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Dialogue and Layering and Stuff

I’m working on Chapter 10 of Shattered, where Alice and Liam tentatively decide to take a chance on a relationship. The chapter involves a lot of dialogue between them, and with Alice’s family. When this happens, I often handle it by just writing the dialogue, omitting the thoughts and body language that go with it. Afterwards I go back and fill in the narrative.

I find this useful in a couple of ways. If I have trouble adding thoughts or actions, it makes me take a second look at the dialogue. Would Liam really say that, and if so, why? What does Alice really mean by her reply? Leaving the narrative until later also lets me write the dialogue quickly, without stalling on the exact words to describe what someone is thinking or angsting over whether I have too much narrative or not enough. I still do that when I go back to write the next layer, but having the dialogue already in place makes it easier.

Then I often find myself going back to add a third layer – emotion. I usually don’t include a lot in my first draft. I used to think that having a rather flat, unemotional first draft was a weakness, but now I understand that it’s part of my process. First I have to tell the story.

In a recent blog post, my RWAC chapter mate Donna Alward used the term ‘discovery draft’. That’s what this run-through of Shattered is becoming. Writers of blogland, how do you approach a first draft? Do you write a lot of words and scenes and then prune later? Do you layer like I do? Do you sometimes write dialogue only?

P.S. on my fitness program – got my monthly weigh and measure done yesterday, the first one. This is my baseline. Instead of updating each week, I’m going to wait until my next weigh and measure in November. I’m making my workouts and watching what I eat, so at this point I’m pleased. Slow but steady is the plan.


  1. Michelle Helliwell
    October 26, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Hi Jennie – I do this too. Actually, writing the dialogue is my favorite part and comes most naturally too me. When I'm hearing my characters in my head, I find there's no time to put in even the "he said" business. It's like I'm taking notes in a meeting.

    I am always fascinated by the writing process – it's different for everyone, and that's the great (and frustrating) part about it.

  2. Donna Alward
    October 26, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I'm not really bare bones when I write, but I don't KNOW everything beforehand, so I give myself permission to just tell the story and discover what I need to along the way. It takes off SO much pressure and then I can go back and layer and foreshadow to my heart's content!

    Glad it's struck a chord with you too, Jennie!

  3. Janet
    October 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Great post, Jennie! I, too, love writing dialogue – sometimes looking at my first drafts, you wouldn't know that because I also love writing narrative (which gives me the emotion and 'in their head' information I need to tell the story. Like Michelle said – we're all different when it comes to writing and that's fascinating.

    Glad to hear the first draft is coming along well – and good luck with the 'Fitness' aspect of your life. Looking forward to hearing your updates 🙂

  4. Jennie Marsland
    October 27, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Hi Michelle,
    Writing process fascinates me, too. The more I learn about everybody else's process, the more I relax about my own. There are many ways to skin a cat.

    Hi Donna, I find it so freeing to give myself permission to write bare bones when I need to. Otherwise I can spend a long time spinning my wheels, waiting for the right words to come to me.

    Sometimes I find dialogue fun and other times I find it a pain, but for me it's the best way to show instead of telling. This draft is progressing quickly – at least in contrast to my previous book from hell – so I'm encouraged. Only about 27k left to go!

  5. Ann Stewart
    October 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Great post, Jennie.
    By the time I write the first draft I usually have a detailed outline on the desk beside me. I just go with the muse from there. Some chapters flow and I write the whole thing without a hitch. Some don’t come as easily. In that case, I write the ‘bones’ of the story, the dialogue if I hear it, and move on.
    In most cases by the time I come around again with the second draft I know the story by heart and filling in the plot holes is simple.
    Great blog and I love the pictures you use!