the-waythingswere asked: Okay, so I recently began writing a new story (after shamefully abandoning a previous story with over 30k words) and I'm a little stuck on something pretty trivial. There's a scene in which two characters are walking to a nearby location and talking to each other along the way. My issue is that the scene is basically 70-80% dialogue, which I think makes it boring and would have readers skipping lines. Is there any way I can bring the scene to life? Thanks in advance.
Well first off, make a list of all of the information this scene delivers unto the reader.
- The reader learns there is a great war brewing in the east.
- The reader learns that Jo has budding feelings for John.
- The reader learns that hunters frequently poach the woods, looking for…
Then ask yourself if all of this information really needs to be conveyed via dialogue. I’m gonna stick with those things for my scene to use as an example. It’s not gonna be the best writing in the world, but the purpose is just to show you how to work with scenes where there is due to be more dialogue than there has been previously.
Keep Them Talking
The first point about the war could be relayed through conversation alone since there isn’t likely to be a news broadcast in the middle of nowhere. In this instance, word of mouth is the most likely source for the information, so you don’t have to avoid dialogue at all costs. By all means, use it!
'Things are tense now,' said John.
He had his back to me, his gaze trained on the sun as it rose behind the distant mountains.
'They've closed their borders for fear of invasion from the north. There's no way we're getting through that passage today.'
Just don’t make it black and white. Tease information, so that the reader can draw their own conclusions. I don’t have to say, ‘there is a war brewing in the east’. John looking eastward and speaking of closed borders and invasion makes that clear enough.
The feelings of one character towards another are things you can layer underneath the scene. Rather than getting a character to shout, ‘I hate you!’ or ‘I care about you!’, try and show their brewing hatred - or affection - in other ways.
He looked thin and frail, and the wound at his arm still seeped through the precarious bandage I’d tied the night before. Pulling my jacket tighter around my waist, I hid the torn part of my shirt out of sight.
'We should keep going,' I said. 'There's a town not far from here -'
'And what if we're seen?'
'You can't carry that injury for much longer. It's already infected.'
'Then I'll lose my arm.'
'Don't be ridiculous.'
I shoved him hard, knocking him a step off balance. It would have been more fitting for me to keep the distance between us, but I closed it with a sure stride. I teased the bandage at his arm and re-tightened the knot…
Rely on Your Setting
You say your characters are walking from A to B, so what kind of things around them can speak on their behalf? I listed that in my scene, there are hunters around, poaching the woods for something specific. It’s not likely that John or Jo would know everything about the landscape or what is to come, so they can see it or hear it instead, right?
Already, I have a fair bit of dialogue in my scene, but it can be broken up with description or internal monologue to keep it from coming across as a ping-pong dialogue segment.
Where the track had once been uncertain, a pathway of flattened grass opened up beneath the tree boughs. John shielded his eyes from the jabbing rays of the sun. If I hadn’t kept my gaze low, I might never have caught it. With no time to explain, I wrapped my arms around his waist and dragged him a few steps back.
'Idiot,' I seethed. 'You almost lost your foot as well as your arm!'
He broke free of my hold and stared ahead, aware of the toothed, metal trap concealed well by the long grass.
'Hunters?' he wondered aloud. 'It's unusual for them to be this far out.'
I shivered. ‘Let’s just get out of here already.’
'Yeah,' he agreed. 'Rumour says they're raised in darkness. They see in the night better than they see during the day.'
I caught a laugh in my throat, then stifled it. Hurt softened his expression for a brief moment, before he continued to walk on ahead. I trotted to keep up…
My examples aren’t the best, but I hope you can see now that dialogue segments can still be kept interesting (this being the operative word when it comes to my quick writing, but you know what I mean, ha ha!) without it all being supported by talking alone.
- Use the five senses. Sometimes taste is a difficult one to put in there, but make sure your characters are taking in the world around them as they walk through it. Give your reader a strong setting, so that they can visualise the world you have created and also learn through the dialogue and the things your characters perceive.
- Break up the dialogue. Without indicators or any kind of movement between characters, your reader might struggle to keep up with who is talking and when. This in itself should keep the scene from being too dialogue-heavy.
- Subtext. Try not to have the dialogue too black and white. Make your reader work for their information, and also use the opportunity to show them some character development and character interactions. This will keep the dialogue pieces interesting and also motivate your reader to pay attention as they learn new things about the characters and their feelings for one another.
I hope this helps you out…! Best of luck.