Saturday, July 4, 2020

Cooking Up a Conversation

By Maureen Bonatch

Social situations can be awkward. Over the years verbal conversation has become increasingly quiet as interactions are increasingly via text or other social media avenues. Restaurants, or other social spots, have people gathered, but often many of them may be physically with someone but are virtually conversing with others in cyberspace. Conversing in this manner allows for things that live conversations does not. Such as having the time to consider and edit our words (if we choose) or to validate our response.

He Said She Said

Most of us can think of a time when we:

  • Wish the other person would just listen to what we had to say
  • Couldn’t find the right words to express what we meant
  • Wish could’ve edited what we said
  • Thought of the perfect response—about an hour later
  • Had no idea what the other person was trying to say 

Some of us may wish we were like the characters in a story because they can say just the right thing—usually. Those that do deliver the best lines are often the result of a writer laboring over each word to ensure that the reader understands what the character says. Because if the conversation is vague or unclear, then the reader may become frustrated.

Recipe for Readers

As a writer it can be difficult to pull a scene from our mind and bring it alive on the page. Sometimes it may seem like the prose is perfect, but the writer has the benefit of the awareness of the other aspects that are simultaneously occurring in the story. If these aren’t detailed for the reader to immerse themselves in the story, then the character isn’t doing it in the reader’s mind.

A conversation is more than just words, it’s a:
  • Spoonful of dialogue
  • Sprinkling of description
  • Dollop of setting
  • Pinch of body language 
  • Determined amount time for other characters to respond
Otherwise it’s just talking heads with no idea who is talking, where they’re at, or what is going on as if you’d just invaded someone else’s innermost thoughts. This may be where ideas and characters are hatched, but without the other elements of the conversation others can’t understand the conversation, or envision the setting in their own mind, which can make the reader abandon the story.

Sound of Silence

Even with all these ingredients for a great conversation, it still takes creating a balance between too much dialogue, or long intervals of silence while the writer takes a trip through the setting or the inner thoughts of the character until the reader forgets what the conversation was about. 

We’ve all read, or written, stories that can’t quite achieve that balance. The premise and story might be great, but it struggles to bring it to life from the page. Writers can work to improve the balance with repeated attempts implementing the recipe for perfect prose while adding their own special ingredients to their stories. As readers, when we get a taste of an author who has mastered this we always want more.

Although sometimes we can overlook a character’s misspoken word, or a few lines of awkward prose, because it just might make us relate to them a little more and make them seem more human.

Do You Have a Recipe for Conversation?

Author Bio: Maureen Bonatch grew up in small town Pennsylvania and her love of the four seasons—hockey, biking, sweat pants and hibernation—keeps her there. While immersed in writing or reading paranormal romance and fantasy, she survives on caffeine, wine, music, and laughter. A feisty Shih Tzu keeps her in line. Find Maureen on her websiteFacebookTwitter

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Diane Burton said...

Dialogue seems to come easy for me. Narrative, not so much. My early draft looks like a screen play--dialogue and stage directions. lol Some writers know just what words to evoke a mood. I love reading that and wish I could do it as naturally as they seem to.

Nancy Gideon said...

What a delightful post, Maureen! My first draft is the diet plate, like Di's above. After that, I add in the appropriate food groups with a little extra sugar and spice. Taste, add a little salt or heat, let a few friends sample and than serve it up.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Very interesting post, Maureen. If this shutdown goes on much longer kids will be nearly void of person-to-person skills. I think they lose empathy without human interaction.