This epiphany hit me last night. After spending a little more than an hour trying to rewrite a chapter with tired eyes, I grew frustrated. While my characters chit-chatted and my story sped on, I felt uneasy. Something was missing.
1. Setting - I could always use more details, more imagery. Sights, sounds, and a taste or two made their collective presence known. No touch though. And no smells either. How inhumane can I be? No wonder my characters are talking so much!
2. Subplots - In a first-person narrative, subplots are rather limited to the extent of the main character's perspective. Nevertheless, the depths of characterization from those who support him/her ought to be explored, especially if it is a longer piece of work.
Instead of using conversations between my main and supporting characters, I am substituting in more people-watching scenes for him. This should help me show those other characters through his perspective.
3. Pacing - In graduate school, I took a screenwriting course and loved it. However, I am afraid its influence has leaked more into my fiction than I want. When I write non-fiction, I use quoted material for support. This is the mindset I take with me into fiction rewrites.
Can I show this (scene) rather than depend on my characters to tell it? Almost always. Showing helps to slow down the tempo of the story, so it does not read like a script. Trying to show through heavy use of dialogue tags is distracting, and the preferred "he said/she said" approach with tags is often skimmed over by readers.
For me, it is easy to get caught up in listening to what my characters are saying to one another. Right now, it's distracting. Part of me wants to transcribe their conversations while fresh in my mind. There could definitely be good ideas in there upon which I can expand. Without having the dialogue written out, I may miss out on a great reference to setting or subplot. It's all about balance now.
Compounding my frustration last night was the realization that I had spent that valuable time proofreading rather than rewriting my chapter. Not until I had given up completely to call it a night did it hit me. A good night's sleep soon followed, but not before I scribbled out these three words on the cover of a magazine atop the mess that is my nightstand: "Too much dialogue."
I'm not going to go all-Cormac McCarthy, but I am working to cut out around half of these quotation marks. If my problem persists, sorry Mr. Keyboard. You're going to have a gap between your Colon/Semicolon and Enter keys.