Sunday, June 27, 2010
THE SETTING OF DIALOGUE
I’m currently reading a friend’s manuscript and it’s set in 1919 in Greensboro, North Carolina, among educated land-owning gentry. What I’m really appreciating is the setting my author friend is evoking through the dialogue of her characters. Caroline, the heroine, talks often about how hard it is to remember that a proper lady keeps her ankles crossed at all times, and about the Cotillion Club. She says things to her friend like, “The boys will want to fill in our dance card at the beginning of the dance.“ She says, “Do we have enough butter laid by?” and “I took the flivver (that’s what they called Model-T’s) to town Friday morning, first thing, and I almost cranked it myself.” Also, “I saw an aeroplane today.” At one point her daddy asks her, “Are you blaspheming, Caroline?” He answers someone with, ‘People befitting our station as major landowners, as pillars of the community.” These snippets of dialogue whisk me back to 1919, a time when speech was much more stilted.
When I teach writing workshops, one thing I advise my students to do is to keep journals. I tell them it’s okay to eavesdrop and to record snippets of dialogue they overhear. This is about becoming conscious. I’m constantly amazed at what I hear people saying to each other – even on their cell phones while sitting in a stall at a public restroom! A good thing is, when you’re doing this in the name of your writing, your art, bringing a setting to life, it sort of sanctifies the act of eavesdropping. Now, go out there and listen.