Thursday, March 18, 2010

Speak the speech, I pray you

The spoken word in a dramatic narrative is a welcomed respite from the conversation of the workplace, school, home, and all those places in between where we attempt to convey our needs and dreams to others. Although these spoken words have subtext and make some attempt at nuance, they are not dialogue and they are precisely not dialogue because no matter how we yearn or try to be characters, we are merely ourselves. As ourselves, we speak conversational English, trying to enhance the result with wit, possibly even humor. We go about our daily routine approaching moments when we wish we had dialogue to offer but at the same time mindful that dialogue does not work in the quotidian any more than conversation works to any effect at all in fiction.


The secret is to understand that dialogue in fiction may be given the sound of conversation, but it and trees falling in the forest have in common the need for a hearer. You might say each, the tree and the dialogue, needs a listener or a reader. If conversation between two or more individuals becomes too focused, the participants become self-conscious or distracted.

We have in common with our characters the trait that causes us to say one thing while meaning either its very opposite or an understatement of our true intent. In conversations, we have devices to defuse the sentiments and bits of information put forth. In dialogue, we speak at these elephants in the living room, their appearance beginning to appear before the reader as though intent had sprung a leak and was spilling slowly forth.

None of this means we cannot have an enjoyable time with friends or that dialogue needs to be confrontational; in either case we should be understood and the motives of our characters begin find places through which to leak. If, in a conversation, we allow that today wasn't particularly eventful, in fact even a bit boring, this can be an excuse for another round, a commiseration, or some attempt at raising the level of conversation to something more substantial. If in a story nothing happened that was particularly eventful, the reader should have the option to think one of the characters was lying or perhaps failing to notice something momentous, which the reader has already seen.

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