February 1, 2011

Tuesday Testimonial: Light On Broken Glass

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

As often as I've read this quote, as used as it is in the writing world, it works.
I found myself telling the other day. Describing, narrating. And after I read through it, it occurred to me that it wasn't enough. The emotion, meaning, the whole purpose of the scene would be made so much clearer and deeper through dialog. I love dialog. Is it dialog or dialogue? Either way, it provides an opportunity to show personality, emotion, conflict, deception, humor, etc., not to mention background and setting info, from a very intimate perspective: the characters themselves. That's a lot of broken glass. I went back and invited a character into the scene, and the two characters bounced meaning off each other like so much glinting moonlight.

When I first wrote this scene, I described Sam taking his break from work outside the restaurant where he is sous-chef. He ponders on how the previous week he let things going wrong in his personal life interfere with his work and the staff. He resolves to do better, and knows he needs to apologize to one staff member in particular who is new to her job. It was entirely narrative. I get uncomfortable going too long without dialogue. I'm spelling it that way.
Anyway, this is the scene after I brought in another character, a waitress named Mai:
“You doing better?”
He peered at her as he took another swallow. “Than what?”
“Than whatever that was last week.”
He looked down, slowly twisting the cap back on the bottle. He shrugged and looked up at the color slowly spreading across the sky, bouncing off scattered clouds. Three days had passed since Reuben had given him the ultimatum.
“Look, it’s none of my business, but it’s nice to have you back. At least some of you.”
He glanced at her again. “Thanks.”
“You were pretty unbearable. I wondered if you’d started drinking.”
He lifted his water bottle in a salute and she laughed. She grew quiet and they both watched the sky turning from orange to purple.
“You know, you were pretty hard on Georgie.”
“I know.”
“Well, you need to know.”
He set his jaw. “I do.”
Mai folded her arms. “Good.” She raised her eyebrows, looking at him over her glasses.
“Great.” Was she done yet?
“That’s not like you.”
“I know.”
She doesn’t.” She turned. “See ya back inside.”
“Yup.” He heard the door close and growled, knowing what he had to do.

That was much more fun to write. Sometimes I forget, but if there is an opportunity to show through dialogue, that's what I'd rather do.



Mary Gray said...

Ohhh, I'm a dialogue fanatic. If anything, I probably use it too much! Great work with the scene. :)

Shari said...

Ummmm, when do we get to read more?

Krista said...

Shari, your comment just made my morning. Thanks!

Julia King said...

I love love love showing through dialogue. It makes the scene more interesting and fun. Plus, writing dialogue is a blast anyway. Why wouldn't someone like writing dialogue? It makes you get to know your character more. Great post!

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