Blog #5 by novelist Jeremy Logan -- THE IMPORTANCE OF CONVERSATION AND COMMUNICATION
I enjoy listening to conversations of others. However, it has become less enjoyable in recent days. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but it seems to me that fewer and fewer people are communicating. Are we losing what used to come naturally? If we are, I blame it on the need for speed. Our world is getting faster and faster, and our days seem to move faster and faster with technology. Speed is trumping word choice and construction. Intent trumps conveyance. We often hear, "You misunderstood what I was saying." Maybe your desire to blurt it out so fast produced a word choice impossible to understand.
Recalling my last years in the corporate world, I noticed a dramatic shift in what occurred at meetings. When I was young and eager, I had to fight the urge to get into the mix of things. I knew it was best to "lay in the bushes" and wait for the best opportunity take part in the conversation and make my points. In my last days that was not an issue. There was so much word noise and so little communication. Sometimes I had to resist the urge to laugh when two people were arguing a point totally unaware that they were in agreement or on the same side. I'd sit back and wait, and when everyone else was out of words I would take my time, crafting my message.
In writing a novel there is no urgency to get your point across to the reader. In fact, you have to resist the urge to let them in on it until it reaches its dramatic climax. You are always crafting your message. Perhaps the operative word is 'building'. You want your work to continually build to a climax that it fully satisfying.
As the storyteller, you involve the reader by "showing" instead of "telling". Narrative has its place, but conversation that conveys your message places the reader in the room with the characters.
Once I have completed my plot outline and created the main characters, I focus on the storytelling. Next, I decide on an opening and I begin to write. Whether you open with a narrative or get right into the action, eventually your characters need to speak. With each character I make them come alive by choosing a speech pattern that fits their background and personality.
Since the written word does not convey accent or dialect, speech pattern portrays it. Given that you become mindful of utilizing consistent speech patterns for your characters, the next part is creating the conversation. Easy, right? Not so fast.
Obviously the first focus is on the message. Let's say only two persons are having the conversation. What is the conversation supposed to accomplish with regard to the story and development of the plot? What emotional state are they in? Is it friendly conversation or is it vitriolic? I can go on and on, but I still haven't come to the hardest part.
Conversation is pointless unless it communicates. The word choices and their combinations are endless. A perfect example of the differences can be found in politicians. Some avoid providing a position by hiding their message in a cascade of words that sounds impressive, but leaves the listener unsure of what the speaker meant. Contrast that with my nominee for the best communicator I have witnessed in my lifetime, President Bill Clinton. Put the politics aside and just listen. He instinctively chooses the fewest and most basic words to convey his thoughts.
I'm not saying every one of the characters should achieve this goal. Some characters might be best portrayed as being poor communicators. What I have found is that the speech pattern and choice of words should all be part of a plan. One may want to start with the most economical selection of words and then alter it to fit the characters and their motivation.
Once I have set the characters in my head for a particular scene, their motivation and emotional state, the conversation seems to flow out of my brain and onto the computer screen. In essence, I am acting in their role as if I am on the stage playing all the parts in the drama.
Below is an example. It's a conversation between the main character in DGT, a Midwestern Caucasian, Eli Taylor, and his Afro-American secretary, Erica. The scene is after a meeting where Eli and other coworkers discussed a potential partnering project between their firm and the country of Bolivia. One of the Bolivians attending was their military leader, and he was in his full dress uniform.
Erica: “I want one of those dictator outfits when this is all done.”
Eli: “Yeah, sure thing. You’d look awfully butch in one of those.”
Erica: “You got it all wrong, baby! I want the outfit for my partners. I’ve always been a sucker for a man in a uniform. Viva, el Presidente!”
The role of Erica is much like the role of Felicia Rashad in The Cosby Show. She's playful and she knows her audience is fully involved in the repartee. The importance of the dialogue to the storyline is to convey an atmosphere of trust and friendship between the participants, and to broaden their personalities to the reader as likeable people who don't take themselves too seriously.
In the end, I am having a conversation with you. I'm telling you a story to convey a sentiment, an ideal, or perhaps, a warning. I hope the readers of DGT get my message. No, I'm not going to tell you what message I intended to convey. Perhaps it is my intention to convey several messages, enough for everyone to find one that hits home for them.
Next week's blog: Yet to be determined.