Dialogue or: Let Them Speak for Themselves (News about Chapter 4)

I almost forgot to let you know that I have finished editing chapter 4. If you were wondering if I am still working on my novel, I can proudly tell you ‘yes, I am’, and I am already shifting about parts of chapter 5, so celebrating the re-writing of chapter 4 had to be cancelled.

In hindsight, it is always distressing how long it takes to work through one chapter. It took me several weeks to edit chapter 4, which I would never admit if authors were not always and completely honest.

Neither will I tell more people than only a select few that the start of chapter 4 required special attention. The story has gained its full momentum by the end of chapter 3 (see here). It is now important to keep up the pace. What an author should not do under any circumstance is: stand in the way of further developments.

Imagine a dinner is coming up at which all your antagonistic characters will run into each other:

The seating arrangement for the evening had made their ladyships heads ache for quite a while. They would have preferred the 5th Baron Cavenham and Miss Standon to sit side by side, but the strictly hierarchical seating plan of a formal dinner forbade that. So Robert, as head of the family, would sit next to the Viscountess Farnham, while Georgina, merely the daughter of a baronet, would have Mr Peniston St. Clare as her neighbour further down the table below.

This description proves that the author has done the appropriate research into Regency seating arrangements and enables the reader to draw an outline of the seating arrangement on hand. It also runs the risk of putting most readers to sleep before the dinner has started. I would never put such wording into my novel (at least not in the final version).

There are many persons attending a dinner party. Let them speak for themselves, I say!

Speaking about what they are speaking about: what they speak about before the dinner may be as interesting and insightful as what they say later. But I am the authoress, and I need not restrict myself to either. In my new draft I took the liberty of overhearing a chat of a young gentleman and his father:

‘By Jupiter, the lady looks lovely! Did they not use to say she was dowdy?’

‘An elegant dress and a fashionable hairstyle make any woman look beautiful. It comes at a price, of course, but this time her father seems not to have spared any expense. Well, the whole matter is a lucrative business for him, after all.’

‘So that’s why the old man is beaming like the chandelier.’

‘You are vulgar ! That comes from your keeping company with these London dandies.’

Despite the addition of this and other conversations by envious family members, the word count of chapter 4 is reduced by about 7 per cent. That means a lot of text has been deleted (a painful exercise for any author), but at the same time space was created for more dialogue, which adds speed to the storyline and moves things forward.

When moving things forward, an author has to keep in mind the things he changed in the past (meaning: in the previous chapters). When working through chapters 1 to 3, I made several new decisions about the hero’s and heroine’s development and attitude. Any changes of mind and manner in the following chapters must not contradict earlier events.

Here is an example: Imagine you have Siegfried come home after slaying the dragon in your fourth chapter and ride to Amsterdam with the intention of buying an engagement ring for Kriemhild (better shopping facilities there than in Xanten). If this is the case, it does not make sense if Siegfried tells Hagen in chapter 6 that he is determined to get his fear of wild beasts under control and would like him to suggest a suitable self-help group.

I am sure you get my point. For my chapter 4, this meant several, but luckily minor changes to what people say and how they behave. One of the challenges of redrafting is to find what people would not say or not do, because it is implausible that the character acts in that way. You can review this in an effective (and time-consuming) manner by reading your draft repeatedly while focusing on the characters one by one. This way you can check the consistency of each character’s development individually.

So much about my struggles with chapter 4. Chapter 5 is waiting. In order to avoid any confusion I would like to add that there is no dragon in my novel. Napoleon is a topic of conversation, though. And my villain is a lot more entertaining that Hagen ever was.

2 thoughts on “Dialogue or: Let Them Speak for Themselves (News about Chapter 4)

  1. Feeling for you…
    the edits! the rewrites! the waking up in cold sweats at 3am and realising you have to do a chapter rewrite just as you were about to submit it!
    [better however than waking at 3am after it’s been published of course].

    • Thanks for dropping by, Sarah.

      Fortunately, I am blessed with excellent sleep :- ). Nevertheless making every effort to get a chapter or a scene right can’t be taken too seriously. All to make the novel shine and keep the reader happy!

      As a writer of historic novels what is your recipe for a perfect chapter?

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