Rarely in real life do people get to give long speeches during conversations. When people talk to one another, there are frequent questions that “interrupt” or exchanges of brief stories to show the other that you share a similar experience. After all, you’re not really in a conversation if one person is doing all of the talking. And if they are, they ought to be darn interesting to listen to or you’re going to start tuning them out.
Likewise, when writing dialogue, you should avoid speeches and long soliloquies.
If you find that a lone character in your story is speaking for page after page, then you probably need to do some revising.
If you character needs a lengthy speech or soliloquy (a speech in which one person speaks aloud to himself) to explain a character’s motivations or their perceptions of the world, then that probably has not being adequately weaved into the story. A reader should pick up on a character’s motivations from the start through their actions and a line or two of dialogue. Ditto on their views about the world.
A speech or soliloquy that delivers such information usually amounts to an info dump.
It also risks bordering on the dull. At the very least, it can exhaust the reader.
Of course, there are instances when this might be okay. A character could be reciting a memory or telling a fable. So long as those remembrances and fables are stories with their own action, then you’ll be fine.
Likewise, you don’t want the opposite in which dialogue pops back and forth like a ball in a tennis match. This usually occurs when each character simply respond to one another in a short sentence. Instead, vary the length of responses and the sentences. For example, Character A might say one sentence, Character B responds in two sentences, Character A then says two sentences, Character B responds in one sentence, Character A answers in three sentences, and so on.
While dialogue in fiction ought to be tight and punchy, sometimes when penning or editing it, writers go overboard. The result is a choppy flow to the narration as well as text that is robbed of its emotive powers. This problem is known as a mime conversation (Cambridge SF Workshop’s David Smith coined the term.).
At first glance, such dialogue looks like it’s really ominous and significant. It’s all pretend, though.
Consider the following example of mime conversation:
“But I heard what–”
“And that meant she would!”
“But…but…how could I have been–”
“Wrong? You weren’t. You just weren’t ri–”
“Of course. It’s all so clear to me now.”
But it’s probably not so clear to readers. That’s because the facts readers must know to understand what is meant are neither stated nor inferred. The convoluted flow of the characters’ statements even is laughable. The result is that the author robs the reader of the emotional conflict that is a key underpinning of good fiction.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.