Have you ever been told your writing is “dialogue heavy?” What does that mean? Is it just that the characters are talking too much? Maybe. But often it means there’s very little sense of setting, sensory details, and action. The dialogue is in a vacuum and the reader can’t tell where the characters are or what they are doing. They may not even know when there are.
I recently was at an evening high school volleyball game for a friend’s daughter. My friend and I talked, but some of what she said was drowned out by the teens or crowd cheering. And we were distracted by the game. We yelled, “good job” or “go Bulldogs,” and my friend knew all the team members, so encouraged them by name. We stopped talking to applaud when “our” team won a volley against the other team. We moaned when “our” team served into the net or missed blocking a spike.
What else did I notice at the game? The smell of homemade rolls baking. Leftover from earlier that day? I don’t know. But I wanted a homemade roll slathered in butter. The older couple in front of us had brought seat pads—I wished I had too as those wooden bleachers are hard. A member of the teen cheer team walked by carrying a sign that read, “If you’re not cheering, go sit with your mother.” That made me laugh.
Was our talk just filler? No. We actually discussed something very emotional and important. And, yes, we had everyday talk that wouldn’t be important in a novel.
Did I have any thoughts during the game and conversation? Definitely! Some were mundane but others would show my character, and/or my thoughts about other people—both useful for showing thoughts in a novel.
“Details are what helps your reader see and feel the story, as if they are the character,” says Lauryn Trimmer. Read her article “My Characters Talk Too Much.”
So, check out your dialogue and make sure you are including a sense of setting and time of day, sensory details, action, and thought. Your readers will appreciate feeling grounded.