One of my favorite sayings is “What you are doing, I can’t hear what you are saying…” In the business or human relationship context, the meaning is clear. What you do is more important than what you say.

Not surprising, it also applies to writing books. Here’s how and it starts with a confession. I like writing conversation along with the gestures and emotions that go with them. If the talking takes place in an interesting place, all the better.

The conflict is I write action-oriented books, not books about people talking. Often, I fall into a trap of writing conversation where the characters are talking about what happened as opposed to creating the actual event. In other words, have the characters do it rather than talk about it.

Thrillers, adventure stories, espionage novels and historical fiction are all about action. What’s happening coupled with interesting characters is what keeps readers reading.

Sounds simple, but it is not. Among other things, I use conversation to cover the passage of time, show the relationship between two characters and to “document” past events. There has to be a balance and in the first few drafts, I often err on the conversation side.

This past week, an editor hit me with the “too much” conversation club and said I needed to rewrite several passages in Moscow Airlift. Easier said than done. It won’t change the story, but it does require a lot of work.

What was strange was while I was working on what I hoped would be the last draft of the last book in the Josh Haman series, The Simushir Island Incident, I came to the same conclusion and started making changes. It’s going to need a run through to polish the rewrites. So much for the last draft! And, now I get to do it to two books!

It is much simpler said than done. When I start writing the action, I need to adjust the timeline and create more characters. Simple things like names and details to create the ‘where’ need to be researched.

Here’s an example. Saying it happened at the corner of 28th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City is one thing. Describing it to enable the reader to see it through the eyes of the character is quite another. It requires including details that come only from research, i.e. is it cold? If so, what is the temperature? Sometimes, it takes only a few minutes. Other times, I spend hours looking for the “right” details and come to the conclusion, it won’t work, so I’ve have to start over.

Long ago, I figured out I spend somewhere between 25 and 30% of my “writing time” surfing the internet looking for information or flipping through books.

In the end, it all comes together with the right balance. The path is bumpy and guess what, it is worth a conversation or a blog. Now I have to go back to doing which in this case is writing.

Marc Liebman

November 2017