Refining Dialogue

In the midst of plotting, pondering, and (alternate?) world building, actual!writing, albeit within the confines of the mind, marches forth on this March Fourth.

Pun quite intended.

Amid the scene setting and character building is crafting the dialogue between the characters (spoken or implied) from which the narrative unfolds. It’s still an aspect of the writing process with which I struggle, to ensure it sounds believable and true to the time frame in which it is spoken (though given the recent developments, the parallel / alternate universe angle might render the historical accuracy of the cadence a moot point. Then again, how characters speak and what they say (or what is implied) need not be entirely accurate – it’s how the characters (and the readers) interpret the words and the meaning behind the words (if applicable). These days, words (spoken or written) are important, and the implications behind them can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of those receiving it.

Truth within and behind the words should be absolute and clear, but in some instances, the truth can be subjective and ambiguous in order to lead (or mislead) the protagonist (and perhaps the reader) into believing one interpretation to be true when the antithesis is the true truth (if that makes any sense). Misdirection and red herrings are the foundation of twisty plot twists, and the source of the information provided to the characters (and by extension) to the readers is key, especially with a story told in first person perspective. The narrator essentially controls the pace and tone of the narrative, supplying the lens from which the plot unfolds; with third person perspective (limited or omniscient), the control is more abstract and broad, as a more detached, objective vantage point established.

The content and context of dialogue is also paramount in the telling of the story and the shaping of its characters – words (and actions) tend to be taken out of context and its content skewed in a way that leads to consequences unforeseen, resulting in (hopefully) a dramatic climax or a startling resolution. Well-crafted dialogue has the potential to entice and captivate, with the intention of conveying a interesting and intriguing story. The meaning of the message and the rationale behind it can change depending on its speaker, to whom they are spoken and who hears it – bias and perspective can change the intent of the words spoken. Choosing what to say, how to say it, when and where to say it, to whom to say it to, and why to say it is as important to any story as the exposition and world building.

Words matter more than ever.

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NaNoWritMo Update #2

So it’s a little over a week into the writing challenge that is NaNoWritMo, and suffice it to say, I’m (still) very far behind the recommended word count quota (if I were to write a 50,000 word novel within 30 days). Of course, real life things do “get in the way” of the writing process, as do other outside distractions; on the other hand, I’m doing much better than I had this time last year [as I write this, the word count for One More Angel in Heaven is 2,890]. Interestingly enough, the first few [Word] pages of this story contain more dialogue that I have ever written before, and (thus far) not as much descriptive language. As stated in another blog entry, writing dialogue has never been my strong suit, and (naturally) is necessary  in any narrative story.

The story structure is in 1st person perspective, and has the quasi-requisite summation paragraph at the start, then launches into the story proper – it’s my little homage to Christie and to Conan Doyle, two authors who have had quite an influence in my interest in mystery stories and aspirations for writing my own. While it has always been in my nature to plot, ponder and edit ideas as I concurrently write the narrative proper, I am striving not do to so for this draft (for that is what a NaNoWritMo novel should be, given the time constraints), as the whole stop-and-read-what-I’ve-just-written method does stall the writing process.

I’m sure for some other writers, aspiring and otherwise, extracting a 50,000 word novel within the 30 day time limit is easy (and one writing buddy reached the 50,000 count on Day 3, and has since exceeded that limit), but for whatever reason, the rate at which I write is not as prolific [though I do have the occasional spurts of inspiration every now and then].

With this whole (almost) making-things-up-as-I-go-along writing style, I’ve found the narrative has taken a (slight) left turn from where I had thought it would have gone – a throwaway reference to a situation that had intended to be a negligible footnote in the story has been pulled to the forefront, and has solved the dilemma of how / when / where the narrator meets the detective. Where the rest of the story will go, and how it will all unfold is now quasi-questionable, as this new angle has made me rethink sequence of events.

But enough blogging – back to writing.

Writing Dialogue

Throughout this blog, I’ve touched upon several aspects of my writing process – from creating characters and developing narrative arcs to discussing influences and inspiration (and distractions). It has occurred to me that I have yet to expound on one of the most critical components to a story, regardless of genre or length.

Dialogue.

I’m rather an introverted person (as anyone who knows me can attest)  – if I’m ever among a crowd of people (and that’s a rare occasion in and of itself) I’m often the one standing off to the side listening to other people’s conversations and generally observing those around me – I don’t really like to talk too much and usually feel awkward in social settings.

[Brief disclaimer to those who do know me well – a huge exception to the aforementioned reticence to interact and converse with others is whenever I am at theatre-related occasions, whether it be waiting at the lobby or the stage door of a theater or waiting in line at a CD signing. Those are the times when I will strike up a conversation with whomever is around me – I’ve met a good deal of friends that way, discussing similar interests and shared experiences. ]

Anyway.

Writing dialogue has never been my strong suit, as I tend to be more comfortable describing locations and situations, and conveying inner monologues for my characters. I’m not so sure why this is the case, though it might stem from my introverted nature (I’m not a psychiatrist) and my reticence to speak out loud; I have little problem “conversing” via email or Facebook messaging, or (for that matter) blogging, which is somewhat akin to dialogue albeit written and not spoken, so it’s more like narration than actual conversation. Though this is not to say that I have not ever written any dialogue – after all, I have in my archives an unfinished novel (which is soon to be revised and inserted somewhere in the MASC Chronicles) and several short stories (both on paper and in Word documents) that contain some dialogue, as well as my current works in progress.

It’s just that much of the dialogue that I had written comes across (at least to me) as being highly melodramatic (and almost Victorian) and somewhat unbelievable [I “blame” my years of watching General Hospital for my apparent tendency to have my characters recite such melodramatic conversations, and some of my more outlandish plot ideas].

In an attempt to (sort of ) remedy this situation, I’ve decided to participate in a writing exercise posted in one of the Facebook writing groups, and write my entry using only dialogue. I’m not sure how this will turn out, but it’ll test my ability to write more plausible dialogue; also, as an added challenge to myself, I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind, without plotting out the narrative or the characters beforehand (though I have caught myself being “distracted” into casting some of my existing characters into this writing exercise).

This should be interesting – perhaps one of these days I’ll post an excerpt here, though (introverted as I am) I’m not quite at that stage yet.

One day.

Someday.