Monday, December 5, 2016

Sorry, I Didn't Get What You Said

When you think of Robert Burns's memorable poem "To a Louse: On Seeing One on a Ladie's Bonnet," and you do think of it quite often, you are aware of having filed away to memory the significant lines:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion...

The jump from being able to see one's self as others see you leads to the oft-repeated phrase, fly on the wall, a shapeshifting bit of transformation that would allow us to be present during a particular conversation between (or among) two or more persons of interest.  

"Oh, to be a fly on the wall," is the writer's mantra, every bit as much so as Wile E. Coyote is your nomination for at least beatification if not sainthood as the patron of all characters.

"Oh, to be a fly on the wall!" is a tangible possibility for writers in their writing hours, a reward for all those moments of potential frustration and disappointment that serve as a foundation for the joys and discoveries of the life going on about us. 

To the degree you are aware of this possibility, the subsequent dialogue you concoct between characters surges forth with the secrets and agendas of those individuals, often revealing things about them you had not openly supposed, while indicating to yourself that you have more attics and basements hidden away within your psyche that you had imagined.

Because you are a relic from the pre-computer days, you remember composing in pen and ink on lined notebook paper and typewriting on the back of the stationery of bankrupted companies, given you by your father, who worked as an auctioneer for one or more referees in bankruptcy. 

How easy it was to dispatch a page to the editorial graveyard by clawing at it, balling in a tight wad, then sending it in parabolic arc to a wastebasket, experiencing similar humiliations as the scruffy Wile E.Coyote, after he'd overrun some boundary in search of his one true goal, Roadrunner.

Years into the era of the computer, you wonder if your persistence in handwriting on lined legal pads remains because of the opportunity it affords to ball up a misbehaved page of text.  At some point, you've fretted, balled up and tossed pages, and nudged the text into a shape you recognize as suitable for setting it into keystrokes for your computer, one of your constant enemies the humiliation of seeing the computer version and the awareness, like the coyote, that you've still managed to overrun the terrain on which the story is set.

Dialogue, the spoken discourse between two or more individuals, allows you some momentary relief. "You, there. Why are you standing around? Why haven't you taken my luggage to my suite?"

And the response. "Ah, you think I'm a bellman, do you? Fancy that."

To be effective, dialogue must have an elephant concealed between its lines, the elephant of subtext. Dialogue is not characters talking, it is the rug underneath which the elephant is buried, the gap between what is said and the inner truth of the speaker.



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