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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Dialogue as a story

   
Author Topic: Dialogue as a story
rcmann
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I just wrote, and in a fit of whimsey submitted, a piece fo flash fiction in the form of a dialogue. (well, there are occasional descriptions of actions inserted at various points). Almost like a script I guess, but not in script format.

Anyone ever done that? Is there a thread about it here? I have never tried it before. Have no idea what kind of reaction it might receive.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I can't remember the name of it or who wrote it, but there is a story by somebody well-respected that is, I believe, 100% dialogue...and the dialogue is mostly about meat. And how this race the speakers have discovered are made of meat. I just wish I could remember what the name or author of it is...
Found it: http://www.terrybisson.com/page6/page6.html

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MattLeo
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That's how I naturally write in first draft. For me it's all about character agendas, and I prefer dialog to long internal monologues. Later I go back and trim the dialog and add other stuff.

Unless you use an omniscient third person narrator who tells us what is going through each character's head, dialog is the most revealing thing characters do, and people are already primed to extract motivation and meaning from dialog. The problem is that unremitting dialog eventually causes many reader's social intelligence circuits to blow a fuse; you need to cool off a story with a little sensory detail or action.

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Denevius
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it's interesting you would say this: "
Unless you use an omniscient third person narrator who tells us what is going through each character's head, dialog is the most revealing thing characters do, and people are already primed to extract motivation and meaning from dialog."

i think it's often stated that most of our communication is nonverbal. seems like it would be the same in fiction, not so much what your character says but *how* your character says it.

ernest hemingway did a famous story in almost all dialog that most people have to read at some point in school: "Hills Like White Elephants". one of the reasons it's so famous is not because what the two characters say, but how they say it, and what's implied between the words. here's a crappy online version of it: http://www.has.vcu.edu/eng/webtext/hills/hills.htm

some of kafka's short shorts are in almost all dialog:

***

A Little Fable

"Alas," said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into."

"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.

***

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extrinsic
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I tried a thousand-word all dialogue short story out on an audience of twenty writers. It was colloquy, echo, non sequitur, and squabble dialogue with accessible subtext. The writer-readers got the gist of the story's intents and meanings but said it was dull to read. It lacked the other writing modes of scene writing that make for elegant variety: action, introspection, and sensation; it had emotion, conversation being the fifth writing mode of dynamic scene's bare essentials.
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MattLeo
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quote:
i think it's often stated that most of our communication is nonverbal. seems like it would be the same in fiction, not so much what your character says but *how* your character says it.
Well, this is the old realism vs. credibility debate, but the way I handle it is to fold what poker players call "tells" into the dialog, often in the place of a dialog tag:

quote:

The clerk tugged at his collar. “What, ten kilopascals? That's nothing. Gauge probably needs calibration.” He ran his hand through his hair.

I could have written it more compactly like this:
quote:

“What, ten kilopascals?” the clerk said sneakily. “That's nothing. Gauge probably needs calibration.”

The primary function of the dialog tag is identify the speaker in dialog; however that's not necessary if you simply to draw the reader's attention to the speaker. The temptation to tack an adverb on a dialog tag (as I've done above) is a hint that it's time to show a little poker "tell".

Showing the clerk acting nervously works better than telling, and in the context of dialog it carries a lot more information than simply saying he's being sneaky. It also carries more information than simply describing the action in isolation:

quote:
The clerk tugged at his collar, then ran his hand through his hair.
Together the words and actions paint a picture of someone who is being deceptive, but at the same time is nervous and somewhat intimidated.


quote:
The writer-readers got the gist of the story's intents and meanings but said it was dull to read.
Perhaps a better word for long stretches of dialog would be "tiresome", rather than "dull". Human beings instinctively attempt to extract more than what is literally said from dialog, and after a long stretch of dialog they're overwhelmed with information.

One of the paradoxical effects of dialog is that while it slows the reader's progress through the story time, it also produces a sensation that a lot's going by very quickly. It's like the difference between driving on a limited access highway at 80 mph and trying to drive at 40 through a congested urban neighborhood. You cover more ground with less sensation of speed if you avoid dialog.

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extrinsic
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The writer-reader group wasn't any more eloquent at expressing their opinions than any other critiquers. It took me a while to figure out what they really meant to say. What they said was dull. What they meant was monotonous. Hah! A situational irony. They said differently than they meant; they meant differently than they said.

The story had too little of the emotional attitude and ironical subtext of which you speak, MattLeo, to whet readers' appetities.

Mehrabian's communication studies suggest that tone of voice and nonverbal expression are more important communicators than spoken words, of dialogue, for example, and that nonspoken communication features are more meaningful for expressing emotion (subtext) and attitude (voice) than spoken dialogue words themselves, particularly when verbal intonation and nonverbal expression are at opposites with the spoken words. Irony, in other words.

Dialogue in order to be meaningful and express what a writer means to express must have context from action, sensation, introspection, and emotion.

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Denevius
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i think if your story is your baby, someone might call child services for malicious abuse because of that adverb you added to that sentence.
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