I'm reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky right now, and it's taking me a sweet sweet time. Because. I'm trying something new. Don't ask me where I picked up this idea, I actually don't remember. I started doing it at the end of writing the 2nd draft of IRKADURA (and today is the day I'm starting to write the 3rd draft! Ahhh!! AHHH!!! I'm so fucking scared!!!). Here is what it looks like (and it actually legitimately helped me write better dialogue, I swear, has been confirmed by a NY Times Bestselling author). Are you ready? When I read, at every line of dialogue, I pause and get inside that character's head, THEN I read the line. Like, literally, remember the movie Being John Malkovich? Yeah, like that. Or, think of it this way. Think like a movie director. Imagine the shots. So, switch between camera angles. Rotate the whole scene in your head in 3D. That's what it looks like to me. I become that character, for that one particular line of dialogue she or he (or IT?) says. Then, when the other character answers, I switch again. I get out of the first character's head and get inside the second character's head. It's hard. It takes me time to pause and force myself to do it, and to switch the scene view in my mind. I also do something else. If there are more characters, I pause and hop inside their heads too, just to see what they see, even if they don't do anything. It takes forever! But it's worth the effort! Here is why.
SWITCHING POV WILL MAKE YOUR DIALOGUE REAL.
It totally will. You will see what is going on in real time, pick up real emotions your characters are experiencing, pick up nuances you haven't seen. Now, let me back off a little. Maybe you're already doing it. Since I'm a novice, this revelation struck me like lighting. Maybe you are laughing right now, thinking, hey, every writer has been doing this for ages. Okay. Fine. But I just discovered it! Oh! And I just remembered where I picked up this idea! From my boyfriend. Of course. He told me one day that when he reads, he sees the story like a movie from every character's perspective. Or something like that. Anyway. What is very interesting about this exercise is pausing and thinking, and BEFORE you read the next line of dialogue, thinking about what would YOU write. Like, after Joe said: "Fuck you, Mike, your brains deserve to be cut out with a fucking fretsaw." Or something. And let's say there is Mike in the kitchen, rubbing his fat beer belly, and there is Cat standing by the dishwasher, a grimy baby on her hip. And maybe there is a mangy dog too, under the kitchen table. Now wait. Don't read any further. Think. If YOU were to write this scene, who will speak next? And what would they say? And how much time will pass before anyone will say anything? And would it be Mike responding to the insult, or would it be Cat? Would she call Joe a lothario? Or a valetudinarian? Or just a bastard? What is her vocabulary level? Or would she say nothing because the baby would start crying? Or the dog barking? Or none of the above? Think. Wait. Decide. Now comes the fun part.
READ WHAT IS HAPPENING NEXT.
Here is what happens to me. 50% of the time I'm right, but 50% of the time I'm wrong! It's almost like a game. Wait. It is a game. You try to think about what the author is saying, what is going on, and after you come to some conclusion and see if you guessed right, it's like a light bulb goes on in your brain. You can apply the same technique to your own writing. The more you read, the more you practice this, the easier it will get, the more you will see. You will notice things you haven't noticed when you simply wrote dialogue as if you were observing people talking. But once you get inside their heads, oh boy, it's a totally different experience. You'll feel like you've been estivating this whole time and a bucket of ice-cold water had been overturned on your head. Like you're been a pathetic coacervate until now and became human for the first time. Like...oh. I better stop. I'm so excited about this. Excited to start applying it in my writing, and excited to read more, to play this game more, to guess more. Here is one other thing you will learn from this exercise.
HAVE CHARACTERS REPLY TO THE THEME OF THE CONVERSATION.
This is what I'm struggling with often. When there are two people talking, it's pretty straightforward. One person said this, the other said this, and so you go, like in a game of ping pong. Wait. This gives me a visual idea. To imagine the theme of the dialogue like a ping pong ball that gets passed on. But I'm getting sidetracked. The problem I have is writing genuine dialogue when there are more than 2 characters involved. If there are 3, or 4, or 6, or more, it becomes tricky. Who says what, when, why? Often I want to drive my head through the wall, thinking about it while writing. But once you start reading with this switching POV thingy in place, you will see how other writers solve it. You will see why. They make characters respond to three things:
- Other characters.
- The theme of the conversation.
- Points touched upon that they know something about.
So, for example, if the theme of the conversation is some sickness, and one of the characters' is a young doctor, he will try to put in a word at every opportunity, to show off his knowledge (he is a young doctor, remember he is trying to impress). Same goes for what characters react to. Oy. This blog post is simply not enough for me to convey the breadth of insights I got from this. You gotta try it for yourself. I'm sure you will see things I haven't even seen. Also, it's fun. It's like you get on a throughway of the author's thought process and ride it with glee in some old rusty jalopy that is your own thinking process, stealing ideas away. Well then. I gotta start writing. So. Here we go.