Thursday, March 25, 2010

Balancing Dialogue and Exposition

Crafting a good story can be quite the balancing act. It’s never easy to include all the important elements, such as character development, plot, and setting, without accidentally focusing on one of these a little more than the others. And it can be difficult to balance what you convey through exposition with dialogue. Too much of one and not enough of the other can be disastrous.

Unfortunately, something that I have been coming across lately is excessive use of dialogue in place of exposition. I say unfortunately because this tends to give me no other option than to recommend passing on a manuscript.

There is a time and place for everything. Characters need to converse with each other in order to grow as characters. As readers, we need to hear their voices in order to know them better. But dialogue can’t accomplish everything. It is important to recognize when exposition should be used, like when creating a strong sense of place for a story, or even when building up your characters’ interiority.

This is certainly not to say that you should throw in lots of exposition and severely cut down on dialogue. When I was growing up, I remember hating Island of the Blue Dolphins because there was so much exposition. Every little detail of the island was described, and I simply didn’t care. There was hardly any dialogue, since the protagonist was alone on the island for most of the story, and that made the book bore me completely. All I wanted was a little dialogue!

There is a fine line between having too much dialogue or not enough, too much exposition or not enough. Never forget that writing is a balancing act. Of course, it isn’t easy, but that’s why the revisions process exists.


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