Melody first, my dear, or so they say when you compose lyrics/music. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s been my pattern to spend a day giving structure to a new chapter by writing the dialog out first, let it sit over night, and then turn it into text the next day. It’s a technique I’ve been using for years, and where there used to be a fairly reliable 1:2 ratio of dialog to text, page wise, it’s slowly evolved to more of a 2:3 ratio now.
I’ve noticed my chapters are getting longer, too, but that might be an artifact of having an increasing number of people interacting at one time, stretching myself. I like brevity, but sometimes, there’s a need for everyone to be there. The chapter I’m in now has Rachel, Trent, Quen, Llaze, Bis, and Jenks. Oh, and Buddy, the dog. Remember Buddy? Trent took him in after all. So it’s a full chapter, and they all need to be see/heard at least once a page or you forget about them. Writing dialog first lets me spin through the proposed chapter a couple of times in a short span to make sure I have everyone interacting, or at least, being seen doing their own thing. I shudder at trying to put all the fun stuff, like Llaze using his mouth to catch the Cheerios Jenks is throwing, in at text stage, but in dialog? It’s easier. Low stress.
Today I’m doing text, having spent the first few hours of my day shifting things around after a good think about it last night. For me, it’s a lot easier to change a chapter in this state then after I’ve put in all the physical movement. Not nearly the number of slips where a character is sitting down twice before standing up or needing six hands to hold everything.
I’ve also found that this technique of dialog first, text second has gotten me through more than a few instances of what could have developed into writer’s block. There’s a lot less performance stress if all you task yourself with when you sit down is dialog, and once that is solid, the rest sort of fills in on its own.
So if you’re stuck, give it a try!
Dialog first, my dear.