Sunday, January 1, 2017


For the same reason we understand that characters in novels, short stories, plays, and all filmed drama are not real persons, we accept the fact that what these characters say is dialogue rather than conversation. 

The price of entry in both cases--acceptance of a character and what the character says--is, as Samuel T. Coleridge put it, "The willing suspension of disbelief."  

In other words, our relationship with characters is either empathetic or suspicious. Whether we continue to turn pages or, if watching a TV drama, keep our hands off the channel tuner, depends on the degree of empathy between us and the characters.

Dialogue is supposed to sound like conversation, but one analogy comes to mind in the relationship between pulque, which is the raw, newly fermented sap of the agave cactus and its upward distillation, tequila. Dialogue is the distillate of conversation. Characters use dialogue as a part of their action toolkit.

An ironic sidelight emerges when the focus shifts from fiction to nonfiction. There are numerous cases where the letters, diaries, journals, and other modes of conversation have found their way into biography and autobiography, but in larger measure, the dialogue in memoir and biography is not by any means a courtroom transcript, rather it is a drama-infused replication of the individual's intent.

Dialogue is intent in action or, if you will, dialogue is action. To take this proposition to the next level, the mot telling and memorable dialogue is about something other than what it seems to be, which is to say dialogue is about subtext. The more likely the possibility of some elephant being hidden under the throw rug of a given living room, the greater the possibility of incisive and memorable dialogue.

The less dialogue sounds like what it's surface pretext is about, the greater the lift it will give to the narrative momentum of a story. The more unspoken inferences can be drawn between the exchanges of dialogue, the more tense, suspenseful, and engaging the story.  

After Nora Helmer, by all accounts the protagonist of A Doll's House, makes the bank loan which gets her husband off the hook, she begins hearing her inner voices, questioning her and her behavior. These are important views of her inner life, the things she cannot bear to share with any other character in the play, which is of paramount significance because it lets us infer there is no one she can approach to discuss her inner and outer conflicts.

When Nora sees how the ending moments of the play are the only possible steps and course she can take, we will have inferred from this inner dialogue of hers that she has NO OTHER CHOICE than to do what, as the curtain falls, she does.

In a real sense, we root for or empathize with characters because we have early on inferred some of the buried elephants within their living room.

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