Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Building Blocks of Writing Part 2: Dialogue

So Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard walk into a bar, and Hemingway says...

You know, I've never been good at jokes, so we'll stop there. But seriously, Hemingway and Leonard are renowned for their mastery of dialogue. They understood how people converse with each other, the words they use, the pacing of their speech. They knew how to use these things to create living, breathing characters and move the story forward

Take a look at these two examples:

"Lucy dumped David."
"Man, that sucks."
"Yeah. Guy's real torn up about it."


"Lucy and David just broke up!"
"They, did? Aw, too bad."
"Hey, what's that smile for?"

The topic's exactly the same—Lucy and David broke up—but by my choice of words, the two are different stories. For one thing, I never specified the gender of the characters, but we can tell which conversation would be held between guys, and which between girls. And the content of the story is different. One is about two guys talking about their buddy (another assumption—I never said they were friends) The other's two girls gossiping, and one has a crush on David.

The brain eats this stuff up. It'll create whole worlds from a few lines like those above. Hell, if I only wrote "Lucy broke up with David", the brain will get ticking about the who, what, when, where, how, and why. But what makes a reader stick with our story is the human aspect. While "Lucy broke up with David" does get a story going, those conversations above build characters and worlds. This is a form of description more powerful than any "David had dark skin and amber eyes" could be.

The way our characters talk tells a story, itself—their culture, their level of confidence, their opinions of themselves, of others, of the shit storm we're blowing at them. Some people will flip out during stressful situations. Some know how to keep their cool. But it isn't just character. Like with action, the way we pace our wording can make or break the emotions we're going for. I might have a cool-headed character, but if I need the characters to be running for dear life, I don't want him articulating every thought in perfect grammar. If he does, I want another character there, cutting him off, grabbing his arm, and pulling him away as the boulder rolls past. Either that, or I want the boulder to smoosh him. Despite the character's personality, I need to choose the pacing that best fits the scene and will progress the story.

If you look at Hemingway and Leonard, you'll see that their works are about 90% dialogue. Many writers say that your own work should be a greater percentage of dialogue than description or action, and that's because of the power behind it. A story is a character's world, and dialogue is a direct translation from their brain to the reader's. However, there are no rules in writing. The percentage of whichever element you use is up to you. It depends on what kind of story you're writing. And, you know what? I take back that "no rules in writing". There is one, and only one rule. Story above all else. Whether your scale tips towards action, dialogue, or description, you have to consider what's best for the story. But you cannot forget the other two elements. Dialogue is powerful, but the way to truly grasp that power is to weave it with action and description.

Current Stats
Watching: Star vs. The Forces of Evil
Listening: Rush
Reading: Monsters of Men: Chaos Walking Book 3 by Patrick Ness
Playing: Halo
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment below!^^^

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