The Prompt – Do you embrace dialog or narrate your way around it? Why?
Dialogue. Every time. I write dialog first and fill in around it, because it’s better from the characters than us. You can do so much with a little dialog. Dialog is our tone palette. Major, minor, happy, sad. Where rhythm and word choice from characters exposes them in ways narration never could.* Where they are allowed to breathe without tags and adverbs. I would open a forum for nothing but the discussion of dialogue if I could get participation. I dropped my example because of AW’s post, wherein I disagree that narration can fill in where dialog can’t. Even for time collapse, backstory, forward motion. Which was the example. I’d rather read 1,200 words of mostly dialog than “and then he did this, and she did that” and particularly any “thought this or that.” The only place dialog can’t supplant narration is the solo man/animal/creature against whatever, the endless postcard set design, and there are places in First Person where you have to weave in head time or the work would all be “And then I…” And for some people I know like Anonymole who openly admits he doesn’t like people, much less a buncha chicks sittin’ around shootin’ the shit. But for most other people? Dialog wins.
*Caveat – Good dialogue, not that crap where everyone speaks the same stilted cardboard supported by adverb tags or directorial action tags. He said, being a dialogue asshole. By ‘that crap’ I can go all the way to billion sellers the likes of Baldacci, James and the spy agency alphabet soup people. Come on, that adverb tag junk is Nancy Drew business. Authors as disparate as Elmore Leonard and Maya Angelou agree that the dialog should tell us how a character feels and if we as authors feel the need to tag it, we should rewrite it.
Dialogue is music. It has rhythm, dynamics, grace notes… I have often wished that writing had the same notation as music. Fermatas, crescendo, decrescendo, piano, forte, triple forte. All running over or under the dialogue like a sheet music melody line. Oh well. As students of dialogue we need to figure that out.
My characters run the gamut from gangsters to a Valley Girl Prima Ballerina, musicians, jocks, hookers, a French lawyer, motel clerks, construction workers, kids… Here’s some examples you are free to read or ignore.
Several of those will give you character insight, tell a story in a story, open up backstory or kill time with a lot more finesse than telling you “She’s a Valley Girl Ballerina” or “Him and CL been friends since they was twelve” carrying on like they’re all fifth-grade school teachers with adverb tags. You can learn all you need to know about who a character is by listening to them tell you who they are. And that’s pretty much my site. Oh hell, here’s a quickie for you if you don’t read Redneck Hemingway. You know who they are, something’s up and I never say a word.
Thursday, noonish, May 14th, 1981, Los Angeles International Airport
“That’s it?” Trace darted the Volvo wagon between a limo and a cab, slid up to the curb at LAX. “Gone ‘till Tuesday? No Coach Cowboy ‘You have a better chance of hitting it with your eyes open’ wisdom for them? Dude… It’s not gonna fly. I’m tellin’ you–”
“Don’t you start that Coach Cowboy shit. And they’ll get over it, trust me.”
“Yeah right… They’re gonna ask me, man, get all up in my ass. What’s my chop for that?”
“What I just said. Gone ‘till Tuesday.”
“You don’t know those women like I do. They’ll–”
“I know more than enough. They all have trust issues. All of them. Men talkin’ shit, men full of shit, patronizing flower-buying smoke blowers… Even if I laid out my plan, which I can’t because I don’t have one, they’d still call bullshit because they want something they can hold in their hands, not more talk. So leave it. Next Hollywood burger run is on me ‘cause I’m not gonna hear all the crap they come up with about me this weekend, you are.” Jackson popped his door open. “If I’m lucky, I’ll never hear it.”
“If you say so. But I don’t like it, bro. Not even… Hey… What about your fuckin’ dog, man? That’s too much dog to just –”
“Taisia’s got Ella. Eeze skates, Ella runs. They’ll wear each other out.”
“Goddam, man… How tall is she?”
“The Russian or the Wolfhound?” Jackson climbed out, tossed his garment bag over his shoulder, looked back in at his driver, winked. “Six-two. Take your pick.”
“Dickhead. Two Amazons, one on skates. My sons need to see that.”
“Sure ‘they’ do. Take an oxygen tank or an am cap.”
“Fuck. You. So…Tuesday. Are you sure that’s all you have to say?”
“Don’t try to sell it, man. Let it ride. Gone. Till. Tuesday. Second verse, same as the first.” He patted the Volvo’s front fender, walked away.
Trace lit a roach from the ashtray, the limo behind him honked, Airport Security appeared by his door.
“Sir, this is pick up only, not drop off. You —”
“It’s raining upstairs.”
“That’s what everybody says. You still need to move your vee… Whoa! Aren’t you the dude from Cleave —”
“Yes.” Trace handed the roach to the security guard. “How’d you like to be me for a weekend?”
“Whoa, dude!” The guard hit the roach, handed it back. “I would, you know, but like that’s impossible. I mean, I can’t play guitar.”
“How are you with angry women and softball?”
What’re others saying about dialog? Check it out.