I somehow found myself volunteering to lead a workshop on dialogue.
Yes, “found myself,” as that person who raised her hand and said, “I’ll do it,” surely wasn’t me … except it was.
I thought I knew a little about dialogue. It’s my favorite part of writing. I’m a shameless eavesdropper and even more shameless about incorporating phrases and new (to me) words into my writing.
I know dialogue advances the plot, moves the story forward, foreshadows, gives insight into character, provides needed information, and all the rest.
What my research via the great search engine Google taught me was that dialogue also creates white space on the page.
That brought me up short. White space? But then I remembered the many books I leafed through, only to put them down because there was page after page of long, black paragraphs. Like Alice, I like a book with conversation and pictures. We don’t get many pictures now, but I remember when there were drawings interspersed among the pages that gave the reader a glimpse of what the characters and settings looked like. Now the author must provide this information, not with long expositions, but with a few well-chosen words that provide a springboard for the reader to leap into his or her own imagination.
Like artists facing a canvas, writers need to create a pleasing page as well as articulate prose. Balanced paragraphs. Judicious placing of description, action, and dialogue: not too much or too little of any of the components. We can’t really know how our words will appear on the printed page (or electronic page) but it is our job to try.
After all, writers are artists, also. We just use words instead of paint.