Today’s guest is Sally Wiener Grotta, an author and journalist whose books include Jo Joe and just-released The Winter Boy. Sally’s a consummate storyteller, reflecting her deep humanism and appreciation for the poignancy of life; and she’s also an award-winning journalist who has authored hundreds of articles, columns, and reviews for magazines, newspapers, and online publications. Sally gives occasional writing workshops and speaks frequently on the business of writing, and she has co-authored numerous non-fiction books.
[pullquote]My fictional characters are my other “selves,” my best friends, the ghosts who haunt me when I ignore them. And the stories that I create in collaborations with them are my lifeblood and raison d’etre.”[/pullquote]
On why she feels it’s important to share how she relates to her characters, Sally says, “It’s part of my pay it forward. Throughout my career, I’ve had some wonderfully generous mentors. I would be honored if someday another writer could look back on one of my workshops, a discussion with me or an essay I’ve written, and say that it made a difference for her/him, helped set his/her writing on a new, useful, good path.”
Creating Living Breathing Dialog
“I’m having difficulty with the dialog,” Liz said to me. What a major problem, because she was talking about a play she was writing. Unlike a novel, a script is all dialogue—a story devoid of narrative. “My characters are too thin. Please take a look, and tell me where I went wrong.”
Liz is a good friend whom I could trust to welcome an honest critique, so I read her play. It’s nicely framed, but insubstantial, for the precise reason that she is forcing a plot onto stick figure characters which she has created for the sake of her story arc. When I sat down with her, I explained that the stage (or the book) is a window onto a much larger tapestry of life. “Dialogue,” I told her, “isn’t something that you plug into a play to tell a story. It’s something that comes out of the mouths of the characters who are living that story.”
To help her understand, I described how my characters are born and live within me, and the relationship I develop with them. I know them as intimately as I know myself, with perhaps a greater clarity than I have about my own history, my emotional tics and personal foibles.
For instance, when I think of any of the people in my latest novel, The Winter Boy, I understand not only who they are within the plotlines of the story, but also about their childhood, their family relationships, the traumas and triumphs that still haunt them. [Read more…]