Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 09, 2009

Voices in My Head -- Guest Blog by Jon Spell

Seven of my ten fingers are mostly inoperative, making it very difficult to type. Thank goodness. If I could write I would almost certainly comment on the worldwide news: President Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize. As it is, we may be the only blog published in the United States today not talking about it. (You're welcome.)

At the first sign of digit failure, I sent out an SOS (Save Our readerShip) here and abroad. Jon Spell was the first to answer the call. (Isn't he always?) I've long suspected there are voices in Jon's head -- mostly because I've seen him mumbling back to them. Here, however, is his take on the subject. (Thanks, Jon!)

Voices in My Head

by Jon Spell

I finished reading a mystery recently (by Stephanie, one of our rising stars) and noticed that there is a lot of dialogue in mysteries. I went looking for a particular conversation and discovered that it spanned like 14 pages. Wow.

In my own writing experiences, I’ve never written a big scene of dialogue. I’ve been wondering if this is because in real life, I don’t really talk all that much. In fact, I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone either. My mom and I converse mostly through emails. I comment on various blogs, but it’s still not dialogue. What is it? Unilogue?

Of course, this seems to be the way things are going now – Twitter, Facebook, Blogs – they are all what I’d call asynchronous communication. One person puts a thought out there, other people can comment on it, but you rarely get a back-and-forth conversation. I actually prefer this style because I can think and ponder about my response. I can look up definitions of words or research topics on Wikipedia, then make a quasi-intelligent response.

None of this helps with writing dialogue for a book, though. (Oops, sidetrack: There have been books written as a series of letters. I wonder if it’s possible to write a book that would journal someone’s story a la Facebook or Twitter?) I find that I have conversations in my head, but these are highly idealistic, as the ones I have with my wife NEVER turn out the way I imagine them. I do read a fair amount, so at least I have a good idea what dialogue looks like.

I’m curious as to how you author people come up with the dialogue. Do you write what’s in your head, or actually try to have conversations out loud?


At 10/09/2009 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, hate to have conversations. I avoid it at every turn. I sit in the back at every social gathering and take special care not to make eye contact, usually staring at my hands, or finding something interesting about my shoes. But my awkwardness comes from my inherited stuttering, (thank you, Dad) and from my loss of recall of names and facts when embarrassed, which seems to be whenever someone talks to me. That’s why I enjoy writing dialog so much. I can take as long as I want in creating conversation between characters, and if it sounds stupid, then the delete key is very convenient and ever present.

Writing emails is the same way. I can spend as long as I desire behind the keyboard, read the letter over and over again just to make sure I haven’t said anything too insulting or objectionable before hitting the send key. Although, I haven’t been totally successful in curtailing my bluntness online, sometimes my opinionated views seep through.

Jon, you said your conversations with your wife never turn out like you imagine them? That would be a good story. Writing them from the way you imagined them... a fantasy of course... to the way they actually happened. And if you used Rob’s UVU presentation on humor as a guide, it could be a total laugh riot.

Good spot. Thanks for coming to Kerry’s rescue.


At 10/09/2009 2:46 PM, Anonymous Jordan McCollum said...

Great post, Jon, and Deb makes a great point! (Hi Deb! Do you want your 50 cents back? I loved Kerry's book.)

I am deeply ambivalent about conversing. I love to talk. But I can be very uncomfortable and shy, especially in social situations where I don't know anyone.

I had a friend who started a book, but, she said, it was mostly dialogue. "And nobody really likes to read dialogue." I didn't point out that this wasn't true, but dialogue can be one of the most powerful tools.

I guess I have an eye for realistic dialogue—maybe it comes from both talking a lot and listening a lot. I can read a line of stilted dialogue and say, "No, people don't really speak that way, they'd say it like this." I'm not perfect, of course, and reading aloud always helps smooth over dialogue (and often narration, too).

A problem with that, of course, is that recounting versimilitude can be very boring. So I sometimes have to cut big sections from the dialogue or rearrange the conversation for better logical flow.

Anyway, I love to write dialogue, especially when I can really "get it right"—not just putting it how someone would really say it, but getting it to move the story forward and reveal character. And sparkle, of course.

It's just another one of the aspects of writing we all can work on!

At 10/09/2009 5:42 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

(Feel better soon, Kerry!)

Interesting thoughts about dialogue, Jon. I play around with dialogue in a couple of ways. I try conversations between characters by switching out their moods. I sometimes just talk it out with myself. Sometimes, I just see how far it goes and how useful it is. Generally, I find that a poignant silence is better than a ton of dialogue. Lots of food for thought here! Thanks, Jon!

At 10/09/2009 7:03 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Jon, you're so kind! Thank you!

As far as dialogue, I guess I usually write it by feel--how do I think these people would talk? Last time around, I did do some reading out loud when I was going through the edits.

At 10/09/2009 8:14 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I love to overhear conversations. I also like to people-watch too, and wonder what makes them tick. The conversations of my characters mostly stay in my head.

At 10/10/2009 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dialouge is story disguised as speech between two or more characters. There are none of the ums, ahhs, or trivial exhcange that occurs in real conversation. Its stripped down, worked over, efficient, super charged, scripted communication that characterizes the character and drives the story. And all of it is carefully disgused as naturual dialogue. If you think it sounds natrual, falls from the characters lips in an effortless fashion, you can be sure that it wasn't effortless and you can also be sure that it isn't natural. The author carefully advanced the story and/or characterized the characters more deeply.

When I write dialogue its is in small chunks, with lots of repitition. I'm always finding more efficient ways to say it, more endearing (or loathsome) ways for the characters to say their lines. And I'm always reminded that the character would never be motivated by the story-line to say what I've put in their mouths and I have to delete the dialogue and start over OR I have to change the story to motivate the character to say what I think they should be saying.

And once all those chunks of dialogue are on the page, I can go back, cut and paste them together, smoothe them out, read the aloud over and over again until the characters sound natural, the story-line is strong and the reader ends up a fly on the wall, enjoying and exchange without anyone aware of their presence.

Dialogue. Its amazing stuff Jon.

At 10/13/2009 5:23 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

i love dialogue. Fun post and Kerry feel better!


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