How to Spice Up the Boring Parts in your Novel-- A little less talk and a lot more action

Jan 19, 2012

So during my month-long blogging break, I managed to squeeze in another revision for my current WIP, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. This was mostly because my crit group had a deadline to critique our full novels, and I wanted it to be in the best shape possible. The first half of the book has suffered from pacing problems since the first draft, and I wasn't sure what to do about it. It just didn't feel like much was happening for several chapters.

Then, by some miracle, I found this blog post from agent Kristin Nelson: Big Reveals Shouldn't Happen in a Conversation. You should definitely read it, but basically, it states the simple (and obvious) fact that your book should not consist of a character running around and talking to everybody. Bo-ring.

And, well, yeah. I took a look at my problem chapters and went, "duh!" They all contained important points, but they all involved long chats-- and very little else. No wonder they were boring and the pacing was slow! It was a little embarrassing it took me so long to figure that out.

At that point, I had four days til the crit group deadline. So I turned on lots of movies for the Kiddo, ignored lots of dishes, and feverishly rewrote large sections of the first 150 pages of my book. It's not perfect, but it's much better. Here's what I did:

1. Look at each chapter/scene and determine what needs to be communicated in that scene.
Especially in first drafts, it's common to have that important information come out in conversations as you the author try to figure it all out. And it is important! There are better ways you can relay that information than long conversations, though. So I went through my chapters one by one and wrote down what the goals were of each one. I didn't want to lose important things just to insert an action scene. I made a sort of outline for each chapter as it currently stood.

2. Determine how you can still achieve those scene goals in some way OTHER than conversation.
By having my little outline in front of my eyes, it was a lot easier to think of new ways to achieve those goals. Instead of having a "meeting" where everyone discussed a potential bad guy (I know, ew), what if the group went out to spy on this guy to find out if he was the bad guy? And then...this thing could happen...and I could even bring in this other bad thing that would happen...and people could be running and fighting and getting caught...yeah. Much more exciting that sitting in a restaurant discussing "is this guy a suspect or not?" And still gets all the necessary points across.

3. Write out another outline of what changes need to be made so you can integrate it into the existing story.
I know, I know. Outlining. A lot of people hate it with a passion. But when I was trying to work in new stuff and figuring out what old stuff to keep, it helped to just write out short descriptions of "this happens (new)" and "move scene 1 of current chapter 5 here." Then I had a plan, and could plug in all the new bits, move old bits around, and do it quickly without too much confusion.

4. Write it!
Funnest part, of course! You get to take all those new ideas and make them come alive, bringing new and exciting things to your story. Don't be afraid to go beyond the outline if you get a better idea as you write. And, though it made me sigh a little, don't be afraid to cut, either. I had to cut one of my favorite scenes because it no longer worked with the rewrites. Just remember, it's for the ultimate good of the story.

So, my friends, have you ever had this problem? How did you inject "a little less talk and a lot more action?" (And yes, I'm humming that Toby Keith song right now...) How is your own writing going?

27 comments:

Jenilyn Tolley said...

I saw that blog post, too. It's really affected how I'm looking at my WIP. Of course, I'm writing a first draft so I'm trying not to worry about it too much at this point, but it's such an important thing to think about, especially for someone like me who likes dialog so much.

Congratulations on finishing the draft!

cherie said...

Good points! Ang equally good article from Agent Nelson. I'm in the middle of editing right now, so this is timely advice for me. Thanks! ;)

Katie Dodge said...

I completely agree with this! A lot of talk and no action feels super pointless when I'm reading, so I try to infuse that theory into my writing. Thanks for the pointers. :)

Ruth Josse said...

This is good stuff! I agree, action is better than long conversations and I need to really look at my ms and make sure that is happening. But I also loved your idea for outlining to keep track of what needs to be changed. Perfect for me right now!

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent post! You make great points that everyone should look at as they write their drafts. I know I need to pay more attention to your first point and take each chapter/scene individually and make sure my words actually match what they should be doing.

DL Hammons said...

I actually should take this into consideration during my next read-through. Good stuff!! :)

Angie said...

I always love making a story better like that. And action is definitely good.

Faith E. Hough said...

Wow, this is great. I never even thought about it... Off to check my ms... ;)

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Ugh, yes. I recently had to do this with several scenes. Definitely more interesting now.

Madeline Jane said...

I am totally guilty of my characters talking. . . And they rarely get to the point. My first drafts are either full of monologue or dialogue. I'm about to start rewriting my NaNo, and this advice helps so much! I knew I had a problem, I just didn't know how to fix it. Great post. :D

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Now you got me humming that Toby Keith song too!

Great advice and ideas! I've also heard of people highlighting different kinds of text (dialogue, action, narration) to figure out where they're unbalanced.

Jolene Perry said...

I do that SAME thing.

1. What do I learn in a scene.
2. What does my person want.
3. How do I keep it from them, or intro some new want

And I do it with EVERY. SINGLE. SCENE.

Isn't it awesome when you have one of those moments where you realize what you need to do??

Jessie Humphries said...

All I can say right now is: Word! I totally agree. I read that post by my future dream agent Kristen Nelson and made note of it as well!

Angela Cothran said...

This is EXCELLENT advice! I've never thought of it in those terms. And thanks for the link :)

Meredith said...

I'm definitely a dialogue over action person, so I need to work on this! I'm off to read her post now--thanks so much for the advice!

Sarah Allen said...

Dude, I SO needed this. I have a total too much chat problem. Now I know better how to fix it :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Adrienne said...

This is great. I usually start with dialogue when I'm writing a scene, so action sometimes takes a back seat. I'll have to give the dreaded outline a try *gasp* even though it goes against every pantser cell in my body.

Abby Minard said...

Great points, Shallee. I think my problem was too much description and world building in the beginning. But I now have a better balance of weaving the world building, action and dialogue together.

Kari Marie White said...

I love how you point out in number 1 that these chapters sometime come out of we, the authors, trying to talk things out through our characters.

These are great tips. You are awesome Shallee.

Margo Berendsen said...

Ha ha on the Toby keith!! But it's so true, when we put our minds intentionally to finding more interesting ways to reveal key points, it's remarkable the creative ideas that flow. And YAY for your critique group - boy I need some motivation like that!!!

Jenny S. Morris said...

I've had scenes like that. And my CP asked me what exactly "happened" in that chapters. LOL. So I had to go back and look at it. This is great advice, thanks!

David P. King said...

Great post, Shallee. I tend to be a little dialogue heavy in my writing. Some love it while others would rather read about what the character is thinking. Kind of tough when I don't write first person much. I can say I've learned to avoid monologues. :)

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

That was a great article by Kristin and I loved your practical way of tackling it. I don't like to use outlines in first drafts, but I love them during revision. I've had the talking-heads problem a lot, too. This is so helpful to keep in mind.

Tanya Reimer said...

Funny how we're blinded by our work. I recently did the same thing. (And outlines do suck, but use them like this and magic happens! YAY!) I had this incredible telephone conversation between two brothers that I just loved but had to cut.

Look at it this way, you deepened your characters. ;) No writing in ever lost, just improved.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Great post! I think it's easy to write in a lot of dialogue when I'm drafting. A little too much thinking by the MC, too. Every revision I find something about it that doesn't feel natural and take it out. Ten or so revisions later, and it's all much closer to where it should be. ;)

Crystal Licata said...

I must go back and inspect my MS now. I think it is easy to just have them talk about things but probably not the best approach. Thanks for opening my eyes :)

Thomas Gerencer said...

Hi Shallee,

Awesome post. I got really excited reading it, thinking about how it might help my novel. Could you give an example of a scene that you changed from conversation to action? I know you mentioned going from people meeting to discuss whether someone is a bad guy, to spying on him and seeing he's a bad guy, but I'd love more detail!

 
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