss, they fight, they whine, they lecture, they argue, they tease, they talk over each other. They should be doing all of this, ostensibly, while also moving the plot from Point A to Point B, but I'm not sure I've got that juggling act down.

We'll see. In another chapter or two, Act 2 is going to start ramping up the action in a cascade that should carry me through to the end of Act 3 fairly relentlessly. I'm going to pay attention and see if the action keeps getting delayed or drawn out in favor of my characters chatting each other up. I'll figure me out yet.

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