The Art of Writing Dialogue, a journey to emancipation…


a place to write

I wrote a dialogue a couple of days ago about an imaginary conversation I had with my blog. The dialogue was meant to highlight the importance of the Blog to the Writer. As if my blog had become its own person, growing and maturing (or in my blog’s case more growing and less maturing). Well that’s how it started anyway.

The idea came to me that morning while I was just pottering around, coffee in hand, and I thought this is the one for today. I spent the whole day on that shortish post (don’t laugh!). The details in the post (e.g. researching Walter Savage Landor and his essays, “Imaginary Conversations“) and the act of practicing writing dialogue instead of the usual prose was a difficult proposition involving many a rewrite and enacting it out aloud (if anyone had seen me standing next to my desk, coffee in hand and talking to myself they would certainly have called the men in the white coats as it looked as if I had lost my marbles!).

You know how some posts are just ten minutes of inspiration and others are a slog, well this was a piece that was almost an almost Sisyphusian slog. I kept rolling that dialogue up the hill and it kept rolling back down looking a little better each time and then there would be the odd roll where it all went wrong and the iterative rolling up the hill began again.

 

Confronting my Dialogue Demon

I chose dialogue for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to challenge myself and move out of my comfort zone and secondly, I wanted to present the thoughts of the two characters as two sides of the same coin. Personally, I find writing dialogue the hardest thing in the world. Ask me to describe something and I can do it, as me to try and write poetry and I don’t find it difficult (probably because it is rubbish and when it is, then I am just not in the right frame of mind), but ask me to write a conversation and I feel a hole appearing in front of me into which I want to jump and hide until the dialogue part is over. I find describing a conversation hard as I am a seeing and writing kind of writer. I need to see the photograph in my head and describe that, even though I am constructing the photograph/s myself.

Getting back to the subject, I wanted to get to the crux of the relationship between the Blog and the Blogger in a humorous, sarcastic way, a little Month Python-esque in style. I know I would have written something more lucid if I had used prose but I wanted to challenge myself and face up to my shortcomings and the Dialogue Demon. I think many of us forget how difficult it is to write a play or a piece that has to be relived and not reread – and I don’t think it is because they are not as in vogue as novels, but just a lot harder to write. Hence, I found it became easier talking to myself in the form of the two characters. In dialogue, the writer does not have the luxury of “thoughts”, for example,

“I told you he was never going to agree to that,” murmured John through gritted teeth.

“Yes we did!” Susan replied incredulously in her high-pitched, “Oh my God what planet does he live on” voice. The one she kept in reserve for those occasions when she wanted to contradict someone without insulting them directly. The end result of which was that she was more condescending than if she had just said he was an idiot to his face.

We know that John is not pleased as he is murmuring and gritting his teeth, moreover we know that Susan thinks John is a little slow on the uptake. Simple “he said” and “she said” writing is brilliant isn’t it? We can form an entire picture in our minds without anyone actually having uttered a single word. However, if the same sentences were dialogue then they would sound like this (try practicing speaking this part out aloud, and I can guarantee that, depending on what mood you are in, it will sound different each time.

John:   I told you he was never going to agree to that.

Susan: Yes we did!

Am I right? So the mood has to be set within the smallest nuance of the words and certain descriptiveness has to be added to the whole message within the dialogue itself (I have found listening to plays being performed on the radio an interesting exercise as we have to imagine the characters ourselves with nothing to go on but their speech). What is said, and often that which is not, is telling and refreshing. As one famous playwright said (I don’t remember who but I remember he was good):

“…Every line of dialogue has to have a function.”

A writer cannot just waffle on as people don’t waffle on when they talk, especially these days with expressions becoming shorter (I will never get the 140 character lark on Twitter… short is not always sweet, often short can be misleading). But I will say this, the concentration on words and their function are the basis of good dialogue and I hope you agree. (I would be fascinated to know how you write dialogue so please do let me know in the comments.)

 

Emancipation – how my Blog helped set me free

The underlying message of the dialogue was essentially a question that I am increasingly asking myself these days… Do I blog for me, for my blog or for you?

There is a difference, the line is, I admit a fine one, but existent nevertheless. I am not sure if you have ever thought about it, but do give it some thought now. Is my blog controlling me? I see it on my screen and I see how others blog and I am envious of their creativity and energy. My blog, on the other hand, has developed its own life. I am beginning to have weird conversations about blogging ideas with myself.

You know the ones I mean, walking down the street and seeing something catch your eye and thinking I have to, I must write about that and then having a discourse on the subject in your head (or out aloud in my case). These conversations come from anything reading a book, poem or how someone drinks their coffee or anything. Then I come home and write them down and my Blog rejects some and accepts others. There is a long list of what I have in my notebook under “blog post ideas” and I have reached the stage where the ideas far outnumber the posts. Hence, my blog, my alter ego, my other half, my best friend, call him what you may (just not Bob) is actively editing.

I don’t know how many of you feel the same sort of way, but I find that if I don’t post, there is a certain amount of guilt. The “oh God I haven’t posted in three days!” feeling. I know you all know what I mean.

I also find it difficult to blog every day. The sheer creativity needed is exhausting. Posts like this, where I express thoughts, desires and opinions are hard enough and I often write a few and then leave them because I am afraid of intruding into other’s lives with my silly rants and musings. But the more I read your posts, the more I see that it is acceptable, and what’s more, a whole load of fun.

So, thank you all followers and those of you who like my posts. My blogging etiquette is getting better and I try and like yours in return or comment but if I fail then forgive me. Mostly, I just try and entertain; I entertain myself in the hope that I entertain you.

Thanks for reading and I am looking forward to the odd comment should you have the time or inclination!

Advertisements

15 comments

  1. JC
    I am the opposite – dialogue flows from my mind like water, but I struggle when it comes to description, convinced that everything I write sounds cliched and stilted. Even as I weave it into the narrative, it seems to glow highlighter orange and shout ‘I am descriptive!’ at me.

    Like

    1. This writing lark is amazing isn’t it? I mean, the idea that a grown man can be afraid of dialogue or descriptive prose, seems to me to be just madness, but that’s the way we are wired. I find remembering a scene you are describing as a photograph in your mind. That makes it easier for me. The snapshot of light, smells, feelings, faces, smiles, it’s like a movie running through my head, but dialogue… I get stumped. I always question myself, does it sound real? Would I say that? Have I heard that? Uff… It’s hard… You are a lucky person, to be able to just rattle it off!

      Like

      1. I think of it like a river – the dialogue often begins with a comment or a question then flows (meaningfully) towards an explanation for, or a reaction from, the character.
        Some of it designed to reveal character by the way they react and some of it is explanation for the reader to go ‘Ahhh…’
        With my descriptions, I have to work hard before I feel that it doesn’t apply brakes to the flow of the story. In my debut novel, I had to describe a (real) tower in York without holding the reader up. Despite having photos and having been there, it felt ‘lumpy’.

        Like

      2. Actually now that you mention a building it does sound hard, though it always reminds me of Dickens and his description of the old Dedlock residence in Bleak House… (at least I think it was the Dedlock place, though it definitely was BH). He turns buildings into people to get his point across and that is always a good way of describing physical structures. So, if one imagines the Houses of Parliament as, say, an old knight lying in an ancient gothic crypt… Well you can see what I am getting at…

        Like

      3. I like that – it’s a very atmospheric technique. When I was describing the tower, I was tried to use the character’s (1st Person) POV to ‘feel’ the tower.
        In dialogue, I visualise the characters as stage actors and how they would apply their personalities to their lines. That would then give them actions to emphasise their words instead of he said, she said – although both actions and saids would be mixed with some blanks when it is obvious who is speaking. My pet hate is when characters use each others’ names in dialogue when they have no need to;
        ‘Sorry, Mary, but that’s not the case.’
        ‘I agree, John, but what can we do?’
        unlike;
        ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’
        ‘No, sorry, he’s in the tent. You must be Stanley.’
        😀

        Like

      4. Yes… I agree, names in dialogue is a no no… Though I was trying to write a dialogue where a mother is speaking to her child and I found that using names is quite useful as we often use children’s names when we speak to them, especially toddlers!

        Like

  2. I don’t really know how I write dialogue… Interesting question. I just write it, imagining what the natural answer for each character would be to the previous line. And then I delete all the redundant or boring parts.
    When I come to think about it, I’m often trying to show the personality of my characters through their dialogue. That’s the most important thing I keep in mind when writing it, I suppose.

    Like

    1. Succinctly put. I just find that my conversations are either too prose-like or too much like banter. It’s a difficult one for me but I am practicing it by trying to write a play. Well it’s more of a monologue with the author talking to his own book… So I guess I am almost writing dialogue… You are lucky that it just flows out!

      Like

      1. Hmm, well, you haven’t read my dialogues yet, have you. 🙂 Like you, I often experience that my dialogues feel too much like banter.
        That sounds like a very interesting play you’re working on, but also a very difficult project, I should think. Good luck with it! I look forward to reading some of it if you ever decide to post some parts of it here.

        Like

      2. I haven’t read them no, but I would love to! Feel free to email them to me and I can offer some humble opinions on them… My email is on my about page…. Be forewarned, I am an honest critic… 😉

        Like

      3. An honest critic is what you need as a writer… My mum is always happy to tell me I’m a genius, but that won’t make me any better. Thanks for the offer! I might take you up on that. 🙂

        Like

      4. Oh so true! But I have to say, it’s nice, sometimes, to hear compliments… Feel free to send me something to read! 🙂

        Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s