MONTPELIER, VERMONT: “Dialogue is a type of action: a means of developing dramatic conflict, in which we witness the push and pull between characters.” So said Edgar-award winning novelist Domenic Stansberry in a lecture here at my MFA residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Yes, dialogue is a means of character development, Stansberry said, a way to convey who they are and what they want, “but the search for fulfillment of conflicting desire is at the heart of dramatic dialogue.” The conflict can be overt, he said, but often it is effective when “expressed indirectly, under the surface, handled with misdirection, understatement and various forms of camouflage.”
Stansberry’s lecture featured examples of conflict-driving dialogue in fiction–Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Hemingway, O’Connor–and he is a fiction writer himself. But I was one of many creative nonfiction students in attendance. Dialogue is a critical part of my narrative nonfiction. Even when I don’t have to remember the actual dialogue–when I have it recorded–I still as an author must decide what to include, what to summarize, and what to cut. Finding the lines that highlight that conflict, whether explicit or shrouded, is essential to me just as much as any novelist.
What role would you say dialogue plays in your writing? How have you used it effectively?
ABOUT THIS SERIES: As promised, I am posting occasional “nuggets” of wisdom I am acquiring here at my second residency in the MFA for Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Previous posts include “Illuminating Your Story,” “A Window on Your Narrator,” “Creativity and Wasting Time,” “New Year’s Tradition,” “Storytelling vs. Fragmentation,” “Reading Your Work Aloud,” and “Revision vs. Re-Vision.”