For context, here’s the quote:
The aim of dialogue is to create emotional effect in the reader.
One of the things a writer has to learn by conscious application is to discard coherence and logic that is usually meant for non-fiction. Dialogue seems artificial when it is coherent and logical.
When writing dialogue, always remember that a character who reveals not enough reveals much.
Always check for conflict in dialogue.
Check whether the lines spoken are consistent with the character’s background.
Weed out any unnecessary words.
Loosen stiff sentences.
Check to see what is going on in between the lines: what counts in dialogue is not what is said but what is meant.
I flitted away after reading and just sort of forgot about the statement. But a few hours later something started to rattle in the back of my brain.
I have no idea what that final statement meant.
I understood the emotional effect in a reader being generated – sure, writers want to evoke emotional responses in readers with every word, if they can. One of the purposes of my writing, personally, is to try and raise horror in a reader. So I get that, though I’m not sure it can be done with all the dialog of a book (though I guess this is even more important in a short story).
The part about discarding coherence and logic didn’t ring true with me, but that’s because when I read something incoherent and illogical I generally put the book down. Still, I understand dialog in fiction can’t read like a genuine conversation in life. Too boring, too drifting. So … sort of, I get that part. I guess.
The third part, about revealing much by not revealing much sort made me giggle. It sounds like some sort of Chinese proverb, but I guess I understand. This creates an unreliable source in the work, and makes the reader tense, curious, fearful, worried, etc. All emotions, right? So gotcha.
Conflict? Okay, but in every bit of dialog? That’s going to be pretty stupid when you’re protagonist is sitting at the kitchen table with her best friend since high school having coffee and a muffin. Do you need to insert tension into every piece of dialog you write, or is having some tension and conflict okay? I grew up in a house where very few conversations didn’t go south somehow. Plenty of conflict, and the more people there were to participate, the more conflict there was to share. You know what? I don’t miss it. I don’t want it in my fiction, either. Not all the time. So I get it, but I disagree.
The next three sentences are pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Not an issue. I can do that, and I try to do that all the time. Not just in dialog, but in all my work. Cut those needless words and be consistent. Write like people speak, not like some telemarketer from the 80s reading from a typed script.
Okay, then the bombshell.
I sat there thinking, What the frig??
I’m going to end there, and throw this out to both writers and readers. What does that mean? How can I write what isn’t written? How do you readers go about reading “between the lines” and gathering what’s meant if it’s not said? Writers, what techniques do you use to infuse your dialog with stuff that’s meant and not said? Any specific examples you can give?
But what really happened was I realized this isn’t the only area of writing like this. As much as I’d love to fancy myself “a writer”, it’s realizations like this – that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing if I’m supposed to be able to understand and accomplish things such as what’s stated in the quote above – which start me on the road of self-doubt and wonder about whether or not I’m making a mistake pursuing this.
Sound off, y’all. I need to hear something, one way or another.
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