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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Class » Dialogue and Discourse Mastery Class

   
Author Topic: Dialogue and Discourse Mastery Class
extrinsic
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Prose dialogue, narrative discourse overall, actually, comes in two categories, direct and indirect discourse. Direct discourse-type dialogue is a verbatim report of aural expression, of course, with supportive context and texture of speakers' setting situation and manner of speech; that is, conversation. This discourse session concerns natural, authentic dialogue types and features: echo, non sequitur, squabble, question and answer, colloquy, and pleasantries. Indirect discourse is paraphrased summary and explanation, non verbatim, often narrator discourse, lecture typically, and less immediate to a narrative's now moment, place, and situation, is open narrative if not aesthetic distance.

Pleasantry dialogue is meeting and greeting, courteous expression between two or more prose personas. Generally, pleasantry dialogue is banal, boring, though artful exceptions notwithstood.

A prose discourse persona range includes: focal and auxiliary viewpoint characters, extras, narrator to a degree, perhaps implied or real writer, and readers. A narrative is an interaction between narrative and readers, a conversation, even if monodirectional, one-way discourse -- writer, as it were, to readers.

Readers, however, respond to a narrative, perhaps intellectually, perhaps emotionally, perhaps, ideally, imaginatively, though those feedbacks are usually not directed to a writer. Those feedbacks could be directed, though unreceived, to characters and a narrative. This is the nature of written-word conversation: one-to-one, one-way report, directed or reflected, between writer, narrative, and reader.

Effective dialogue –- conversation provides a basis for clear and strong interpretation, though also code to decipher. Reader code deciphering first engages intellect, then emotion, and through those engagements, nonconscious though they may be for readers, engages imagination. An engaged imagination intimately participates in a narrative, vicariously at least. Philosophers label this reader effect a participation mystique. Participation is another term for reading spell, for the fiction dream, a night dream, Edgar Allen Poe says, not a daydream: reality imitation, too.

Night dreams, nightmares perhaps, are the subconscious and conscious minds' processes that struggle to make meaning of conscious existence's stimuli. This is the fiction dream spell, night dreams reduced to writing. Daydreams are wishful thinking, at least, and involve perhaps too great a proportion of fantasized self-idealization and self-efficacy -- a too easy ability to satisfy complications, make personal meaning, and vicariously achieve perhaps unrequitable desires -- through a writer surrogate character. This writer surrogacy feature, also known as author surrogate, is an impossibly able and impossibly noble and morally good puppet-like character of a writer's invention -- also known as Mary Sue, Marty Stu, etc.

Surrogate dialogue invariably expresses too directly -- too "on the nose" -- a conversation's literal and subtextual, if figurative, meaning. Use of dialogue to summarize and explain, provide backstory, information details necessary to understand a dramatic action, etc., is a tipoff for too direct a communication. "As you know, Bob" dialogue, for example. The speaker summarizes details known to both or all conversants and listeners. Television situation crime dramas use this method to briefly and rapidly convey detailed background information and evidence about a criminal case.

Effective dialogue entails mysteries and puzzles, socially coded texture readily deciphered by readers, interpretable subtext. An example situation: a husband and wife negotiate what they will do for dinner, a superficially banal situation. The husband wants to dine away from home; the wife wants to dine at home. Their conversation, contentious, by the way, says their relationship is rocky, though neither realizes that is so. Both want to avoid openly addressing the problems of their relationship; the wife wants to talk privately, though not directly about their relationship, which she could believe is the husband's responsibility. The husband wants to dine out so no dramatic scene with the wife will arise. He doesn't know how he's responsible for their failing relationship any more than the wife does.

Both are responsible and internally assign exclusive blame to the other. Both refuse in their ways to engage openly, meaningfully, satisfactorily. Readers are able to infer the conversation is about their relationship, unbeknownst to the couple, not about what the couple will do for dinner. The husband storms out to go to a bar and drink and dine. The wife sits in the kitchen and eats a cold sandwich and drinks tepid tap water in the dark. He wants other company; she wants a dark closet to hold up in and lick her wounds. Neither wants to be privately around the other.

To the nitty-gritty, how to show the action above, for dialogue generally: use echo, non sequitur, squabble, colloquy, question and answer, and pleasantry to show contention, if not confliction or confrontation or conflagration; overtly or, ideally, covertly, a passionate clash of wills, in other words.

Echo dialogue repeats words, phrases, patterns, pace, and organization between two or more speakers. On one side of echo's functions, is to express aligned or allied participation. Another side is to persuade aligned cooperation, if not contentiously imposed. Another side of echo is to mock or ridicule the other speaker or the speaker's self reflexively. Another side of echo is to express resistance or refusal to align, cooperative or coordinative; shared and reciprocal, respectively.

Persons do not say what they mean, nor mean what they say, if they even know what they intend to mean, really, actually, like the couple above. Conversation is messy and elusively impermanent, though written word for many intents and purposes is permanent, reduced to writing's relative permanency anyway: Speakers forget what they say, forget what was said, talk over each other; they interrupt each other; they correct each other; they inaccurately remind each other of what was said; they sidetrack each other, they posture for effect -- dominance or submission, maybe equality, browbeat one or another into submission, or impose sly passive-aggressive power dynamics that appear submissive though bide time for a gotcha ambush -- Socratic irony, actually, feigning ignorance until a speaker reveals weakness -- of argument fact, logic, or reasoning, or exposes vulnerability to personal attack. Messy, transient, deceptive. This is natural, and this is life: this is authentic and believable dialogue.

Non sequitur dialogue is does not follow, to mean, seemingly, not a naturally sequential response to a speech line or any, for that matter, stimuli. Non sequitur responds with a skewed speech or other reaction, at once both responsive and non responsive. Non sequitur could attempt to change a subject, respond to a speech, really, though superficially responsive only, not really responsive, or any stimuli, though differently from an expectable response, effect, reaction. Non sequitur could be totally out of an expectable stimuli response, be surprising, though interpretable by readers as responsive, no matter how messy and transient the conversation or stimuli-response may be for the participants. Individual agendas rule and are ulterior, hidden, misapprehended, misdirected.

Squabble dialogue squabbles, not per se quarrels, though quarrel is squabble too. Squabble may flirt, may express delight, express a power dynamic like peer to peer, superior to subordinate, subordinate to superior, real or imagined. Squabble is as much effect as dynamic agency -- influential; that is, that squabblers jockey for clearly and strongly expressing intent and meaning though strongly evade directly expressed intent and meaning, through use of squabbles to express at once a literal and figurative intent and meaning. Ability of squabblers to interpret each other is, so to speak, a test of if they are mutually capable of appreciating each other or quarrel that refuses mutual appreciation.

Question and answer discourse superficially is a direct inquiry conversation, However, Q & A is messy too. One persona poses a question, perhaps overtly direct, "on the nose," though covertly rhetorical, meant to persuade an answer that is a trap -- limited or precluded by the question. For example, the wife above asks, "Why do you always browbeat my dinner suggestions?" The husband says, "I don't always --" He interrupts himself, realizes he acquiesced to a personal fault he will not openly admit! A gotcha ambush. Wife, likewise, lunges, "Not always? Too often! When do I have a say? Not tonight, not last night, not any night ever. We stay in and order delivery, please." She has her say anyway, though she does not get her way. Husband, caught now, will refuse any dinner that leaves him under wife's direct fire. Coward.

Colloquy is conversation taken place in a rigidly formal register, superficially directed and organized for formality's natural neutral emotional charge. People are people, though, their passions emerge. Colloquy may also conceal subtext that expresses hidden though accessible meaning, for readers certainly, though an intent to converse between speakers openly yet secretly. Hidden meaning goes to dramatic irony: one or more parties understand the intended expression's hidden meaning; one or more other parties don't. The couple above might attend a social event where the couple is rigidly formal toward each other, for example. They attempt to hide they are upset with each other. Yet other socializers know or feel the two are upset with each other. Confrontation refused, though they are in contention.

Likewise, say the couple have a span of renewed passion cooperation. They could use a formal register to converse as a signal they express a hidden alignment, maybe sexual desire. She calls him Mr. Smith, instead of George or a pet name when she wants him. And likewise for him, he calls her by her maiden name, from when they courted, Miss Jones. Formal register's neutral charge can be used to express emotion.

Overlaps and combinations and permutations of dialogue types make them distinguishable though indivisible. Effective dialogue masterfully uses them situationally together or individually, so that readers can infer subtext and interpret meaning and decipher social coding. In and of themselves, dialogue types are only spoken word portions of scenes. Implied vocal intonation -- manner of discourse -- and gestural language, essential components of visual-aural expression live, recorded, in person, or written word, provide essential and fully realized, authentic scene context and texture. Context may also derive from dialogue attribution, the said tags and other types of attribution.

Next session: dialogue and thought attribution methods and strategies for filling in dialogue and scene's essential, authentic contexts and textures. A later session will cover distinctions between thought and speech and narrator discourse differences, and, last session, stream of consciousness methods and strategies.

Productive additions, elaborations, questions, commentary, and contributions welcomed.

[ July 23, 2015, 07:28 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" provides examples of most (if not all) of the different forms of dialogue mentioned above. It also illustrates that dialogue doesn't have to be straight-forward to let the reader discern what is being discussed. I found a link to the story online, so I thought I'd offer it up for others to read if they hadn't already.
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extrinsic
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"Hills Like White Elephants" does indeed contain most or all the dialogue types enumerated above, including that cruelest feature of deceptive discourse Socratic irony. Jig will not overtly commit to the American's plans, though by the end she is fully informed of them. Knowledgeable, she reserves refusal, acquiescence, or acceptance until later. The American believes he's succeeded persuading Jig of his intents, though he questionably has not.

Also a dramatic irony that she secretly knows how she really feels, though the American does not. Dramatic irony for her and for readers' awareness, not the American's. The situation of the ironies comes as much from dialogue's manifold potential techniques as from implied vocal intonation and gestural expression methods. Exquisite.

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