Well there goes that experiment. Barring yesterday’s gig review (I needed to get it done and I was too lazy to write twice in one day), my attempt at doing a week of dialogue was a mixed bag. It’s not a skill I’ve refined, nor did I put a lot of time into each entry. Writing dialogue is simply an area I’ve often been interested in, but haven’t veered towards. Thus my week (six entries in all) involved trying a few different scenarios on for size.
Each entry involved very little pre-planning. Most of them I toyed with in my head during my workday. I tried to imagine basic scenarios with some kind of differential. There didn’t need to be conflict per se, but I knew things would work better if the characters could be parsed from one another. The one stipulation I had for the week was to not mention gender. Why? Because I don’t know whether my dialogue comes across in a gendered fashion. I was curious about gender neutral notion, to see how characters would evolve stripped of descriptors. The goal was to have them sculpted by their views/opinions and not to have that coloured by preconceived assumptions. How much does a character’s gender shape how you internally define that character? I don’t know how important it really is, being a socially constructed concept and all. I’m not gonna claim some kind of “I don’t see gender” mantle, I definitely had gender in mind when I wrote. I’m curious to hear if any of you readers placed certain genders on certain characters and how that matched up to my views.
I quickly learned that I have a habit (as I’m sure most people do) of creating characters as a mouthpiece for myself. I wanted to move past it as best I could, but “best I could” meant that characters were often pop culturally obsessed or intentionally possessing widened perspective. I didn’t want to straight up write two dimensional cardboard cutouts, but simultaneously was writing each entry in just over 30 minutes, which didn’t give a hell of a lot of time for development. It’s damned hard to tap into the kind of empathy that lets you think like an entirely different person. I feel like the characters that felt less developed were those more distanced from myself. I tried not to set up straw man characters, to make sure they were at least more nuanced than sticking to one central conceit. Still, a few came off a little stagnant.
It’s really evident how much I was stumbling by reading the first few lines of each conversation. I began each piece with one line and in my head improvised the dialogue that would flow from that point. I didn’t know how well I’d deal with conflict. The friend calling the other friend out on being narcissistic, tensions of a date that wasn’t working out, the introvert vs extrovert conversation. That one was actually the piece that had me sweating. I’m pretty extroverted and don’t have a lot of experience looking at things from an introverted lens. I didn’t want to short-change either side, but didn’t have as much capital of experience to put behind the introvert. How was I supposed to drive their through line of action without creating a narrow petulant teenager?
The other tension that surfaced was attempting to not make everything a lesson or have some kind of greater resolution. Characters didn’t have to evolve in half an hour. Situations didn’t necessarily have to come back around into a verbal ouroboros just because it was a neat bow to tie. People don’t. Situations rarely have a clean ending. Yet I have this predilection for personal growth and change that’s almost patronising. Once I start writing characters, I want the best for them. Killing my darlings is hard and while they don’t all have to be Mary Sues, I just want them to be happy. I want characters to undergo challenges, to face up to them, get hurt and come out better off in the end. Most of all I wanted conversations to feel like they could’ve come from real people. Like my characters could come off the page enough for people to identify with a little.
Is dialogue something I’ll dip back into? I think so. It’s a nice way of working out how to set a scene rather than falling into my patterns of stream of consciousness ranting. I want to try different differentials and see how they work. I’d like to play with age, status, gender and feel out those tensions. Like everything else I do in this project, my fervent wish is to improve, to experiment more and understand the hows and whys of stylistic changes.
Cheers for coming along for the ride.