Learning to Write XXIX
There are a few people who can hear the individuation of different speakers. We have all heard mimics, people who can detect and transmit these differences almost immediately. But most of us only pick up the substance of a conversation. Even strongly marked differences between different speakers are rarely heard well enough to be reproduced.
Try writing down a paragraph as spoken by someone with a foreign accent. Or write down five or six sentences spoken by someone in your family. In both cases you will find that your listening ability is limited to grasping the meaning of what the speaker says and to more or less disregard his or her way of saying it.
In writing dialogue you will probably never write verbatim, as it is spoken in real life.
But nevertheless, listening for the melody, the tone of the spoken word always forms the basis on which written dialogue is built.
We listen; and then we transcribe. Try it, listen to the conversations around you, on the bus, in the supermarket, around the supper table. Find somewhere quiet and write it down, exactly as it happened. Do this over and over again. You may never use these bits and pieces of writing, but don’t worry about that. What you will be learning is how sentences are spoken in real life and what must happen to them when they are transcribed to the page.
Transcribing spoken dialogue into written, successfully, is one of the most important of a beginning writer’s conquests.
You will quickly realise that talk recorded exactly as spoken is redundant to the point of absurdity. On the page it cries out for compression. As it is, uncompressed, it blocks the narrative and leaves no room for anything but itself. It is composed of repetition, hesitation, slurred vowels, ers, ums, pauses, over-emphasis and quickly tires the reader’s eyes and mind.
As a reasonable writer you should be able to reduce it by two thirds without loss of effect.
There are other tasks to come to terms with if you want to write good dialogue. Work on compression for now. In my next post I’ll elaborate further aspects of this subject.