Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Conversations Between Two Different People

I seem to be writing a lot of dialogue into my stories lately. While good dialogue is fine (and this is assuming that my dialogue lines are good), I'm aware that it brings along a couple of nasty aftereffects.

For one, dialogue compromises description. I suppose that I can blame my research into styles of comic scriptwriting for this; While the more visual media can get away with works that read almost entirely as dialogue, a plain short story needs the description in order to speed it along. At the moment, I'm probably using the dialogue to drop subtle hints for background and appearance every now and then, and although it does make the reader think more carefully, I don't want to have to use that for every story I write:

Gus sank into the chair, his weight deflating the cushions. "Look, Johnny," he said, "you're a good kid. Abner's a good kid. Sal's a good kid. Besides, what did I ever do to you?"

"You know what you did, Gus," Johnny said, playing with the crystal tiger he swiped from the display shelves. "You know what you did."

"Aw, that was ten years ago. I said I was sorry."

"Yeah? Well, sorry don't take the pain away, Gus."

Johnny let the tiger drop to the floor, where it shattered. Gus winced at the sound.

My second concern is that, the more I depend on dialogue, the more the stories tend to adopt a minimalist approach. I've written stories that were purely composed of dialogue, and while I think they qualify as creative approaches to writing, they're not very substantial to begin with. They don't help much with regards to imagination - a reader could just as well be listening to the speakers on the radio, for all I know. I want the reader to be able to see exactly what a character looks like - how he dresses, how he gestures, how he feels. I don't want the reader to get away with merely knowing what the character sounds like.

"So, whatcha gonna do about that, Gus?"

"Bastard. That tiger cost me an arm and a leg down in Panama."

"Well, that's what's left of it now, Gus. An arm and a leg."

"You bastard."

"I don't have all day, Gus. I need the money now."

"You never said anything about money!"

"I know you've got the money. Everybody knows ol' Gus's got the money."

Finally, writing dialogue takes a toll on the psyche. Good dialogue requires a writer to visualize two distinct characters at once, and then to somehow put both of them in the same thought and see how they interact with one another. Different characters will simply interact in different ways; While the motivation and methods are fairly standard - friendship, intimidation, violence, pacifism, mercy, rage, and so forth - the approaches and reactions are always different. I find myself having to speak as one character and then the other... and so forth, alternating as needed. It feels strangely schizophrenic that way, and I'm afraid of what might happen if I do it too often.

"Well, I ain't got no money," Gus said. "You think that if I had any money I'd still be living in this godforsaken house in this godforsaken town?"

"I don't have to get an answer out of you, Gus," Johnny said, taking a few steps towards him. "Even if you weren't around, I could've just torn up the whole place. But luckily for me, you were here, Gus. You were here."

The gun was in Johnny's hands before Gus could react. Cold metal pressed against the larger man's upper lip.

"You can make this easy for me, Gus," Johnny said, "or you can make it a little harder for me. You might end up dead, Gus, or you might not. But either way, I'm going to find the money."

I'm going to try a little hiatus from dialogue for the next few days. While my exercises in that field have been okay, I suppose that I can't stoop to using the same approach for every story I write. That would make me a bit of a one-trick pony. No, come to think of it, that would make me a schizophrenic one-trick pony, which is even more difficult to imagine.


Shirley said...


i found this address through the iBlog registrants roll... would you mind terribly if i added you to my links list? you write wonderfully.

thanks. ;)

Sean said...

Go ahead, Iris.