Training the Eye (part 4): Excessive dialogue and exposition

Hi, everyone!

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?


Training the eye to edit (part 4)


Only one more week left in our series! I hope you’ve all been learning some things this month, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to help you even a little bit, as you work toward honing your editing skills. To that end, let’s talk a bit about dialogue and exposition, and more things you’ll have to learn to cut while you’re editing. I’m sensing a theme, here…


1.      Gratuitous talking

Dialogue is one of those things that draws reader’s eyes. In fact, I would say it’s the thing that draws their eye the most. It’s even something that I do, when I’m reading. If there’s a page full of exposition, my eye goes straight to the dialogue and works backward from there. I don’t know why we do it, but we do it. So, dialogue needs to be extremely intentional. It needs to be something you put a lot of thought into, something you consider carefully when you write it (and I know none of us have that instinct, trust me).

If you haven’t had a character that won’t shut up, then I’m not sure you’ve written. We all have them, now and again. They just show up. Characters who stand there on the page and won’t stop talking, talking, talking—all about nothing in particular and in no way that means anything to the story at large. The trouble with those characters is that they draw our reader’s eyes more than they should, in a way that’s not very pleasing to read. We don’t want that to happen.

Yet again, I’ll tell you to train your eye. Read your dialogue for things that no one would ever say in a million years. Read your dialogue and ask whether or not this needs to be said, whether it needs to be said by this character, and if it needs to be said at this precise moment and in this exact scene. Asking these questions will help you determine real intention with your dialogue, and help you know what needs to be cut and what ought to be kept. You’ll get better at it, with time.


2.      Gratuitous exposition

On the other hand, exposition can be just as important. Exposition is the thing that defines our dialogue, that sets the scene for that dialogue and explains what’s going on around the dialogue. Realistically, exposition is just as important, if not more important, than your dialogue. The thing is, you can afford a few more extra words in your exposition than you can in your dialogue, simply because exposition is a place where more readers are known to skim just a little bit.

In any case, once more, your words must be intentional. Anything you’re describing in this scene needs to be described with reason, with purpose. There has to be an answer behind everything, a reason to include it where and when it’s included. Whether you’re intentionally foreshadowing something down the line or drawing attention to one specific thing so your reader will know it’s about to be important, you need to have purpose in your exposition. Wordiness is never something we want, in our writing.

Again, again, I tell you to train your eye. Study the things you read and the things you write, and discover whether there are things you do in your writing that really don’t need to be there. It’s all right if there are, really. We all have it happen, no matter how long we’ve been writing. Don’t worry about it. Just get used to finding it, to cutting it, and to getting your manuscripts to the paces they need to be.  

One more week to go, in our study on training the eye!


Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.