How Much Is Too Much Dialogue?

There’s nothing wrong with too much dialogue in a novel, per se, but, if not well written, at times it causes the flow of the story to lag.  When employing long sections of dialogue, it’s important to be sure not to be repetitive or to include chitchat.  Try to avoid the sorts of banal conversations that are realistic in life but not necessarily scintillating in literature.  Good writer effectively sets off important comments by preceding them with expository paragraphs or internal thoughts.  For example, if a character says that it “would have been a nicer visit if my niece and nephew were here,” have him muse for a bit about them, or about their mother.  Perhaps there’s a contradiction in his character that can be exposed in this way?  Here’s the right way and wrong way to do it:

  • Jill wished she could see Jack.  “It would have been a nicer visit if my niece and nephew were here.”  OR –
  • Uncomfortable?  No, Jill thought, it’s you who’s uncomfortable.  It’s not so much that she was dying to see Jack and Sally, it’s more that she was dying — period.  And she was pissed that Michael couldn’t deal with it.   “It would have been a nicer visit if my niece and nephew were here.”

The first example is what not to do – you don’t want to be repetitive and have the sentiment in the expository writing or the internal thought to be repeated in the quote.  Rather, as in the second example, use the opportunity to (1) break up a longish string dialogue and thus keep the reader focused; and (2) add complexity to the character by highlighting contradictions.