I was trying to write dialogue the other day. Then I was trying to write about dialogue. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal back in February called “Talk That Walks: How Hemingway’s Dialogue Powers a Story,” by John L’Heureux. I found this article because I had just read “Hills Like White Elephants.” I don’t feel like talking about Hemingway. Though his dialogue is masterful, I really hate his treatment of the girl. I also hate L’Heureux’s treatment of the girl for different reasons, but I like what he says at the conclusion of this article:
“Dialogue suggests what people mean by what they’re saying, even if they themselves aren’t fully aware of it. Sometimes, of course, the most effective dialogue culminates in silence. This is more than irony. It is what characters do to one another.”
Because the writer is god, she knows what her characters mean. I don’t know about that. I like Silence. I’d like to know about un-dialogue please. When I was thinking about dialogue, I started writing this:
What is dialogue but the memory of nothing-ever-said? How many palettes from which to choose? You say this, you dothisthingtome. I say something back, which is worse in my mind than knifing a dying dog. I want to write about a conversation had. A once-had conversation. But it’ll never work. Nothing works but the working, someone said, out of darkness. Nothing but the eventual loss of a thing. Loss of a pain, loss of a memory. Is it or is it not the same face on the coin? The same face before bed beckoning.
I wake up angry. Wanting a fight. Which I’ll never get, which you’ll never give me. Ever-heaver. Ever-body-distiller.
Dialogue is a thing we do in stories. Or a thing smug people do in offices with bright lights.
“Let’s have a dialogue about this.”
And then the piece turned into something else entirely. I was trying to teach freshman writing students about dialogue a few weeks ago, and I gave them a bunch of revision checklists. I asked questions of them like, “Is the dialogue natural? Does your dialogue portray personality? Is your dialogue interesting? [what does that mean?] In class, we’d read “Hills Like White Elephants” aloud. We talked about mystery, about saying, not saying, about how things are said. I didn’t teach these kids a goddamn thing, though a few of them caught on.
My question is this. I don’t want dialogue. I want not-dialogue. What are the best books that make minimal but insanely good use of dialogue?
I am breaking spring and have finally decided, like many others, the morning is the capital time to write:
1. Mind is wire-scrubbed clean or the opposite, LSD-like dreams. (I recently awoke at the foot of the bed, on the floor, wrapped in residue of twisted thoughts/a past nursing school instructor squawking me down/sweaty blankets). Both states of mind are useful.
2. Stomach is empty. A full stomach makes for naps, not crisp writing. Breakfast is bullshit, as we know.
3. 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine nudges the nerve impulses with a knife and goes Kelly Clarkson on your dopamine. 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine is caffeine. Coffee is morning. Like with running or mint-thinning or higher math, caffeine can assist you.
11. Unless you are Marguerite Duras, you are probably not drunk (though possibly hungover, an odd state not always detrimental to writing).
4. Birds cough. Much better chance of seeing coyotes.
4. Due to tidal friction, nutation, and polar motion, the internet doesn’t work well in the early morning hours. This is a good thing.
Every morning I pass a paint splatter that makes me think of the Misfits, but in my version the man had syphilis, an affliction which eventually corrodes the skull. I don’t like punk, or at least I don’t understand it; feels bourgeois almost, like not wearing a shirt and screaming seems like a privilege, and if you still have food at the end of the day, then thank you Safeway and why you bitchin’? When I was 17, it was a pretty bad year. I was listening to hair bands, reading Penthouse letters, and testing my small yellow middle-finger for the first time.
What you don’t see are decaying leaves on the pavement, as I cropped them for aesthetic reasons. So a long time ago on Tennessee and 22nd st. in the “Dogpatch” area in Potrero district, a painter spilled some white paint on the sidewalk, maybe even accidentally stepped in it, then walked away; he was a contractor probably, who just painted a house he didn’t live in so it didn’t really matter. Maybe that’s god, some guy who painted skin on us, then walked away.
- I didn’t even glow/know there was such a dang as “Geography Thursday.” WTS? (What the Suck?) OK, I’m game.
- Is it true you have to be removed from a location to write about it? Because that smells like dung beetle dung or someone reading A Moveable Feast while sitting in a coffee shop looking at eyes or maybe a conference answer to a hang-tongue/clam-eye question.
- Ever wrote in front of a mirror or a large window? Do tell.
- What is Southern lit? I don’t know. You get knocked down. Black holes burnt into a map. There is moss and gonorrhea. You scramble back up but don’t know your mind. What you were was it worth reaching fer? You can’t tell your Bad Faith actions from your authentic mind. It’s all a low fog, over soybean fields and the jawbone of a deer. You get knocked down. Why scramble up for something you might hate? Why return to your own spent virus/kudzu vine? Oak limbs. Several doors, later plated in gold and writing. A speech. Your home is a hole. There are other definitions aloose I spose. I couldn’t answer. Add cathead biscuits.
- Do you like to read first at a group reading or last or not at all or more like: who cucking fares, dude?
- Ain’t many links in this post, but fuck it.
- A friend of mine in MFA/grad school said she enrolled for one reason: “To get laid.” (Her words) Is grad school a great location for getting laid? I mean more than working at Chili’s or enrolling yourself in law or culinary school? Why/why not?
Last night, I did a reading at Pilot Books. At Pilot’s request, I did an informal craft talk after the reaing. I chose to talk a little about how to approach writing dialogue. What follows are my introductory remarks.
Let’s talk about characters when they talk. Stories—mostly—have these things called characters, and more often than not, those characters come in sets, in twos, in threes, in groups and parties and piles. And so then there we are—we writerly types—with our groups and parties and piles and sets of characters, and we have these characters in these rooms we’ve made, these rooms we’ve furnished with all sorts of nice little objects for our characters to look at and consider and think about the history of and maybe to throw at one another—and what then? Why the throwing? What then for the characters there together?
Well, God. Sometimes these characters will have to go ahead and talk to one another. How? How should we—we writerly types—approach the characters talking to each other dilemma? How the heck do we write dialogue? READ MORE >
Studious readers of this blog remember my post a few weeks ago about trying to figure out what books to pack for my trip to Hong Kong. Well, the seven I brought were the Oppen, Schulz, Cohen, Offill, Hempel, Kierkegaard, and Bloom. Also, Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave), the review copy of which arrived literally minutes before I left for the airport. Of those, I’ve finished the Cohen and the Bloom, have been picking at the Oppen (sparingly, but I dig what I’m seeing), am bottomed out about halfway through the Schulz, and haven’t touched any of the others. But that’s not to say I’ve only read two books. At a sweet secondhand store here in HK called Book Attic (that’s 10 Amoy street, if you’re passing through) I picked up a few titles. After the jump, I talk about the books I bought, and it becomes clear why I’ve illustrated this post with a photo of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
August 2nd, 2009 / 9:38 am