Posts Tagged ‘dialogue’
There’s a game that certain writers like to play — and in answer to your next question, it’s not called Hide-The-Salami (although that one is popular with certain writers as well, myself perhaps foremost among them), but “Eavesdropping.”
Here’s how you play:
Sit in a public place. Sit near people who look interesting. Have something with which to write. Now listen unobtrusively. Write down bits and pieces of what you hear. You don’t even need to see who’s talking. Just listen and write. Try to capture cadence, tonal quality, speech patterns. And ask yourself: what does the person’s manner of speech tell you about that person?
In my chosen profession, I’m in the enviable position to play this game all night, every night. Here are two recent samples:
Man on cell phone talking to daughter(?):
Yeah … Yeah … All right, Sweetheart. Love you too. Oh, and hey: you by-God better not be getting a bunch of piercings when you’re down there in Santa Cruz. You come back looking like that, they’ll kick you out of that school so goddamned fast it will make your head spin … Yeah, ‘whatever.’ Just don’t be doing it, hear? All right. Bye-bye, Sweetheart.
Next call: same man on cell phone talking to co-worker(?):
Not much, really. Having a scotch. I’m about to head over to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, though. Yeah, I DO like their coffee … That’s because you don’t drink coffee — hey, ever see that movie Pulp Fiction? … I say PULP FICTION … Yeah … Guy goes, ‘My wife buys shitty coffee because she’s cheap. But I buy the best.’ Blood’s splattered everywhere on the walls, and they’re talking about coffee! Haw-Haw-Haw! … All right … Yeah. See you later … Sales? Sales? Those are those white things the put on the top of boats, right? Haw-haw! Bye, now.
And there you have it. My first game of Eavesdropping made public. Pretty stimulating, n’est ce-pas?
For the record, I’m quite familiar with the Pulp Fiction dialogue that man was referencing — because I too thought it was funny. Here, though, for anyone interested, is how it actually goes:
David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino?
Here, then, is how you create a setting:
One hour before nightfall, on a pink-and-blue evening in the third week of August, 2011 …
Here’s how you create a character:
a solitary man traveling on foot …
Here’s how you introduce a situation:
entered the small, tree-shadowed town of Clifton — an isolated village about which many rumors circulated.
Here’s how you introduce tension:
Several people from their windows and doors eyed the traveler with suspicion …
Here’s how you heighten that tension and begin your plot:
and yet one, a woman upon her doorstep, who had never laid eyes on the traveler before today, felt an icicle skewer her heart the instant she saw him — and saw also the strange and unmistakable key he wore on a chain around his neck.
Here’s how you further develop your character:
The traveler was a man of medium height, lean and lithe, thirty or perhaps thirty-five. He had wheat-colored hair cut high-and-tight, and there was in his posture a certain military mien, an excess of energy which set him apart.
Here’s how you further set your scene:
The day was dying. Wind went warmly about the grass. The village was silent.
Here’s how you introduce foreshadowing:
He passed by a small cinema the lights of which shed a crimson sheen over his hands and face.
Here’s how you introduce a new character, a potential conflict, a new paragraph:
Among those watching him was a strong-looking young man, alone and hatless, who stood half-hidden with the statuary, in the black shadows of the conifer trees. He and the traveler looked in some way alike, yet the man in the shadows was younger, and his face was charged with suffering.
Here’s how you intensify your plot and introduce dialogue:
Quickly the woman left her doorstep and, with a tremor of intent, approached the traveler.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.
Here’s how you develop your main character through dialogue:
“Yes,” he said.
Here’s how you intensify your situation again and at the same time give the reader an idea of your novel’s theme (which in this abbreviated example is: superstition in an insular society):
At last her eyes went to the strange-looking key that he wore around his neck. She’d been avoiding it, but now that her eyes were upon it, she couldn’t look away. The key was very beautiful, entirely real, modern and yet somehow science-fictional, not at all as she’d been told. In its silver glint, she caught a quick reflection of the stone gargoyle perched on the building behind them. Her heart paused and then released a thunderous beat. A rill of sweat slid between her breasts. Unexpectedly, she felt a sexual surge shoot through her.
Here’s how you raise tension through dialogue:
“Time is running short,” she said. “Come with me.”
Here’s how you further develop your plot:
She said no more after that but turned and walked toward the cinema that stood burning with a hellish glow in the August twilight. The traveler followed.
She hadn’t noticed the man watching from the shadows.
But the traveler had recognized him instantly.
Characterization is a presentation of the personality of the people who populate a story.
Characterization is primarily a depiction of motivation and motive. The reader must understand what makes the characters act in the way that those characters do.
It’s been said that one of the truest tests of good literature is when you can discuss the characters as if those characters are actual people: when you can psychologize over them, talk about their strengths, their gifts, their shortcomings, their personalities, their deeds, all as if these people are real.
To create such a character — which is to say, to create a truly convincing character — the writer must first understand what motivates the people he or she is creating. By that I mean, the writer must have a fully formed idea of what the character’s premises and personality are. After which, by means of the plot (i.e. the action, which includes each passage of dialogue), you proceed to present the character’s motives and (in turn) their personalities.
Know what motivates your characters.
One of Shakespeare’s greatest living admirers (and arguably the world’s best-read human being), the critic Harold Bloom (not to be confused, as he so often is, with that hack Howard Bloom), honestly believes that in creating so many convincing characters, Shakespeare went far in creating our modern-day conception of humanity itself. It is an incredible statement, and yet I, for one, won’t argue it. In Harold Bloom’s own words:
“Shakespeare, who at the least changed our ways of presenting human nature, if not human nature itself, does not portray himself anywhere in his plays.”
Even more interestingly, perhaps, Mr. Bloom goes on to say this:
If I could question any dead author, it would be Shakespeare, and I would not waste my seconds by asking the identity of the Dark Lady or the precisely nuanced elements of homoeroticism in the relationship with Southhampton (or another). Naively, I would blurt out: did it comfort you to have fashioned woman and men more real than living men and women? (Harold Bloom, Genius, p. 18).