In response to "Too much of a good thing". I'm working on a novel and I'm struggling with this balance. It's very heavy on dialogue and An okay amount of narrative and almost no rumination. Its starting to feel like to me like a glorified screenplay. How do I include more rumination and description without making it boring (which is a fear I have that leads me to not write enough of it) ?
Okay, let’s start by putting narrative and dialogue in the category of “active” and description and rumination in the category of “inactive.” The inactive tools tend to get the shaft because most people feel as though neither one moves the story forward. They’re static paragraphs that don’t advance time, and therefore many people perceive them as being useless and boring. You just need to know when and how to use them. If they’re not well placed, then yes, readers will find them boring.
In the midst of an action scene, you’re not going to use a lot of rumination. Ruminating on something is hard when someone is trying to kill you, so a character is likely to stay in the moment, and what you end up with is mostly narrative and dialogue. And that’s okay! But description can make its case in action scenes, because it can bring the action to life. Narrative would be “he pushed me into a table,” while description would be the wet feeling of spilled liquid on his clothes, the sound of bar patrons’ gasps and yells or the sound of glass breaking. Narrative would be the bartender running to the phone to call the cops, but description would be the way his teeth were clenched, fists balled up, or the redness in his skin because he’s so angry. Description like this can add a lot of richness to an otherwise mundane scene.
In contrast, during a verbal argument, rumination is a much better tool to use. As a character debates something, they can be reflecting on what has led them to their particular viewpoint on the issue. If two parents disagree about the way the child is being raised, and one parent insists they need to be more disciplined, the other parent could reflect on the many times discipline landed on their own shoulders, and how easy it is for their partner to make the claim that discipline is needed when they’re not the one that has to discipline them.
I think one reason people hesitate to use rumination in the midst of an argument is because they feel it “disrupts the scene.” The way to avoid that is to insert rumination during natural pauses in conversation. If a character asks a particularly tough question that the protagonist doesn’t know how to answer, or when someone says something shocking that takes a moment to respond to. It can go wrong to put a paragraph of rumination in between two lines of dialogue that should have occurred within a second of each other. So just be careful of that.
*Rumination also doesn’t need to be a full paragraph. One sentence of rumination can work after any line of dialogue.
As an exercise, write a scene with only one character, and they aren’t allowed to leave the setting. You won’t be able to fall back on heavy dialogue because they’re alone, and because they can’t leave, you won’t be able to do too much narrative. Just write what they’re thinking, seeing, hearing. What memories come to mind as they’re sitting there, does the setting make them sad or cheerful? Does it remind them of something or someone?
If stories don’t move forward with dialogue and narrative, they will eventually get boring. If stories don’t pause to allow characters to ruminate and describe what they see, they will become two dimensional and difficult for readers to immerse themselves into. That is why we strive to create as much balance as we can, while still holding on to our personal writing style.
Don’t force yourself to use more of a particular device than you feel comfortable with, but definitely experiment with them if you find you’re not using them at all.
I hope that helps!