Recently, I did a five-page sample edit of a novel that had a lot going for it. The characters were in an interesting situation, the author’s sentence construction was generally good and the dialogue positively sparkled. Yet, by the end of the first page, I felt uncomfortable. This novel was afflicted with the syndrome often found in works by beginning writers-invisible people, empty rooms. Nowhere, on the first or any other page, were there any clues to tell me what the characters college essay writing services or the settings looked like.
That wasn’t all that was missing, though. Before long, the protagonist, a woman, began saying odd things, things along the lines of (not a quote from the novel): “Well, Madge, as you know, I dated your brother for three months before I found out he had a criminal record. I wish you had told me that he was arrested in 1993 for assault with a deadly weapon.”
People simply don’t talk that way when the facts being discussed are already known to both parties. (The worst example of this kind of dialogue that I’ve ever seen was in a made-for-TV-movie about the Civil War, in which a daughter said to her mother something like, “As you know, Mother, my brother, your son, is fighting for the North.”) It’s called “informational dialogue,” dialogue that exists for no other reason than to give information to the reader. One might also think of it as “as you know” dialogue.
In the novel I was editing, the informational dialogue was there because the author didn’t seem to realize that she not only could, but should, use the thoughts of the protagonist as a means of giving the reader this kind of information. In fact, as I read on, I discovered that nowhere were the thoughts of any of the characters shown. The result was not only that the author was compelled to use informational dialogue to clue the reader in, but that I, the reader, had much more trouble than I should have in identifying with and caring about the protagonist. The Five Basic Elements of Fiction
Today’s fiction, unless it’s experimental in nature, consists of a mixture of five different types of writing-dialogue, description, thought, action and narrative.
Dialogue is easy. It’s the stuff in quotes, the things people say to each other. I’ve never yet seen a novel by a beginning writer that didn’t have any dialogue in it, although I’ve seen a few in which there wasn’t enough. Generally, these are novels that rely too heavily on narrative, rather than being structured in scenes, units of time in which action takes place (but that’s another topic).
Description is the biggie, the element which many beginning writers either omit entirely or use much too sparsely. (There’s an irony here, in that conventional wisdom has it that beginning writers tend to over-describe. Well, let me tell you—if there are indeed over-describers out there, they’ve never shown up in any of my writing classes; nor have they ever sent their books to me for editing.)
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