Breaking Up Dialogue

I’ve never been good at writing dialogue. Describing a scene I can do all day. The poetry of it, the sensory experiences, finding just the right word to describe something perfectly. I love it. If I could write a story without dialogue, I probably would.

I have gotten better at dialogue over the last few years. Establishing a character’s voice, their thought patterns, the things they’re likely to say. I’m still not great at it, but definitely better than I used to be.

What I struggle with now, is where to put the dialogue. When I read stories from published authors, I’m always impressed at how they’ve managed to find just the right time for a character to say just the right thing to move the story along. A lot of explaining happens through dialogue, and it’s tough to make those things come out naturally, when they’re supposed to.

In my current fantasy project, my protagonist, Callum, is trying to find the answers to some questions he has about magic. The only way he can find these answers is to ask other practitioners of magic. But I’m having trouble keeping the dialogue scenes short and not filling up entire chapters with them.

At the moment I’m embedded in chapter 13. Callum encounters a friend he hasn’t seen since chapter 3, and she’s going to answer some of these questions for him. But I don’t want it to be some kind of question-and-answer session between them. I want the answers to come out naturally in their conversation. Also, there’s a lot of information she needs to give him. If she tells him everything at once, it’ll take up half the chapter.

I’m assuming that readers don’t want to read entire chapters of dialogue. At least, not often. They want that dialogue broken up by action scenes that progress the plot, or else they’ll get bored and put the book down, which I definitely don’t want. But how do I know where those dialogue breaks should be? When should other characters reveal this information to him? How often should he talk to the same person? What information can he be given to act on, and what information should be saved for him to act on later?

I don’t want to bog down my readers with extensive dialogue scenes, and give out all the information at once. But I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough to parcel it up like it needs to be.

I don’t have the answers. If you do, let me know. This post is more of an I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing rant of a post. So, I’ll just keep working on it, and maybe one day I’ll have it all figured out.

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