Sunday, February 12, 2012

Invasion Of The Talking Heads!

One year, I received a comment from a contest judge that read. “The scene between __ is full of talking heads.” Um....say again? After I did my research, I discovered this judge was right. My novel did contain some scenes with talking heads. My discovery led me to decipher just what those talking heads were and how I could roll them right off the pages of my novel.
What are talking heads?
In a nutshell, talking heads are scenes or paragraphs where characters are talking back and forth without any description, action, beats, or inner monologue. This can make for lifeless reading not to mention it's very confusing.
So how do we control this species? How do we turn talking heads that are rolling all over our computer screens into real, three-dimensional characters?
Here are some tips:
Inner monologue (IM)Adding a few lines of inner monologue sprinkled throughout your dialog can go a long way towards eliminating these talking heads. Have your viewpoint character think about what the other character is saying to them. Have them seethe with anger inwardly, but answer calmly. Have them hide their emotions while speaking, but in the inner monologue let their emotions run wild.

Character action and beats- This is one of my favorite ways to break up dialog. Instead of using a tag (he said), use a beat (he clamped his hand to his forehead). This conveys something about the character, as well as letting the scene play out like a movie in the reader’s mind. Characters can pace the room, stare out the window, run their fingers through their hair, clasp and unclasp their hands - the sky’s the limit. Of course, keep in mind who your character is and whether or not they would perform that particular action.

Description– This pretty much goes hand in hand with character action. Having your main character sit down on a leather desk chair instead of just a chair can go a long way in describing the setting. This is especially true in historical novels where readers may not be familiar with objects used in the era. Characters can wash a sink full of dirty dishes, flip through the New York Times, or sip tea from Dresden china cups. You name it. Using description in this manner can work to your advantage and eliminate what would usually be boring dialogue.
Although some dialog is best presented in a ping pong style (such as some scenes in mysteries or thrillers) this can wear the reader out. Readers want novels that drop them into the story and into the character’s mind. The more an author immerses them in the thoughts of a character and in the mood of the scene, the more the reading experience will deepen. Of course, there can be overkill, but as I tend to err on the “talking head” side, rather than the “overkill” side, I always need reminding.

So fellow writers, I charge you to take up your swords, go forth, and obliterate those talking heads from the pages of your manuscript - to the delight of your readers!

Happy Writing,

PS. We had a family emergency that kept me from getting out last weeks post. Sorry to all my loyal blog readers. Happy Valentine’s Day!          -Amanda  

Your Turn – Have you found an invasion of talking heads in your own writing? Any tips to add to the list? I look forward to your comments.

1 comment :

Naomi Rawlings said...

I don't think I've ever been told I had talking heads. I'm more the type to be told "cut half this IM and get on to what the characters are saying."

I loved the picture at the top of the post, btw!