Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bad Dialogue: The Last Refuge of a Tin Ear

In your own reading of the fiction of other writers, you are willing to put up with matters of plot--too much or too little--as well as matters of description, setting, even theme.  You consider it a strength that some of the stories you have enjoyed the most were set in places or eras for which you had no apparent interest.  You were somewhat taken aback, for instance, when Richard Powers' novel, The Echo Maker, began in, ugh, Nebraska, but the outcome of that is, as they say, history.  

Having more or less defined yourself as laissez faire in your approach to reading, let us move to the place of intransigence, the place where your cholers rise with every infraction to the point of boil, to the point where you become, as it were, at one with Dorothy Parker's observation about a book she was reviewing:  "This is not a book to be set aside lightly.  It should be thrown across the room with great force."  

The issue is dialogue.  No other thing, not even Lee Child's stick-figure representation of his character, Jack Reacher, comes upon you with the force of a dragon waking up with a hangover as does dialogue rendered as conversation.  You find yourself the perpetrator of enough inane conversation without having to endure more in print or on the computer screen or the screen of your iPod Touch.  "Oh, yeah, the novel's comin' along.  No, don't have anything but a thematic ending in sight yet.  Yeah, yeah, a little something, page or two, every day."  You find yourself on the receiving end of it, too.  Conversation is, after all, a major component of the human condition, and you want that; you relate to how, Intelligent Design factotems to the contrary notwithstanding, the need to transfer sophisticated and complex information has led the size of our brain to enhance, giving us some greater opportunity to survive a tad longer.

You are particularly offended by such tropes as, "Oh."  Or even "Oh, I see," rendered as separate paragraphs, absent any bodily movement or interior monologue to provide subtext or even context, but the blood doth begin to boil when the Hi, Honey, how was work today? Oh, not bad kind of conversation begins and the writer, struggling to break away from such bons mots, becomes even more conversational.

Bad dialogue is the albatross an otherwise decent story must carry in living tribute to The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner."  Bad dialogue is the But she really said that of drama, the burden one must bear until the message comes through and the writer--yourself included, realizes that a bad story is made palatable, even good with effective dialogue.  Bad dialogue is the pin prick in the tip of the condom of story; it is a reminder that we are reading or participating somehow in the literary equivalent of vacation photos.

"If you come any closer, I--I'll shoot,"  he said menacingly.

"If you don't stop at once, I'll scream," she said threateningly.

Bang, bang.

"Help, help."

I'm outta here; just thinking about it is getting to me.  See you later.

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