For Thursday, October 29, 2015:
“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”
Most writers have grown up with two pieces of advice: ‘Write what you know,’ and ‘Show, don’t tell.’ If someone had told me about Elmore Leonard’s wisdom, too, it would have made things a little smoother for me when I was writing my first novel.
As a fledgling writer, my preferred genres were non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, in part because I didn’t feel I could craft dialogue well enough to move a storyline along. My comfort zone was descriptive narrative.
While my mentors almost always praised those narratives, in whatever genre I put them, I was told I needed to do more to show-not-tell in my fiction, but I don’t recall anyone giving me advice on how to do that. Maybe they did and I just didn’t hear it or take it in. It took the almost 20 years — from the first tiny seed of an idea to completion — of writing my first novel to figure out that I could do so through dialogue.
This realization didn’t make the writing easier — it was hard, at first, for me to ‘translate’ description into dialogue — but it did make it better. Much better, and more effective. Even I could see it. Some of the feedback I’ve received from readers, in fact, is how good the dialogue is. As a result, then, I know to pay special attention to the fiction I edit for others, how well the authors do or don’t do their characters’ conversations to move the story along.
So when I embarked on this new novel that is still in progress, I knew I had to focus on the dialogue. I still find myself going to my default place of comfort at first, especially when I’m stuck. That’s when I know I need most to craft the better way to provide information for the story and characters for the reader. It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve grown into this third — and invaluable — piece of advice, and it’s one I’m comfortable passing along to other writers.