Thursday, February 7, 2008

Writer Impossible: Dialogue

1. Johnson told her he was going to the store. He gathered his keys and turned to her as he pushed open the door.
"I'm going to the store," he said.
"Okay," she answered.
"I'll be right back."
"See you soon."

2. "The generator for the EV-365 is a double charged lithium hydrogexenator, that has duel focal points of charmeuse lasers that double as guiding beacons for the energy flow. This design is based on Sir John Litton's well known studies on outer space, and his hypothesis of the relationship between zero gravity and forward motion. Of course, his models failed, especially the ZWX-4, which lacked lithium hydrogexenators, because they just didn't have the technology back then. They also lacked charmeuse lasers," said James West, President of Production.
"So you're saying that it's the lithium hydrogexenator and the charmeuse lasers that are the key to success? What about his later models that worked without these things? The AWBB-48-00? Or the TRP-45-68759?"

We call the first treading water. That is, small exchanges where information that doesn't move the story forward but just fills space. The second is using dialogue as an SUV for information.

In both instances, the information may be imparted in a different way --compacted, parsed and exchanged for a stronger scene. Dialogue is difficult. First attempts will almost always be redundant. Often they will impart far more information than needed. And sometimes the reader is being told what he or she can already infer.

Dialogue in writing is much different that dialogue used in scripts. In movies, you can have exchanges like the one above because you have a supporting cast of environment, action, light, facial or body expression and even music. But in books, too many exchanges like this become nothing more than treading water or as in the latter, drowning the reader in too much information.

Dialogue must reveal character, use only the most essential words, convey emotion, provide information and move the story forward. It is the artful combination of the right words and phrases to create the illusion of talking.

In the book "What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers" by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, Kingsley Amis said this about dialogue:
"I always try over the phrases, fooling the reader into believing that this is how people actually talk. In fact, inevitably it's far more coherent than any actual talk ...but when in doubt I will repeat a phrase to myself seven or eight times, trying to put myself in the place of an actor speaking the part."