Friday, October 11, 2002

talk

In my past life, I used to be the Philippine coordinator for Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering. Magic is a collectible card game with a following that I helped build for around 5 years, ending up creating events (like a costumed convention) and running massive tournaments for.

Anyway, I don’t play anymore, but some of the friends I have dinner with do, and with the release of the new set, it was inevitable that part of the conversation shift to the game’s odd jargon, to the puzzlement of the other people.

Mike: So, is there anything to replace the Mongrel Dog?

Ralph: Wala pa. (None yet.)

Jason, a non-player, and not realizing the conversation shift, pauses for a while and considers the statement.

Jason: I was about to say there are many other dogs, but that’s not what we’re talking about, right?

Me: Yeah, like my mother’s new P40k dog.

The flow of great dialogue is one of the hardest things to write in fiction. You have to make it sound natural, coming from specific character’s mouths, because the way in which they express themselves contributes essentially to how they are perceived by both the reader and the other characters.

In playwriting, obviously, dialogue is the key – after all, you have something that is meant to be performed (or read/spoken) out loud (even the drawing room plays that are written just to be read have to “sound” correct). Of course, there are exceptions to naturalistic dialogue. If your point is to sound formal, give the impression of a second language, are writing in verse or are bring experimental.

Most films also require a good handle on dialogue, if that is the vehicle for the film to get its point across. Of course there are times when silence speaks more than words.

The best source of dialogue for me is other people. There are times when I just shut up and listen (which is probably going to be a shocking thing to read for those who know me, given my penchant for endless opinionated conversation-domineering).

People talk like people. It doesn’t necessarily scan right nor does it normally conform to perfect grammar and structure, but it sounds correct. Non-sequiturs abound.

The chaotic nature of a group conversation is a challenge to plot out or diagram for the purpose of using it as a basis or model for future dialogue writing. But unless you’re a gifted writer to begin with or have great memory, you will learn to rely on the natural cadences and patterns you hear, even if sometimes it doesn’t look good after you’ve written it down.

There is much to learn when you listen to a social exchange. The politics of communication are vast, as each person (consciously or otherwise) jockeys to make a point or support one or move the conversation to a new thread or throws something humorous.

Conversation, by its nature, is both raw and contrived. When it is prepared for or edited (like a “Dear John” scenario or an announcement), it gets even more interesting because of what is said and not said.

Everyday we are caught in the ebb and flow of conversation, some brief, some long, some venturing into the surreal, some quite banal, some unintentionally hilarious, some you can do without, but all worth listening to for reference.

And participating in, of course. If you feel like talking.

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