Monday, July 07, 2008

Dialogue Modes

Along with the modes of drama - dramatic mode, scenes, half-scenes - there are three types of dialogue and thought (as detailed by Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction, a guide to narrative craft). It works, really in the same was as the drama modes, in that we have:
  • Direct
  • Indirect
  • Summary
I employed each of these in my Bridport entry, and for once, centred upon indirect and summary over direct - using direct in one place only, for one character. I touched upon this in my reading of Murakami. But let's look at each in respect to my work, and how I employed them from my learning:

With his chores complete Alfredo would sit down with Mama before preparing their evening meal and describe the shapes and colours he’d seen through the gated entrances and barred corridors.
Here we have the summary of dialogue. We don't hear the exact ins and outs or a specific dialogue session between Alfredo and his mother. It's largely irrelevant to the narrative, and the fact that we get the overarching pointers of their discussions (and the feel that they repeat this) is what's important. We don't need to know much more.

Never did a day pass, she‘d told Alfredo with a wan smile, when her hands weren’t thick and dripping with soil.
Much of my dialogue-related prose in this short story is made up of indirect speech. the parts that tell us what is being discussed, in a more specific way than in summary, but without, again, having to go into the machinations of the scene itself. We can flutter over it, picking up the necessary exposition, getting a feel for some characterisation but not an awful lot - we're maintaining pace, and moving swiftly on.

Particularly in this story however, I am using indirect speech to continue the sub-story flashbacks, the expository moments that relate the scientific backdrop to the narrative and to push along the drama. As such the indirect speech is infused with the flashback elements - the telling of a story by a character.


‘Maybe as little as a week.’ The doctor packs his medical bag with a meticulous calmness but refuses to return Alfredo’s eye contact. ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do. The morphine will keep her comfortable and if you stick to the routine I told you, she won’t suffer.’

Alfredo rubs his eyes and digs his fingernails into his palms. Before the end came there had been hospitals and affordable medicines, people to care for the sick and means of making them well again. Now there is morphine and Alfredo.

‘You must call at the mortuary before the body starts to rot,’ says the doctor and he is gone.

Here we have the specific, direct dialogue between two characters. It should be used to show dramatic action, change in a character, conflict, discoveries and decisions. And until now I know that because of my over-reliance on scenic modes I have had an over-reliance on direct dialogue when it's not necessary (no wonder my scenes have seemed overly stretched with not a lot going on).

In this short I save my sole direct dialogue for the doctor who visits Alfredo and his sick mother. I think it strengthens the doctor's words that he is the only one with direct speech. The indifference and his inability to talk about her as a person, just as a body. How many dead and dying does the doctor have to deal with on a daily basis?


Kate said...

I've never thought about dialogue in this way before. Interesting stuff.

Good luck with Bridport.

R1X said...

Learning. It's not just for geeks ;) I've avoided creative writing books for so long, because I'd rather write than read about writing. But they're just as important as reading.

Sigh, so much reading to do.

Thanks for the good luck - I need it.