September 20, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #9

We have nearly completed our study of Sol Stein's Ten Commandments for Writers from his book, Stein on Writing. For those of you who have followed along, I hope it's been a help in becoming a more perceptive writer, or reader. I have learned a lot from his book... maybe nothing astounding or revolutionary, but certainly, Stein's views on what good writing is and what it accomplishes will push me to be better, to reach farther. His explanations are clear. His examples back up his theories. And he loves character. Which is why I really loved this book. Now, on to the next commandment.


9 Thou shalt not forget that dialogue is as a foreign tongue, a semblance of speech and not a record of it, a language in which directness diminishes and obliqueness sings.

I love dialogue. I love the possibilities it brings to the reader to be in the "now" of the story, learning by what characters are saying instead of what the narrator is describing. It brings the story to "real time" and gives the characters life. We learn so much from what a person says, the way they choose their words, the forms of speech they have grown up with. We learn what age they are, their level of education, the level of respect they have for others, for the things in their lives. We even learn what they are hiding if their words conflict with the inner thoughts we are privy to as readers.
Dialogue moves the story quickly, the reader able to move down the page at a clip. But what do we include in written dialogue? What do we leave out?
When I'm writing a first draft, I've noticed the sections of dialogue I hammer out are fairly all-inclusive. Particularly if it's a phone conversation. The greeting, the small talk, the ummm's, then the meat of the conversation, the purpose of the call, then the ummm's again, then the farewell. But it's a first draft and I'm in the zone and it's what I am seeing and hearing in my head, so it all gets thrown down.
When I edit, I choose only the essentials needed to take the conversation where it needed to go. The reader will assume the conversation started with niceties, and ended the same way. Stein says dialogue in a story is not as the precise recordings of a court reporter. Select what moves the story along. Make it resonate. Make it count.

*NOTE: Because THE ORCHARD is now under contract, I can no longer post excerpts from it as examples without written consent. But you can read the whole thing as soon as it comes out! Thank you for understanding!

5 comments:

L.T. Elliot said...

Excellent advice, Krista! Thank you!

Kimberly said...

Fabulous example. The revised version has me wanting to know the rest of the story!

Krista said...

Thanks LT! His book is so basically good.

Kym, you will! One day, you will!

Julie Wright said...

Love the examples. Dialogue is my favorite thing about writing, which makes me wonder if I should be writing screenplays.

Talei said...

I love playing with dialogue, my characters may 'sigh deeply' whenever I come near my WIP though.

Great advice, thanks for sharing! ;)

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