“Writing floats on a sea of talk.”
1970, James N. Britton, author of Language and Learning
In both the revision process and in brainstorming for my next project I pay close attention to dialogue.
An antenna for odd bits and barbs of discussion is required.
Contemporaneous notes aren’t just for the FBI
“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
The ebb and flow of overheard conversations, the gentle or cruel repartee of strangers as they loiter in a cafe, wait for a bus or wearily kill time at the airport: all are of keen interest.
The words in a hospital waiting room are utterly different from eavesdropping in on shopping aisle chats, or snippets of discourse offered up while scanning a menu.
Water Witching the Well
Favorite tools: hand-held old-school cassette recorder, any notepad or scrap of paper. And a pen.
“Dialogue has to show not only something about the speaker that is its own revelation, but also maybe something about the speaker that he doesn’t know but the other character does know.”.
Fragments of dialogue gathered, then entered in journals:
“imagine wearing that all day” “What are you saying?” “If we tell him, it could break him.”
“Oh…..hello.” “I see the sun and I get so tired.” You know them better, you know.” “It’s a good look. You should pack that for Boston.”
”Fifteen years old.” “Are you staying in the shelter here?” “Life and death.” “If we seem out of it, it’s because there was an emergency here this morning.”
“Everything’s ok. There was a baby.” “People could see the sirens but they just kept lining up to get their coffee.”
“ Ariel, what are you doing?” “Hush, I don’t want to hear it.” “We’re on schedule. We’re on a budget.” “Oh no, that’s crazy.” “For sure.” “Repeated memory” “A kind of nightmare.” “Where are my crayons?” “He’s already married.” “I’ve got that PTSD, I feel like shit.”
“You can open the door and let him run around.” “His house is full of interesting things. There’s a pitcher that rises in the air and pours drinks. Of course I know the secret. I had to install the mirrors.”
“ I only work one day a week. Well, then I work three days at the bowling alley.” “Keep an eye on me.” “Alaskan bush people.” “It was a room she locked up. After she fell.”
“Saturday morning…I can’t keep myself straight let alone you.” “Trying to get painkillers. Trying to get off them…I’d definitely take them.”
In the midst of so many captured words there are story sparks, patterns and rhythms, humor and stark sadness.
Of equal weight are the words that are not spoken.