I have blogged before on balancing pairs of these wonderful things, like descriptions versus commentary and transitions from dialogue to descriptions and back. I even blogged about the danger of long descriptions, but I haven't yet written on the subject of all three, or however many elements there are. And now that I think about it, there really are only three things. People talk shit - dialogue. People look like shit (or not like shit, if you're writing romance) - descriptions. People do shit - action. There are other fancy names for fancy things like exposition (still don't really understand what that means), backstory, flashbacks, theme, bla-bla-bla (I've been actually Googling these terms to refresh my memory). I don't think about any of that when I write, I just write the story. And so far 3 elements have been plenty. Like Kurt Vonnegut said, "Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action." You can look at it in many different ways, it's still the same. This happened. This dude said this. This gal said this. This happened. That happened. Oh, and it happened in this town looking like this, and they looked like this. You get the drill. So, for the sake of this blog post, we shall cover three things.
Dialogue is never perfect. There are books with excessive dialogue, and there are books with almost no dialogue at all. What exactly does this mean and how should you take it on, especially if you're a beginning writer like me? You don't. Don't copy anyone, just because they're a famous writer, or your favorite writer, be yourself. If you talk a lot, write a lot of dialogue. If you don't talk a lot, don't write a lot of dialogue. Write what naturally comes to you. But once you do start writing, in case of dialogue specifically, break it up. As in, when people talk, they start talking from the middle of the thought, and they get interrupted a lot. Remember the movie Up, "Squirrel!" Yeah, like that. Also, people interrupt people. People leave half of a sentence hanging, without finishing it. It's all very fluid and not perfect. When writing, it's easy to slide into this perfection of writing dialogue in complete sentences. Hey, that's what teachers taught us in school, write complete sentences, with fucking structure and whatnot! Well, they were wrong. Throw it out the window and forget about structure. When people talk, they have no structure, they have feelings, emotions. They try to structure them, yes, but they always fail horribly. And we read for those nuggets of failure, trying to guess what this or that characters feels inside. That's the fun of reading. Now, I will get at the bottom of this post on how to balance all three things, dialogue, descriptions, and action, so don't despair.
Descriptions only begin on the page, but end in a reader's mind. Yeah, right, I wish I was the one who said it. I didn't, I only paraphrased it. Stephen King was the one who said it, here is the quote: " Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” With this in mind, all you have to do is paint one or two sentences and get on the way with telling the story. I had to learn it the hard way, over-describing practically everything in SIREN SUICIDES. I did learn my lesson, and I moved on. I'm very sparse with descriptions in ROSEHEAD now, only giving enough to paint the picture, and embellishing only the important elements. And here is where the balance comes from. You have to describe things for the reader to see the story, to orient herself or himself, but that's all you gotta do. Now, because your story is about something very important, those important parts you can embellish more than usual, to draw reader's attention to them. Also, one more thing I do. Somebody said it, can't remember who, but it goes like this. Everything that the reader already saw, describe briefly. For example, "It was a hot summer afternoon." We all know what a hot summer afternoon looks like, we all have our own idea about it, but it's basically the same. So say that one sentence and move on to the action or the dialogue. But if you're describing a new alien weapon that the reader has never seen before, indulge in description, make it real. I primarily use allegories to not get carried away, like "his gun looked like two cucumbers glued together by intergalactic saliva" or some shit like that. In general, don't do more than 3 sentences, otherwise it can get boring pretty fast.
Action is where the story happens. This is the most important element of any story. Basically, you have to answer the reader's question: WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENS? She ran to the Moon. He caught her with a fish hook. They fell into the bog of misery. Twenty tentacles of a mutant giant cockroach sucked them into another dimension. A kangaroo shrieked, because a herd of flying giraffes opened fire on... well, I'm getting carried away here. But this is it, really. Noun, verb. Verb, noun. Use adjectives sporadically, refrain from using adverbs, and do not use exclamations marks!!!!! Yeah, I'm so guilty of that. Anyway. Action should really dominate your pages, with a few lines of description here and there, and occasional blocks or lines of dialogue. But, again, remember, this is all up to you, up to what kind of storyteller you are. There is no golden rule for everybody. Everybody is different. You might be able to tell your story through dialogue, by writing something like this: "Get that green thing away from me!" "Trying! That fucking kangaroo got my gun!" "Watch out! I think that's a--" "--it's a bomb!" BAM! "Is that you? Are you breathing?" "No, you are mistaken, maiden. I am a panda overlord, ruling the entire universe." Demonic laughter. Okay, this is totally off the wall and very bad, but I just wanted to throw something out there to show how you can do action through dialogue. You can also do dialogue through action, as in: "They talked about the weather. She mentioned that fact that it wasn't sunny today, studying her nails. He said that it looks like it's going to rain, his hand accidentally brushing hers. They both looked up at the sky at the same time, wondering exactly when it's going to rain. He breathed into her ear that it might start raining any minute, and they better..." All right, I'll stop right here, before I get too carried away.
Balance your writing they way it feels natural. This is the closing thingy, about all three things, dialogue, descriptions, and action. And whatever else it is you want to balance. The basic thing is, trust your gut. If your gut gleefully enjoys you writing page after page of dialogue, excellent. Keep writing it. If your gut cringes at the thought of writing dialogue, don't. In fact, read Nabokov's LOLITA. Do you see any dialogue there? Yeah, very very little. You can think of the three things this way. There is dialogue, and there is description, but they are both like these transparent layers over action, which is really the meat of the story. As much as you can, try for every sentence to move your story forward. Even if you're describing something, try to make it so that it moves the story forward. Remember, you have to make the reader turn the page. Every page the reader has to be glued to your story. Because at any moment the reader can be interrupted by life, and if your reader happens to be interrupted on the page of a long long description, guess what will happen? The reader might not get back to your story, abandoning your book. The only way to not let that happen is to keep the action moving the story forward. This is how books end up on the best-seller lists. People can't stop reading them (says she who hasn't made it to any best-selling lists, so feel free to scoff at me, I'm still learning!).
There. I think this should do. Let's try something new here. How about you tell me in the comments what you want me to blog about next? I was thinking about the topic of beginning and ending chapters. Yes? No? Any other ideas? Let me know. Happy writing!