My Blog Week: February 6 to February 12
A Word on the Week
Critical Lapses (part seven)
Last time, I made the point that reviews, whether the book is good or bad, can rely on contentions supported with logic—and if the logic holds, so does the objectivity. Logic is an equation; everyone can take the same elements, provided they’re given, and add them to the same sum.
(They don’t have to like the sum.)
In this and my next WoW, I’ll discuss the Marjorie Bowen book I’m writing a fresh version of (because it’s in the public domain, and giving credit where it’s due, I can). To begin, an overview on dialogue, prior to making my case that her dialogue is not great—i.e., it doesn’t achieve what reason should expect of it.
Dialogue serves in two categories, first in showcasing matters of character; second, in its specific function within a scene, which dialogue sequences may do as narrative, description, or exposition. Of character, are the subcategories of personality and background. Of personality, are what we learn from vocabulary, idiom, grammar, bluntness or subtlety, naivety (or any other quality), of expression. Of background: education, origin, age (generation).
Of function, how does dialogue act as a device within this scene; how does it further the plot? What is concealed or revealed? Is the talk an exchange of information, an exhortation, a consolation, an imparting of wisdom, a first or a final meeting—all, among others, subcategories of function.
In fact, first and final meetings, as they afford the most telling character moments, call for at least a strong mid-section in dialogue.
Dialogue acts as a real-time passage, one that removes the narrator from control of the story. It invites us to give voices and mannerisms to the speakers, to view the scene as a visual production. And any long continuous piece of dialogue, in the voice of a single character, will introduce problems of construction.
A novelist, working more than one purpose at once, can’t have dialogue be messy, half-stated, with topics interrupted and forgotten, as is actual conversation. But dialogue has to feel natural, and has to be the better choice in a given scene, than the narrator’s stating the information.
Dialogue allows a shorthand that can tighten up a piece of writing.
I thought her face looked skeptical, and she seemed to prompt me to explain further.
But it needs a natural rhythm that doesn’t communicate as contrived. We don’t fall into suspended animation while another speaks, so for dialogue to read as natural, the listener has to be a presence too.
He scratched his nose, cleared his throat, and nodded. He said, yawning: “You make an interesting point.”
She rooted in her purse for a Kleenex. She removed her glasses and rubbed the lenses. She returned them to her nose. She said, with a frown: “I don’t think you’re paying attention.”
Slows the flow. As do excess dialogue tags. But writers should signpost often to readers who is speaking, where the scene is taking place in time and location, what information has already been conveyed…
We confuse ourselves when we don’t, and we make continuity errors.
Paraphrase is a type of dialogue that works to compress lengthier parts of a talk; that also brings back the narrator, an anchoring helpful to the reader.
“How’s that sound to you? You believe these people?”
“No, I’m not dealing with it. I’m sending you over to get something in writing.”
“Well, sure. I will. But I have to say I’m a little scared of that guy.”
“Who, the goon? Don’t give him the time of day. Tell him you want Janet, that’ll freeze his gears.”
He went on that Janet was the book-owner, that not everybody was supposed to know, that this would serve for a heads-up, me mentioning her name…
And that anyhow Janet could legally sign a paper whether Mort liked it or not. Hoist with his own spittoon, like they say.
The paraphrase at the end of this passage retains the character’s voice, with the narrator’s perspective.
If this were the opening of a story, we would learn that neither character speaks “high”, but the first less so than the second. The first is more aggressive in nature, the second more reluctant; the first is giving the orders, the second following. We don’t know the age of either character, or the gender of the second, but the second holds the point of view. We can guess something shady is afoot with the business filed under Janet’s name. We anticipate that the story is a thriller with comedic elements, and the second character is soon to find trouble on this errand.
And that’s a lot of information packed into 112 words.
On Monday, a new Totem-Maker, the first of totems nearly disbursed to its new home. On Thursday, Catastrophe, Hess’s interviews with witnesses beginning. Friday, The Sword Decides!, Ludovic in frustrated thought over the mire of siege warfare.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: February 6 to February 12