I am fiddling about with the most recent chapter of Heavy Ice, in which the characters finally have five minutes where they’re both conscious at the same time and no one’s trying to kill them, and are therefore sitting down and asking each other awkward questions. It’s not going well, because there are a lot of awkward questions to ask.
Unfortunately, they need asking. I deplore the kind of book which is 200 pages long because the heroine jumped to the conclusion that the hero has another love interest when he was actually passing on the information about the French spies to his sister-in-law, and would otherwise have come in at 160. (I also deplore the kind of book that is 200 pages long because the hero is convinced the heroine is a despicable cheating liar because some woman looked at him funny once, but I tend not to get more than a few chapters into those before giving up, so it’s not such a problem) So the question is how to do it without making the reader think ‘Huh, this is oddly paced’ or ‘I’m not interested any more, I’m going to play Angry Birds’.
I enjoy writing dialogue more than action in general, but getting the pacing of dialogue right is hard. Particularly as characters, like people, tend to meander back and forth from the topic in hand, and there’s a fine line between letting them bore the reader with inessentials and having them stand stock still and orate Facts that the Reader Needs To Know at each other. Someone who read the first novel I ever finished said that it was full of magnificent landscapes with people stumbling around in front of them saying ‘um’ and ‘bugger’ and they were right.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been re-reading A Princess Of Mars. I’m envious of how well-constructed it is, particularly for something that started life as a serial, and I’m also envious of how Edgar Rice Burroughs can casually condense a battle for a city into half a paragraph. But I’m even more jealous of the way he actually could have his characters sit down and explain their life’s philosophies to each other and then jump on a thoat and go and have another adventure. Unfortunately you can’t get away with that kind of thing unless you are Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I am not.
Ah well. Looks like I’m going to have to either give them something else to do while they’re infodumping, or let them argue. Which is always entertaining for me, if no one else.
Also, I’ve been using both WordPress’s ‘categories’ feature and their ‘tags’ feature for a while, but I have to say I’m not finding them especially useful when I want to find a past post I’ve made – I spent about five minutes this morning trying to work out where I’d put that post where I previously mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs. Do you use them, and do you find them useful?