Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Let's Have Lunch

Dialogue picks up traction, then begins to burn dramatic rubber when characters may be exchanging commentary but each is in effect talking about something well below elephant-in-the-livingroom level, below the surface of boundary.

Your old joke about New York and Los Angeles exemplifies the reach of dialogue. In New York, the joke begins, when someone says 'Fuck you,' he means 'Let's have lunch.' In Los Angeles, when someone says 'Let's have lunch," he means 'Fuck you.'"

Characters in stories are armatures of secret agendas about which are wrapped varying layers of reticence, timidity, political correctness, and other insulations applied to make them seem less avid for the outcome of their heart (or perhaps not the heart so much as the id). Individuals in Real Time are even more concealed, except for those who seem to wear their ambitions like some tattoo bar code.

If we borrow from characters in Real Time to serve as an armature for a character, a process you find yourself adopting with some frequency, we first go through the exercise of identifying the one tangible outcome that drives the character in process, then sort through our police line-up of suspects whose outer traits fit out need.

Somewhere early in your move to Santa Barbara, you met the daughter of one of the most prolific and diverse writers imaginable, a man nearly forgotten for all his varied productivity, so far as you know, rivaled for sheer versatility by only one other, more recent writer.  The daughter, unsurprisingly, was an elegant writer, a fact you understood immediately when she showed you some of her memoir and essays.

Her name was Jane Faust Easton, her father Frederick Schiller Faust, whom you knew by reputation as one of his many pseudonyms, Max Brand. You think of him from time to time because his daughter divulged his formula, which you recognized at once as an important aspect of one of the driving principals of story, which is change. FSF's formula was so simple and basic that it could have well remained in plain sight and unnoticed, just as Poe's "Purloined Letter" remained hidden in the best of all hiding places, plain sight.

"Dad spoke of the need for the good to become bad at about the same time the bad were switching to good," Jane Faust said. A lovely idea, one certain to keep change in place within the writer's awareness, thus it is filtered downstream as the story progresses from scene to scene, building in size, shape, and momentum.

That dreaded condition of being too literal seems to surface in dialogue when characters are speaking to the core of their desire system, showing their power over one or more of the other characters in the narrative, or resorting to stratagems of stark obviousness in their attempts to induce other characters to do their bidding. (Yes, verbal temper tantrums to secure a manipulated result do count as being too obvious.)

When the reader begins to suspect the maneuvering and strategy behind simple exchanges of dialogue, the result can soon become the irresistible condition known as suspense. The reader will skim back to see if any potential clue or nuance was missed on the first pass through. Often our regard and respect for certain of the books we reread reminds us how aware we've become of the empty words in conversation that resemble the empty calories in junk food.

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