He said, she said

Yay, the first new blog post in the new digs. I hope you notice a few additions other than just the design elements. I’ve added a few new names to the blog roll and deleted some others that weren’t on my hot list anymore. I also added some links to some of the writing pieces I have online. There is a poem, an essay about comic books and some short stories. Plus the infamous first chapter of Lunchbox Hero. In his most recent blog post, Dave White talks about the art of writing as oppossed to the business of writing. He mentions me as someone who talks about the process of writing on my blog. I love the business side of writing and I’m always up for a great discussion on self-promotion or query letter mechanics or publishing gossip but I’m also a self-analytical person and the ideas of how and why I do what I do are endlessly fascinating to me so it’s bound to crop up in this temple of narcissism I’ve built here. I’ve addressed the question of why I write in the comments of Dave’s post so I won’t repeat it here. What I will do is talk about the part I enjoy most in writing: dialogue.

I love dialogue in all it’s forms. My favorite movies are dialogue heavy ones from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith and David Mamet (not coincidentally a playwright where dialogue is the most powerful tool in the shed), my favorite TV shows are dialogue heavy ones such as Sports Night, West Wing and of course Gilmore Girls along with the best of the sitcoms. With books it’s the same thing. I made my bones with Robert Parker and Gregory MacDonald and even my favorite short story of Hemingway’s is nothing but dialogue. I’m not sure exactly why I like dialogue so much. Part of it probably stems from the fact that I’m a verbal person myself. I love talking with other people. I’m the type who can have conversations on totally inane subjects into the middle of the night.

Of course when I say I love dialogue in fiction it’s the sort of hyper-reality dialogue I love. People do not talk in real life like they do in Kevin Smith movies. People just aren’t smart enough to have that much pop culture handy and everyone knows you never really say in conversation what you want to because it doesn’t occur to you until six hours later when you’re trying to sleep. I love dialogue littered with pop culture references both obvious and obscure. I love dialogue that feeds on itself and takes on epic themes from a small argument over the metric system. I’m a big believer in the idea that great dialogue alone is reason enough for it to exist in a story. It doesn’t need to advance the story or provide exposition as long as it’s pitch perfect and entertaining. Of course the best dialogue writers know that great conflict can be generated through snappy dialogue and that its not in the best narrative interest to go on for pages and pages without some sort of purpose but I’d much rather have too much good dialogue than not enough. Bad dialogue I have no patience for.

Ultimately though, I think the reason I love hearing dialogue and I love writing dialogue is because it comes easily to me. When I really get my gears spinning and my writing is in a groove I can generate pages of dialogue with relative ease. of course the next day it usually needs to be trimmed by about a third but it’s usually pretty good straight out of the gate. I have to work hard on everything else about writing. There may be a little circular logic going on here about whether I enjoy dialogue because I’m good at it or if I’m good at dialogue because I enjoy it but I’m sure my involvement with theater has a strong bearing on the results. There is no place more in awe and reverence of dialogue than the theater. Sure there have been grand moments of drama through action or even silence but nothing beats the verbal sparring in Mamet’s greatest works like Glenn Gary Glen Ross or the famous “you can’t handle the truth speech” from Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, originally staged on Broadway.

One of these days I’m going to have to figure out how I do what I do with dialogue. I can polish up other writer’s dialogue but I can’t sit down and explain how do write good dialogue. I can explain that on the nose dialogue is bad and that it’s never good to have people repeating the small talk that’s so prevelant in real conversations but I’ve never been able to capture that magic and spread it to others. The only tangible piece of advice I have on dialogue comes from Dennis Lehane. He said in an interview once that interuptions were the key to great dialogue and therefore his stories are peppered with incomplete phrases and dashes galore. My dialogue follows the same form. This is something that is also practiced in theater. Every director I ever worked said you don’t wait for the other actor to finish speaking before you say your lines. They should over lap. An actor should be ready to jump on the keys of the other actors.

I really should get it figured out soon, because if it’s really just a fairy on my shoulder whispering good dialogue in my ear as I currently suspect, then there’s always the potential for that fairy to fly away. And she’d probably go to Dave.

4 thoughts on “He said, she said

  1. To me, dialog is the most important character trait, and I can’t really get a handle on a character until I figure out how they talk. A lot of times my supporting characters start out sort of formless, and as I get into writing their dialog they start to come into focus.

  2. occasionally I’ll have a Lorelai moment in regular conversation and I will be entirely proud of myself. Of course I always remind myself she has writers and that is why she is so quick-witted. But you’re absolutely right about dialogue.

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