January 31, 2012

Loaded Dialogue

Last week I wrote a scene that's either brilliant or a ridiculous mess. Perhaps both. I think much of the writing process involves believing a draft is brilliant when you're in the middle of it so that you can sustain the enthusiasm necessary to continue, and then afterwards realizing how much is wrong with it so that you can rip it apart in revision.

Anyway, the scene from yesterday is a conversation between two characters. For the sake of simplicity, I'll call them Barthélémy Göstav III and Vvlkjasfdsmxxxwehny.

(I'm sorry. Really I am. I have very few opportunities for amusement as I sit here alone in my garret.)

So, in fact this scene is a conversation between the narrator of the current storyline and his brother, whose role in the story I was worrying about a while back. In earlier drafts, the brother didn't do much in the story as an adult, though he's important as a child in the chronologically earlier storyline. In this draft, he has a few key scenes in which he makes important contributions. This is the final major appearance of the brother, and I ended up having him contribute even more than I intended.

I'm a little boggled by how much I packed into three pages of dialogue. In maddeningly vague terms, here's what happens in the scene:

→ the brother reveals a secret from his past that nobody in the family knows about

→ the brother discusses an aspect of his life that relates to the storyline that takes place in their future (which the reader realizes but the characters don't)

→ the brother brings up an incident from the narrator's infancy that the reader witnessed in the earlier storyline but the narrator didn't know about

→ during the conversation, the narrator's internal thoughts focus on his current life catastrophe, unrelated to what they're discussing

→ the whole conversation encapsulates several of the novel's major themes

I'd planned for the scene to do a few of these things, and I'd thrown notes into the outline about another couple that I didn't know if I'd really be able to work in. When I finished writing the scene and saw how much I'd done with it, I was pretty darn pleased with myself. And entirely unsure whether there's such a thing as overloading a dialogue. I guess this is yet another thing my critique partners will let me know.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Christopher Gronlund talks about the concern that you're Writing the Same Story as someone else: "Here's the thing about stories: no matter how much we like to think something is new, it really isn't -- at least on a thematic level."


Christopher Gronlund said...

"For the sake of simplicity, I'll call them Barthélémy Göstav III and Vvlkjasfdsmxxxwehny."

That cracked me up!

As far as overloaded dialogue...as a reader, I'm fine with the occasional info dump or just a scene where a lot is revealed. The only detractor for me is if it's forced dialogue, and this doesn't sound like that's the case.

Hopefully the critique partners will like it, too!

Lisa Eckstein said...

I kept cracking myself up while writing that part. I'm glad at least one other person found it funny!

I worked very hard to make sure nothing in this conversation sounded forced, because that's a big concern of mine. The characters are only telling each other stuff that the other person doesn't already know, so I didn't fall into that trap. And since some of the topics came up sort of organically while I was writing, I think it all flows pretty naturally.

Mark Hosack said...

Ahhh, the info dump! I'm reading Stephen King's latest, and the first 4 chapters are just info dumps via dialogue--and it works very well because it's interesting. So why not? Lisa and Chris--I follow both of your blogs, of course, and have seen that you guys link to each other -- have we been through this before? How did you guys meet? Small world!

Lisa Eckstein said...

It's funny how I wasn't even thinking of this situation as being an info dump, though that's essentially what it is -- but a brilliantly executed one, of course. :)

I'm looking forward to reading 11/22/63 (that's the King book you mean, right) soon.

Mark, I met Christopher online when I started following his blog. Christopher, I met Mark at a writing conference in San Francisco. We've been through at least some permutation of this before, because it isn't news to me that you two know each other. Small writing world, indeed!

Mark Hosack said...

Ahhh yes, I'm remember all of this now--so long as we've acknowledged the small world before ; )

Yes, 11/22/63--I'm enjoying it quite a bit-- much more than Under The Dome!

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