There is a gap. There are lots of gaps. But the one I want to talk about is the one that sits between what a character says (the mask, the facade, the image they present to the world) and the truth that hides behind the words, the subtext.
Think of fictional dialogue as an extension of character; a manifestation of character and story structure. In fact think of dialogue as character in action. If you think of it in this way you can ensure it remains functional.
When what a character says conflicts with what they do, you immediately create a gap for the drama; the reader immediately becomes involved and the dialogue becomes interesting. If it’s just telling this does not happen.
Good dialogue shows behaviour and is not an explanation of it.
Good dialogue does not resemble conversation, it provides an illusion of it and is subservient to the needs of characterisation and structure. Think of it as another form of ‘doing’, it’s not narrative, it’s a tool for characters to negotiate the objects of the story.
Good dialogue conveys how a character wants to be seen while betraying the flaws they want to hide. So it’s more in what is not spoken. So when we see this gap open up as a reader we take an active role in making a judgment or determination. One of my pet hates is the tag ‘he lied’. This is a violation of the show don’t tell rules at its worst. How involved can a reader be in a story told, spelled out in its finest details? It says this reader is too stupid to make their own judgment! Right? It underestimates the intelligence of your reader.
Every utterance, however intangible, is, at some level, an expression of intent. Dialogue has three essential functions:
And all of these are a product of character desire.
Here’s a great example of that gap taken from real life and very apt given my novel. It’s the moment when Walter Cronkite announces to the world that President Kennedy has been assassinated in 1963. He says the words that will shock the world. He doesn’t say “The president is dead.” He reads the words but now comes the ‘show’ moment, he removes his glasses, the words catch in his throat. We feel the drama of the moment because we see how these words impact on his actions. He lets the mask slip between how he wants to be perceived and how he feels. This is subtext. This is where emotional connection sits.
And then, in the true air of professionalism, he puts the mask, the facade, back on and he resumes. But we all saw and we all remember this for how he allowed that gap to open up, right?
But don’t take my word for it, judge it for yourself.
Watch from 1 min 12… sorry about the ads…
Happy Thursday folks.