A while ago The Cheeky One had an epiphany. Last year I downloaded a bunch of free audio/video lectures on various subjects via iTunes-U, and some were from the most prestigious Universities and Professors in the world. All of them were the highest quality, so…hmm…I thought quietly to myself; there must be some about writing!
I was pleased to find there are, but not nearly as many I hoped or in the standard campus lecture format. There were however, several audio sessions from the UK Open University, presented as a series of topic specific interviews with accomplished writers from several genres and forms, some even quite famous.
Every week or so I pick a new one to download and listen to, some are an hour long some only a few minutes, but all give me new perspectives and tips to think about. Lots of food for thought!
Yesterday’s REALLY got the ol’ hamsters turning, and my little wheel is still spinning. It was from The Open University: Creative Writing – Audio series, Number 9. Alan Ayckbourn as Director on Developing the Idea.
Now, I was getting ready for work, putting on my war paint, and nearly skipped past number 9 once I realized he was talking about playwriting, but I’m so glad he managed to grab me right away because what he says about writing dialogue is fantastic. I got all giddy and nearly stabbed my eye with the mascara wand…I’m not even kidding.
See, I never would have thought about it that way before, but what he says is true. When you’re writing dialogue for an actor, you must let the actor interpret and convey the meaning of it, otherwise he’s just reciting lines, he’s not acting. As Mr. Ayckbourn explains so brilliantly, in scripts, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. I’m going to stop paraphrasing him now, because I’m gonna do a shitty job of explaining further. You’ll be much better off listening to the interview because it’s brilliant stuff and so simple if one takes the time to analyze it. For me it was AH HA! So it’s just another form of Show, Don’t Tell! Yes! I’m gettin’ it!
So…I spent my entire commute to work mulling this over, and I could easily visualize how it works in plays and how it has to work a bit differently in fiction. It’s totally obvious of course that in a play all the emotion, actions, the showing is done visually by actors, and that’s what draws us in. In fiction however, what you don’t say is just as important but in a different way. The author draws the reader in by providing him/her the opportunity to clearly visualize what the character is feeling. The author must describe emotions, actions, by “showing” the character’s pauses, body language, tone of voice, etc., instead of “telling” by using adjectives and adverbs. Whether it’s a book or play, we must craft the dialogue as a part of, or an enhancement of, the character’s self-expression; it must never interfere with or overshadow it.
Mr. Ayckbourn’s presentation of such a simple yet vital technique will change how I approach dialogue writing from now on. Each time I write for a character, I’m going to step back and visualize being a fictional fly on the wall watching it unfold. Is it natural? Are the characters staying true to the human tendency to hold a part of themselves back? Have I let the character’s actions show the reader what he/she is feeling, perceiving, and thinking? Is the reader able to hear the dialogue as though listening in on a conversation? What a great addition to my writer’s toolbox!
Ok..ok…I’ll quit the rambling now because I’d much rather you run off to download these excellent lectures. Wonderful stuff, and FREE!!