Learning to Write XXVIII
I’ve managed to avoid talking about dialogue in this series up to now, but eventually it has to be dealt with. I don’t think it’s possible to deal with it adequately in one post. So what I have to say will be supplemented later by a couple of additional posts.
It is a complicated subject because when we make a character talk in a story we are not only attempting to make them speak as they would if they lived and breathed outside of the confines of the story. We also need to ensure their speaking forwards the action of the plot, or gives us a flavour of the speaker’s temperament or character, or says something about the relationships of other characters in the story. We may even want the dialogue to do all of these things at once.
In an earlier post in the series I mentioned that each story should engender a kind of melody or harmony and that every aspect of the story should contribute towards that. Dialogue is no exception here; dialogue should also help carry the tune of the story.
With these things in mind it should become obvious that written sentences can never be merely a transcript of spoken sentences.
As a writer you know, and anyway everyone is always telling you, if you want to write good dialogue you have to learn to listen. But after listening comes another rather long, conscious process of transforming speech into a form which makes it appear as though it had been spoken while at the same time allowing it to performs its designated tasks in the story.
Some writers, a few, have the ability to listen as an innate function. Others do not. In the following posts I shall try to show that, where it is not innate, it can be learned. The only requirement is the recognition on the part of the writer, that this skill needs to cultivated. Because listening, as far as a writer is concerned has to do not only with the sense of what is said, but with identifying pace and mood, the ambulatory or static nature and personal timing in the use of language of those who are overheard.