At church on Sunday, LW and I listened to an older couple share some secrets on their long marriage. Communication it turns out is, of course, the key to successful marital bliss. I’m sure we authoring types like to think that we have an advantage in that area. What? We can’t write all that we want to say? Uh-oh!
All sorts of clever anecdotal tidbits were offered to illustrate various points on communication, and at one point, the husband mentioned that not all communication is verbalized. In fact, if I’m remembering correctly, he said studies show that people only digest 7% of the words they hear. I suppose we forget the other 93%. No, it’s just that people form the rest of their impressions based on nonverbal cues.
As I pondered that 7% statistic, I was reminded of THS, Talking Head Syndrome. THS happens when your book reads more like a play than a novel. In other words, you’ve all dialogue and no descriptions accompanying your quotes. Readers finish a passage dazed, wondering what the setting is and were the characters standing, etc. The dialogue failed.
Successful dialogue entails much more than conversation. Unlike THS, it involves characters moving and interacting with each other and their surroundings. Consider it this way -- if in real life we’re only taking in 7% of the words spoken, how much of your book do you want based strictly on dialogue?
Eliminate TMS. Utilize nonverbal communication within your novel. Go ahead, add in those sentences about your character sneezing, stomping their foot, rattling their sword, etc. Sometimes, the nonverbal communications your characters give may be much more important than what they are saying. This adds extra depth to your book. Oh, and on a personal note, try to up that 7% when listening to your spouse. It turns out nonverbal communication adds to your marriage as well. ;-)