Monday, February 21, 2011

Can Dialog Be Too Fast?

I'm reading a book right now and the first two chapters are basically a Prologue for what is going to happen later. Books from 50 years ago might have had a huge information dump to give all the back story details. Remember, some of those authors were paid by the word.

That doesn't fly with today's readers. In the age of the Internet, you start as close to the end of the story and work your way back, at least that's what we're told.

Seems like good advice. Get the story rocking, get the reader involved and then give them the information dump.

Up until now, I've agreed with this approach, but this latest book has me scratching my head a little. It almost seems too fast.

It could be the author's style, short sentences tend to make the action seem faster. Long ones tend to slow things down. But it seems more than that. The exchanges are so lightning fast between characters that I almost feel like I'm sitting at the center of a tennis match watching the ball go back and forth between players.

Is there such a thing as dialog that's too fast?


  1. How much action description goes on around the dialog? I'm not talking attribution tags. But are the characters shown to be doing something or are they conversing merely to be talking and transmitting information to the reader? If there's little going on outside the dialog it can certainly seem like talking heads bandying that proverbial tennis ball back and forth. Action around the dialog can keep the pace steady and make it seem less like things are happening at lightning speed.

  2. I'm a fan of quick, snarky dialog and banter between characters. However, there have been several books I've read in the last year - books that were hailed has 'fast paced genius' - some of which were debuts, wherein I literally felt like a third wheel in the story. I had to reread scenes with a lot of action and often had to reread sentences in conversations because, say, three or more characters were talking and the sentences were merely strips of dialog with no indication of who was saying what.

    Frankly, the books read more like graphic or light novels. I'm no expert at those sorts, but I'm a devoted fan of the original D Vampire Hunter novels, and the original Trinity Blood light novels. Both tend to be abrupt, with changes of POV and blurring action sequences, and yet, they read perfectly sensibly.

    The full novels I read recently, were written as full novels, yet felt as if they were trying to be graphic novels. I finished the books, but they weren't altogether enjoyable because I lost a lot of the depth simply trying to keep up.

  3. Stephanie, the prologue was very action paced, and very tight. Then the first chapter comes along, and I think the author is trying hard to avoid an information dump by including action with the dialog. I think that is a great thing to do, but when you have tight, short sentences, and no tags, it can be as A. Grey said, hard to follow and leave your head bobbing back and forth.

    A. Grey, I am a total fan of snarky dialog and banter. It's pretty much my modus operandi. To me great dialog is like watching a sparring match with lots of jabs, left hooks, and every once in a while a gut punch.

  4. So true! There's nothing I love better than to finish off an sequence of tongue-lashing hair-singing dialogue that leaves me with rug burn and the strong urge to add 'So there!' aloud!

  5. An excessive amount of anything gets tiring after a while. Depends if the whole books like that or if there's some variation, imo.

  6. I'm taken with Chuck Palahniuk's style, where each paragraph seems to be a complete thought, at most three sentences long. I read Diary in two hours, without rushing or feeling rushed. It's an economy that I can't seem to emulate, as I have a lot to say and it takes time to say it...but dialogue should always be snappy. I'm on an MA creative writing and the amount of times we get 'Hello, my name is x' 'Hello x, nice to meet you, my name is y' make me want to jump out the window.

    Great blog, btw.

  7. I find it awesome this blog post has over four thousand hits.


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