Friday, April 3, 2009

Dialogue versus description

I recently went to a critique class run by a longtime writer friend. I’d written a story years ago and tweaked and tweaked it, but no editor will bite. Hmm.
The instructor held up my pages and asked the rest of us what we saw. The answer: white space. Too much, apparently.
Busy editors, she said, will sometimes glance at the structure of the text on the page before even reading a word. If too many paragraphs breaks show a jagged edge with lines of white between, they may not bother to begin reading. Why? They assume there’s not enough description, that the text doesn’t dig deep enough into the protagonist’s head.
You know what? She was absolutely right. It was a revelation. I hadn’t gone into the protagonist’s thoughts, and because of that, the story was being misjudged for another reason: the first few pages read like crime fiction when it wasn’t meant to. Yes, it included a murder and a prostitute, but I’d intended it to be a literary story along the lines of Charles D’Ambrosio. (If you’ve never read him, stop what you’re doing and read The Dead Fish Museum. Incredible stories.)
This story was a bit dialogue-heavy, though the instructor said it worked in this instance because it drove the story forward. Still, I need to go back and intersperse some emotional layers in between. Hopefully then it will appear meaty enough for editors to actually read it.

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