There are times when dialog seems to come by means of mental torture and pretzel twisting, and to be the most difficult writing I do. I continue to learn. In reading through my second draft, a few weeks ago, I checked for those places where the story dragged or faltered, and I found those were often the same places where dialog stumbled or rambled on too long. Nothing much seemed to be happening, even though something was, because I’d buried it inside too many words.
I got lost in the accompanying narrative, the setting, the characters’ activities, movements, body language, or overwrought cleverness. Sometimes I bogged down in the minutiae of sighing, nodding and eye gazing. Writers can get so caught up visualizing each detail of character interaction they rob readers of their mental interplay, their own visualizations based on common human experience. We presume readers don’t know how a character might deliver a line in a given situation. The stream of dialog reads as dammed up where it should flow. It loses its surface tension, its sparkle, and its undercurrent. It becomes stagnant.