Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Class Notes from March 24: Dialogue

Last night was writing class and teacher/coach Sandy Dorr told us we were to concentrate, for the next two weeks, on reading and writing dialogue.

Dialogue is just like talking with someone, but, uh, I guess not exactly.  As I ponder on talking with others, my dialogue stinks.  "Yeah, uh huh," are some of my retorts to say "I am listening," but that is not effective in making someone understood, or listened to.  I'll try to work on that.

Reading assignment: "Sister Imelda," by Edna O'Brien (Irish author)

Here is what Sandy said in her handout last night:
Dialogue is our characters in their own words, the closest we get to them  When dialogue flows like poetry, it sounds as if people are speaking in our ears, in their incomplete, jumbled break.  If it's working, you can excerpt even a little piece of it and get the characters, the landscape, and the flavor of the moment.
Dialogue is never purely informational.  At its best, it will help advance the plot, but it must do more than one thing at a time.  It helps set the scene, develop the character, develop the conflict, stir our senses.  The words spoken by characters color the air between them and tell us who they are rather than exactly what they're going to do or have done.  Think of dialogue as the shorthand between people who know each other well, a vernacular that's surprising, intimate, new and often contrapuntal. 
Dialogue can cover space and time in a story  
Dialogue can give us a place and the people living there, particularly when they share an assumed body of knowledge. 
You don't have to write both voices to create a dialogue: 
     Felice? It's me, Graciela.  
     No, I can't talk louder, I'm at work.
      Look, I need kind of a favor. (Sandra Cisneros "Woman Hollering Creek")
  1. Write dialogue without quotes.  See what's necessary.  Keep returning the carriage or hitting "Enter."
  2. Since paragraphs are emotional (Gertrude Stein), write two people who know each other well, talking.  Each is keeping a secret.
  3. Two people talking in a closed space - a car, a room - for a defined length of time.  Each has to reveal something in order to exit.  Use few speech tags.
  4. Two people who haven't seen each other for quite a while meet (at the p.o., laundromat, or more intimate place).  What do they do and say"
  5. Write a dialogue between radically different voices. Aim for the marked differences (age, ethnicity, English as a second language) or simpler, subtle shifts in syntax.
          Write a short tale, a fictionalized account of either something that happened to you or someone you know -- which steps out beyond the actual fact, into the fictional world -- or a memoir, if you prefer.  I'd urge you to try fiction.  You might start with a fictional idea that may have nothing to do with you, and may be told from the point of view of someone quite unlike you.  It's free and enlightening.  If you don't know where to start, try with a character getting up out of bed in the morning.  What happens next?  Who does s/he encounter?  What comes to a head and must be answered by the story?
          Use dialogue within the scenes, and the scenes themselves between at least two people, to advance the story.  Try to proceed from a place where the ending is unclear; put down everything you know, and then see what happens.  Use all five senses.  Allow a mixture of emotions, a tumult, if you will.  Enjoy yourselves.
          Note to self: send to Sandy by April 7, 2015, 5-8 pages in length .. remember that
  • people need to meet or get together somehow
  • something has to happen
  • that something has to end

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