f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 3 of Dialogue – Tin Ear

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, January 07, 2005

Day 3 of Dialogue – Tin Ear

There are two extremes on which writers flounder when writing dialogue.

The first extreme is “unnatural sounding dialogue.” There are many ways dialogue can sound unnatural. It can be too meaningful, too poetic, too erudite, or too self-involved. It can simply be a conversation normal human beings wouldn’t have. (I find much God-talk in novels sounds unnatural in this way.)

Richard Powers, a writer I tend to enjoy otherwise, has a problem of making ALL his characters very witty, and in exactly the same way.

On the other side of the coin, are the naturalist writers. Those who only write what might come from a typical person’s mouth. They try to catch the exact words and nuance of everyday conversation…often ignoring the fact that everyday conversation is, a lot of the times, quite boring in its totality.

You and I might have a thirty minute conversation on what it means to live a thousand miles from any blood family. That’s an important conversation, don’t get me wrong. But you can’t tell me we’ve said thirty minutes of worthwhile words. We’ve repeated ourselves. Repeated each other. Told one story that only related peripherally. I see the novel’s function as distilling or filtering conversation to include only the worthwhile fragments of that conversation.

These should then should reach the page in the voice of the character that speaks them.

On Monday we’ll look at specific examples of dialogue from a variety of authors.
Continue to Day 4 of Dialogue