Dialogue in Fiction: Sounds and Silence

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Dialogue is an essential element of craft. This course will consider how the inflections of speech and the timing of silences help to bring a work of fiction alive. Some writers depend heavily on dialogue; others, not. It gives us choices. With student writing serving as our basic text, and drawing also from a varied reading list, we will talk about what those choices are and how to make them—how they may or may not serve your story. Writers ranging from Salinger and Richard Yates to Jhumpa Lahiri and Katherine Anne Porter can offer us models. We will also look at dialogue’s links to other aspects of craft: Can it, for example, help to flesh a character or advance a story? How can we translate the immediacy of our own speech onto the page? How can we give it to our characters? We will also talk about the first-person narrator and the interior monologue, the dialogue with self, and the “rehearsal” conversation that characters can have with characters offstage or otherwise not there. We will consider the importance, too, of what remains unsaid: how the discrepancy between what a character says and what she or he feels or does (e.g., the hidden agenda, the secret, the lie) can give a story urgency. We will consider these issues as they relate to each student story. Finally, we will explore ways to make our own writing relaxed and conversational for our own dialogue with the reader—and each other. Short exercises will be assigned weekly. They will be based on the readings and on issues emerging from student work. They can also serve as springboards for longer stories.