Tom Stoppard on writing dialogue:
“I like dialogue that is slightly more brittle than life. I have always admired and wished to write one of those 1940s filmscripts where every line is written with a sharpness and economy that is frankly artificial.”
Yes. Yes yes yes. I’m no Tom Stoppard. But I agree so hard with this quote, I have goosebumps. Economical writing is electric. It’s that zap static charge, the arc between your finger and the balloon.
The “economy” people talk about is an economy of words, not emotion. People get that confused. The emotion I’m looking for happens in the meeting place between the audience and the page. I don’t know how many times someone has read a piece of mine in workshop and raved about everything they saw and felt and experienced, only to suggest that maybe I add some more words. They don’t usually have any specific advice on which words to choose.
For obvious reasons, it’s easier for me to work with rhythm when I have less words to contend with. When I’m writing, the only time I really feel rhythm and cadence is when I’m writing dialogue. I have difficulty finding rhythm in prose, or at least, the kind of rhythm I want to work with. And I think it’s because dialogue can be dissonant and still be rhythmic. That’s what I’m looking for: the anti-cadence. Choppy, brittle dissonance. That’s where the good shit is. That jagged meeting place between characters who are tripping over each other trying to communicate.
Whether between reader and writer, or characters in a story, for me the really crackly writing happens in the in-between. I don’t believe in trying to fool my readers or mislead them for the sake of “suspense,” basically an eleventh-hour plot revelation. I don’t think they should have to labour over complex plot lines or vague character motivation. I do want them to take a few steps towards me, though. Into the void. Economical writing beckons readers towards that emotional space.
Anyways, quit listening to me, and read this sweet interview with Stoppard.