Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Pieces that you scarcely recognized as pieces are starting to come together, thanks to a meeting with a student, added proof that the teacher needs to watch the student carefully. This particular student was working on early draft of a real life conflict that can easily get over the top in melodrama and intensity. The student's work was overwritten and overly emotive to the point where you were nearly bordering on cringe. But then you noticed. The student's work was an accurate and excellent map of the emotions of the parties involved in this contentious interplay. All the student need do was cut back on the adjectives and adverbs, omit a full seventy-five percent of the interior monologue, judiciously cut back on the number of dialogue exchanges, then voila; there it was.

As you explained this, the student took it all in with a judicious nod, then demonstrated ad lib the next exchange of dialogue, which was, accordingly, somewhere between David Mamet and Elmore Leonard, allowing you to observe that fiction only seems real it is highly concentrated. So, too, is dialogue. We switch to fiction because real life, filled with subtext as it may be, is tame in comparison, it is the dramatic equivalent of a comfortable, unprepossessing house wine and we as readers and writers have cut our teeth on cognac.

When writing, particularly in exchanges of dialogue fraught with intense feelings about agenda and behavior, early thinking is dangerous. Early is the time for what the characters are feeling, perhaps in several directions at once. All the more reason for using acting techniques, letting the lines and behavior spring forth to the point where they spring forth unbidden, dressed only in as much truth as the character can admit to, simultaneously disguised by the constraints felt by the character.

Sometimes, when you are in the teaching mode but equally when you are in the writing mode and your inner thermostat begins to emerge as though set on irritated and/or frustrated, it will do you well to remember that things do not always go well in rehearsal. Your irritation may be due to you wanting the final draft now, the true lines, the real words expressing the utter depths and range of the characters' feelings.

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