I’ll let Matt speak. My questions are in bold:
Andre, many thanks for hosting me at Kissing the Blarney. You are THE MAN in my lights and I am proud to say that if Andre Jute wrote it, I will read it.
I’m here today to introduce my new book, How to Write Dialogue. It’s a manual for fiction writers of all experience levels that offers ideas, analysis, and inspiration for telling a story through character conversation. How to Write Dialogue. includes not only examples by me, but examples from classic novels and from my bullpen of working professional novelists: J.A. Beard; Cynthia Echterling; Marita A. Hansen; Junying Kirk; Stuart Land; Mysti Parker; Roquel Rodgers; Jess C. Scott; Chrystalla Thoma; Ey Wade; and Georgina Young-Ellis. I was also lucky to get essays on dialogue by Jess and by bestselling thriller and police procedural author Tim Ellis. My close friend, fine artist Eric Henty, also provided me with numerous line drawings of unusual characters. I welcome the chance to hear from readers, especially other writers and writing students, about the impact of my ideas in this book.
1. Why a book on dialogue as distinct from, say, plotting?
I chose to write a book on dialogue because I consider it my greatest strength as a fiction writer. Dialogue comes very easily to me: writing it is as close to effortless as anything I can do in composition, and it’s sort of my default mode for telling a story. Sometimes, in fact, I have to go back through pages of dialogue and force myself to add in anything else.
I can’t pinpoint how I acquired this particular facility, but there are a number of factors that probably contributed. One factor was, of course, reading and rereading favorite authors, both children’s and adult books, and reading up to three chapter books a day at my youthful peak. Another factor was watching well-written TV comedy in the 1970s and 1980s. Shows like Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Barney Miller, and WKRP in Cincinnati were among those whose strong dialogue I absorbed by repeated viewing. I turned to fiction as a desirable future profession starting at age 13, and toward that end, I rewrote one novel over and over and had the chance to improve the same scenes time and again in the course of several years. Things developed from there.
I do know how to construct plots, pretty much, so I hope I’ll get to that topic in a future book.
2. Once a teacher, always a teacher, eh, Matt?
Yes, being a teacher stays in the blood, somewhat like a debilitating infection.
3. You were an athlete once, a wrestler. Is there a lesson in the training methods for writers?
I liked wrestling but I wasn’t good at it. The one thing I accomplished for two years is that when I wanted to quit, I went to practice anyway and somehow didn’t quit. Actually, I did quit, but not until I had proved something to myself — that I could endure the suffering that a hard practice entailed. Enduring suffering seems to be part of the game for writers, as it is for teachers, too. (Ow!)
4. How much does your School of the Ages series about the young magicians depend on dialogue? Would even a strongly plotted story like one of those fall flat without good dialogue, including good interior dialogue?
All my fiction depends heavily upon dialogue. It’s my main storytelling method. While my young protagonists are capable of action and can let their magic speak for them in some ways, I think conversation is essential to things they do, such as planning, problem-solving, and confronting enemies. When my magicians meet, and are facing a possible fight, they do a lot of verbal taunting and posturing, like Arthurian knights: it’s just part of their culture. Also, the kids are like all characters in that they have to talk about their feelings. Finally, verbal humor is essential to the entertainment value in all the School of the Ages books except perhaps the somewhat bleak initial volume.
I think a strongly plotted book falls flat with bad dialogue, because bad dialogue destroys the pleasure of reading. A badly plotted book can’t survive on good dialogue either. These are essential components — clear, effective, and satisfying sentence writing is a third.
Interior dialogue (the character’s thoughts) isn’t covered by the volume we’re discussing. However, I believe contemporary readers demand it. If they don’t know what the main character is thinking, they feel disenfranchised.
5. Tell us the worst atrocity in dialogue you’ve ever come across.
The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, which I reread not too long ago, has characters analyzing each other’s personalities and motivations in some very clunky dialogue. Yes, I realize Brooks has outsold me ten million to one, but that just proves it’s better to be lucky than good.
I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I hear it’s exponentially worse.
6. If you were limited to one quick tip on dialogue for the beginning writer, what would it be?
Your dialogue needs to do a lot of things besides entertain, but if it isn’t entertaining, you will lose your reader.
7. A shiny-eyed newbie wants to see how you practice what you preach. Which of your books, aside from the textbook itself, should that aspiring writer read first to get the best value out of your example?
The novel I’m writing now (contents mysterious) will be especially good for dialogue. School of the Ages in general shows that I practice what I preach, but I think the sharpest dialogue is in Book 3, The War Against Love. Other readers may have a different favorite.
Here is a selection, in which the Arch-Mage Jan Vorkin from Prague questions my fifteen-year-old hero Simon.
“Welcome, Simon Magus. Thank you for seeing me. I promise it will be to your advantage. A wonderful school you have here. So many talented youths are gathered together: I am much struck by it. I shall be questioning you, but I think it will not be too painful.”
“I don’t think it will be painful at all.”
He settled into his seat, sipping his coffee. Realizing I had nothing to drink, he took another can from a satchel on the chair next to him and slid it across the table to me. The label was in a language I didn’t recognize, presumably Czech. I had some. It was unsweetened and bitter. I drank deeply.
“Now, I will start with your name. You have some other name, of course, as do many in our line. You could have chosen any name for yourself, yet you chose the name of a known deceiver and villain. Why?”
“At first, I just liked the sound. Later, I learned that the name tied me in to events in the past. I think many people in ancient times called themselves Simon Magus, and now I’m one of them.”
“But you are no deceiver?”
“Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not,” I said, “but neither all the time. In our line, to use your words, we have to be deceptive and mysterious.”
“Of course. Tell me, as you are a handsome boy, does your handsomeness come from your father or your mother?”
“I look like my father. My mother is beautiful too.” He might have met her, as she was the Dean’s assistant, but I saw no reason to give him that information.
“Do you prefer fire or water?”
That was an odd question, but he was serious about it; his body was tilted across the table toward me, eagerly awaiting the answer.
“Arch-Mage,” I told him, “I saw the attack on 9/11 from the ground. After seeing the towers burn, and walking in the smoke, I could never love fire. Why do you ask that?”
“I have fire and water to dispose of. Now, tell me of your brothers and sisters.”
“Tell me about yours.”
“In my case that is expensive knowledge.”
“Then you see my problem,” I said.
“You answer a complex question, and refuse a simple one,” he said. “How did you come to be made that way?”
“I don’t know, Arch-Mage. I know that I’m representing my school here, and I expected to be asked professional questions. I don’t know why you’re asking personal ones.”
He nodded. Perhaps his eyes twinkled. “Do you dance?”
“Sing? Paint? Sculpt?”
“No, no, and no.”
“I thought not. Write?”
“I will, someday, when the story is ready. Why are you asking these questions, sir?”
8. Where can readers link to you, Matt?
Fan page: http://www.facebook.com/schooloftheages
9. When will How to Write Dialogue be for sale?
How to Write Dialogue is out now at:
© Copyright 2013 Andre Jute. Free to reproduce in full complete with this copyright notice.