Fiction

Dialogue Techniques

1

In plays as in novels or short stories, a good dialogue is an essential aspect. Professor Litt asked us if writing dialogue comes as the easiest thing for us or if we try to avoid it, and to be honest I think that for me writing dialogue is the most interesting, fun and exciting part of the whole process of narrating. I think that sometimes I give dialogue a little too much care if compared to other important aspects of writing that shouldn’t be neglected.

Anyway, Professor Litt told us that dialogue has a huge impact on the reading. It takes the reader into live action, and it’s one of the most efficient tools to make things happen. He also told us that many publishing houses can reject your novel or short stories collection if you don’t put a good dialogue in them. There are many small details about what works and does not work in dialogue – for example, is there any point in putting “Hi” or “Hello” in dialogues? The thing is, that if they actually mean something, if they say something, then it’s good to keep them. Professor Litt then gave us some exercises (which I am going to note down in the section “Prose Fiction Attempts”), and made us think about what dialogue can conceive. He gave us example from the book we are reading, The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, on which I will write about in one of the next posts.

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  1. Winning: Power

There is a power battle between the counterparts. There is an increasing of the conflict. The one who lose the battle is getting under control of the other. The power relations change, and when there is a change, dialogue explores the dynamics of the relationships between people. The dialogue brings up the story. This kind o dialogue is based on trying to piss off someone by hitting their weaknesses and emotions. If you control someone’s emotion, then you win – because emotions make people less coherent. This kind of dialogue can be made of an escalating dialect. Tone and style can of course change. In The Bonfire of the Vanities, Sherman and his neighbour have a very subtle power battle until Sherman comes to terms with their old hostility. The core of the winning dialogue is that one person is probably eager to become more honest about something, going from dealing with something “superficial” until the real point is hit hard.

2. Hiding: Fear

Even in the smallest exchange there can be a power battle. Harold Pinter said that his plays had always a failure of communication – and hiding is in fact a failure of communication. We communicate very well through what we don’t say. Speech, in fact, can cover human nakedness. It is a cover up for ignorance and shame. Speech can fill space. Hiding is not about a power battle to win, but a desperate try not to lose. And the one who confess in the end is making the other win by giving up the power. Of course, the hiding dialogue can be made of one person trying to get information from someone else, as in The Bonfire of the Vanities, where Sherman’s wife interrogates him and tries to make him confess of having an affair. But two people can be both hiding something.

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3. Ignoring: Ego

Ignoring someone that is trying to say something can mean many things. People can be talking and having a dialogue, but they can be all about completely different subjects. Ignoring someone and talking about a different subject means of course that those people have a different agenda. They may be saying things that are not completely disconnected, but they think different things. In this kind of dialogue, the forms that are helpful to create links (such as “oh, and this reminds me of….”) are often used. In The Bonfire of the Vanities, Sherman is trying to tell his lover about the mess he did at the phone (he meant to call her, but instead he called his own wife), but she just keeps on interrupting him and talking about other matters.

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Professor Litt told us that a bad dialogue is a dialogue where no winning, hiding or ignoring happens, so there’s no ego, fear or power. But writing bad dialogue is useful to the writer in order to understand that there are some gaps and some issues that they need to solve in their story. The best dialogue, instead, doesn’t seem to have a purpose in the plot, but gets there anyway. And it comes naturally, perfectly mixed with action and description. If action, dialogue and description  come in very distinct and separated chunks, then it won’t seem natural at all.

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