The art of balance

Anne Lamott says this about dialogue: “Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don’t know we are listening. We get to feel privy to their inner workings without having to spend too much time listening to them think. I don’t want them to think all the time on paper. It’s bad enough that I have to think all the time without having someone else dump his or her obsessive-compulsive, paranoid thinking on me, too.”

I’m fairly strong on dialogue. For me, it’s the easiest part to write; it’s the narrative I struggle with. But I know I can’t have my characters talking non-stop, as some realworld teenage girls do … you know … like … bffs.  So, I have to go back and add some action, some description, some thoughts. Even then, as I write in close third pov, thoughts become another sort of conversation, which I tend to get carried away with. I have to remind myself to interject some action between spurts of inner monologue.

I think most of you who read my blog are writers, so I trust you’ll understand what I’m going to say next and not take the title of this blog literally. The idea for the novel I’m writing now came from a dream I had exactly a year ago. Initially, I wrote it down as a short story, somewhat loosely based on the dream, but the characters weren’t satisfied. Meredith protested that I hadn’t really told her full story. Jalal insisted that I didn’t really understand his devastation. And Renee informed me that I flat out just didn’t have a clue.

So, I said, “Tell me.” And for the last eleven months I’ve listened as they told me their stories. I’m fascinated when they talk to me, but when they don’t, I sulk, I get angry at time wasted, then I fear they won’t ever speak again. When they do speak, or think, I’m fascinated and gladly record it all. Of course, I also watch what they’re doing, I just don’t like to write that part out.

But <sigh> I know I also have to write the parts I don’t enjoy, otherwise …  all talk and no narrative will make this a dull book.

24 thoughts on “The art of balance

  1. Yesterday I was thinking about what might happen if I even admitted I heard voices in my head. It’s happened since I was little – drifting off to sleep hearing conversations. (I know I’m OK, BTW.)

    But now I wonder what I might capture if I really listened and wrote them down.

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  2. I wish I had your problem. One of my editing chores will be to find where I can add more dialogue.

    I had a dream two days ago that has inspired my next book. I thought I already had plans for my second book, but that has all changed. Now I’m anxious to work on this “dream”.

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  3. For some reason, I just can’t get into the pacey rhythm of many thriller/crime – that’s (often) mostly dialogue with less on scene setting (“less is best” type thing) and atmosphere. I really do prefer atmosphere, build of psychological suspense, immediacy, some flashbacks (though not cliche ideas) and a narrative in first person or hidden narrator. I’m not sure where my own writing would fit.

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    1. Forgive me for not welcoming you to my blog on your first comment.

      I like to write in close third, so essentially the line between dialogue and narrative blurs at times, but I love well-crafted narrative.

      Dialogue with almost no narrative is screenplay. Narrative with very little dialogue is Literary. I seek a balance.

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      1. I agree…..basically, loads of my second novel was originally “screen play”. Endless pacey dialogue. So I completely changed the structure and it became “literary.” At least, that’s how I like to think of it. However, this made the story complex, so I’m having to rewrite again.

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  4. Sorry, I promise I’m going to exercise–apparently I need to–but I think this is fascinating. I have to be quieter and wait longer to hear them speak.

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