During a 2014 holiday gathering with in-laws, I had the pleasure of meeting some new people—coworkers and friends of our family members. They are warm, cheerful people who really know how to talk. I enjoy talkers. Not babblers, mind you, but genuine conversationalists who graciously reveal themselves while openly accepting virtual strangers into that moment of their lives.
That’s a rare thing. Think about all the functions you attend, particularly around the holidays, in which you are introduced to dozens (if not more) of people whom you’ve never met. Generally, in the lukewarm atmosphere created by a gathering of unfamiliar personalities, small talk occurs. Hours of it. And that’s generally the best case scenario.
This past holiday season, I am happy to say, I basked in a complete lack of small talk. Didn’t have to make it with anyone.
Typically when we meet someone new, we notice their appearance—their outfit, their posture, their hairstyle, etc. I do this, of course, but I rarely remember that sort of thing the next day. What I tend to remember is their voice, their laughter, the movement of their hands and facial expressions as they speak. Sometimes I don’t even remember what topic we spoke on, but I always remember what emotion(s), and what thoughts their voice evoked as I listened. And I always recall my own comfort level during the conversation.
This all has a point… I promise.
When I first began to share fiction and poetry publicly, I received more compliments on dialogue than any other aspect of my storytelling. Grammar was a painfully obvious ongoing struggle, and often just as obvious was my inability to effectively, and briefly, build a scene separate from dialogue. But once my characters spoke, they told the tale. My characters’ voices did all the work for me.
I cannot declare with any accuracy if my enjoyment of conversation is directly related to my ability to enhance a story with good dialogue, nor can I say whether or not my enjoyment of reading dialogue directly influenced my writing of it in the years that followed. What I can say is that few stories hold my attention if I cannot listen to the characters do the telling. And, I can also say that I gain a certain amount of satisfaction when told that the dialogue in one of my stories flows well. My goal of becoming a writer has been validated, and thoroughly strengthened, by the complements I’ve received.
Too often, as of late, I spend a lot of time complaining about how little time I spend writing. It’s been a while. I have spent a bit of time doing some peer reading, as well as trying desperately to get back in the habit of reading novels for fun (after too long reading only for school assignments). Sitting here in my office this morning, alternately staring at the computer screen and sighing with frustration, I glanced over at my bookshelf and noticed a book that I haven’t opened in about four years—a book on writing dialogue. Inspiration arrived.
Hello, you fickle old friend.
Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue, by Gloria Kempton, is one of several books I bought in 2010 when embarking on a serious plan to study fiction writing. I glanced through, got distracted with school and work, and never actually followed the exercises offered within. I intend to rectify this situation over the next two weeks.
Yes, I do believe that dialogue is one of my strengths. I also believe that enhancing a strength can lead to exploring, and improving upon, weaknesses. Besides, I really like this book.
For the next two weeks I will share writing exercises and discussions from this book. Would anyone like to follow along? You’re welcome.