I reached a milestone the other day; I finished my NaNoWriMo novel.
Well. Sort of. I completed the story arc I had outlined, and written all of the scenes I had planned, but I am still sitting at just over 35000 words. Yes, I still have 15000 to write in order to ‘officially’ complete NaNoWriMo.
I am not at a complete loss as to what to do. As I wrote I would occasionally make notes as to what I would need to add in later. You know the type of things; change this fact, more build up on this relationship, more interaction among characters on this point. It is not specific details, but is reminders on what I noticed as I wrote, which would help me in fixing things later. I’m not entirely certain that it is 15000 words worth of add ins, but it is a start.
The biggest thing I have noticed in my writing this novel is my current focus on dialogue. In the past, I have often been told I spend too much time on exposition. I would tell details quickly, or include unnecessary details which would bog down the story. In my attempt to avoid this pitfall, I tried to take out most of that, or present it in other ways. Other ways read, mostly dialogue. Seriously. I have pages of dialogue at a time with little in the way of a break.
I am currently looking at four days of adding in and fixing this imbalance. Unfortunately, I have no idea what should make a balanced novel in this respect. I mean, let’s be realistic. Good books are in the eye of the beholder. Everyone likes something a little different. There are bestsellers that I cannot stand, and little known books I am deeply in love with.
On top of the personal taste issue, is the emotional connection. What makes this book resonate with the reader at this moment in time? Timing is important. I have read books which I considered only ‘eh’ at best, and then, months or years later had a strong pull to read the book again, only to fall in love deeply. There are books from my childhood that will always be special to me, simply because they were there when I needed them. Poor writing can be forgiven when the reader is really reading something they need at that moment.
That connection is not something you can count on when writing, and can occasionally work against you. I mean, if the agent/editor/publisher/reader is just not in the mood at the time, then it will not be your day, no matter how good the story is.
It is a tricky business, trying to figure out when to break up the dialogue without losing the rhythm of the conversation. In order to figure out if I had too much dialogue (I was really sure I did) I turned to my trusty friend the internet.
The first article I found, I actually liked quite a bit. Ask the Writer gave the honest answer I already knew. Maybe you do have too much, and maybe you don’t, it really depends on the novel. Looking at your dialogue, you need to determine if it is important for story and character development, or if it is boring filler words. It also recommends the reminder of what people would never say in normal conversation. It might be easy for someone to drive by a house and say ‘My Mom died there,’ but it doesn’t mean it was natural.
The Creative Pen gave me recommendations that were more about keeping dialogue natural and productive. They also pointed out that many readers like books that may have plenty of dialogue. The white space it presents not he page can look less overwhelming to readers, even if they are not aware of that part of their screening process.
Of course Writer’s Digest is always a good resource, however in this instance not particularly helpful. They recommend intuition as a guide; if it seems right to leave it as mostly dialogue, leave it there, and if it doesn’t add more narrative. Hmmm. If I intuitively knew, I wouldn’t be asking for advice, but I appreciate the affirmation that I can figure it out.
I finally found some clear numbers however! When discussing dialogue as one of the seven deadly sins of writing, they estimate 40-50% of a novel being dialogue, with a potentially higher percentage for novels for younger readers. Finally, something I could quantify, and count. Thank you! Of course they were not really saying if this was a correct percentage you should have, they were discussing how to make your dialogue stronger. I’m not sure if that means I am doing things right or wrong still. Hmmm.
Okay, I have to be honest. I think the internet failed me on this one. Or it told me what I already knew. All books are different, and there isn’t an absolute formula for writing correctly. There is no right or wrong, there is just something that works or doesn’t work. Sigh.
I guess I am on my own with this one. Wish me luck, only 4 more days!