Rhonna sent me some books. She is a goddess of all things literary. I am reading these books. I am get much out of these books.
Really what I want to do is sit down and talk to her about this, but she is busy and offline, so I will sit here on a little soap box and bore you with thoughts on writing.
Jerome Stern says,
“Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs. When people communicate, they communicate with their faces, their bodies, their timing, and the objects around them. Make this a full conversation. Not just the words part.
How wise. And so right, of course. I was thinking about this in terms of my own writing.
I have been historically very bad with dialogue, and I know it. In my past (10 years ago) I wrote dialogue that wasn’t incorrect, per se, but just didn’t feel right. So when I started up again recently, I decided to just go very very easy on the dialogue. I use it very sparingly now, and cut it out where possible.
But I was thinking about this comment, about the fact that it’s not just about what’s in quotation marks, and I realized that I had done something sort of odd. Well, odd for me, I think. Without realizing.
Lately, I’ve done dialogue parts, that simply HAVE to be dialogue parts, and I notice that when things get more dramatic, and scary, and really delicate, I sometimes start to drop away everything but the dialogue. So like, I’ll start with one sentence of dialogue, and then a paragraph of thoughts or fiddling or whatever, and then another line of dialogue. Very very spaced out, as if it takes forever. But in some scenes, where the place is set, and the characters are, you know, quite far along in the development, so that we know what they’re thinking even without me saying so…I kind of let them drift off.
Like. I have one set of dialogue that takes place at the very very end of a story, where there’s been all this behind the eyes things that no one ever says, with this whole dance of ‘everything is totally normal and we have no trust problems here’, and suddenly at the end, one of the characters asks the ‘elephant in the middle of the room’ question. And the scene has been going on for some time, it’s on, like, page 5 or 6 of it. And I just stop describing. Suddenly it’s just all words, I don’t even interject with who’s speaking, though it’s pretty clear who is, thankfully. Like, you’ve been waiting to hear these words from those mouths for 18 chapters and now here it is.
There comes a point where I, as the third person narrator, just stepped back to let these characters express what they’ve been thinking about and muddling over the whole time, and there’s this stillness abou that. As if, and I guess this is the point, in a conversation like this, there is nothing else that’s important, nothing else significant. The body, the physical world just kind of disappears for a moment and this sort of…quiet conversation is all there is.
I know you can’t do this a lot. Like. Probably best to do it almost never. But I really like the end of that story. I think it’s quite effective, particularly since I am so heavily descriptive most of the time.
Well, I guess I could add lots of description in there. Maybe it would be improved by that. But there’s something about the zeroing in, the quietness of it, that I really like. It gives that last bit of dialogue this incredible weight, I think. Kind of hanging in the middle of nowhere kind of weight. But also a kind of lightness, like the slightest move might make it float away, or shatter, or disintegrate.
What I love best about rules for writing is how sometimes breaking them is the fun part.