In the course of my lengthy career as a professional musician, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet – and sometimes perform with – a number of rock stars and celebrities. Most of them have been wonderful to work with. Some of them, significantly less wonderful.
And then there’s Billy Joel. He and I… well, let’s just say that we are not currently on speaking terms.* Not after what he said.
I mean, I can forgive a lot, but not that.
Admittedly, it was a long time ago. 1977, to be precise. But Billy has never taken back what he said – hell, he’s probably said it a thousand times since then. I swear, there’s no apologies with this guy. Not even a hint of remorse. And in my defense, I like to think I’m pretty open-minded and accommodating. But some rifts are just insoluble. Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.
That’s what happened with Billy. The guy crossed a line with me, and there’s just no going back. Not after he said this:
“I don’t want clever conversation.”
Here’s the thing. As a writer – and as a reader – I DO want clever conversation. In life. In relationships. And especially when it comes to dialogue in fiction.
So today’s rant – er, today’s post, that is – will focus on how to make the conversations your fictional characters have more effective, more engaging, more memorable – in short, more clever.
What’s the big deal with dialogue?
To me, dialogue is the single most powerful way to bring your characters to life. As author, editor and all-around writing guru Sol Stein says in his excellent book How to Grow a Novel, “The minute characters talk, the reader sees them. And we know readers much prefer seeing what’s happening rather than hearing about it through narration.” Stein also points out an additional benefit: “Not to be lightly dismissed are those white spaces on the page created by exchanges of dialogue. They make the reader feel the story is moving fast.”
Dialogue opens up a window for the reader into how a character thinks, how she perceives herself, how she views the world, and often, how she wants the world to view her. As Stephen King observes in his classic On Writing: “What people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they – the speakers – are completely unaware.”
In addition to providing us a clearer view of a character, dialogue can often leave a lasting impression that is far more powerful than most passages of narrative or description. I often use movies as examples in my WU posts, since more people will be familiar with them, so to help drive home how powerful – and how memorable – good dialogue can be, see if any of these lines ring a bell: [Read more…]