Sunday, February 22, 2009

The more things change...

Sixty years ago, in March of 1948, Raymound Chandler has this to say about Oscar Night.

"Show business has always been a little overnoisy, overdressed, overbrash. Actors are threatened people. Before films came along to make them rich they often had need of a desperate gaiety. Some of these qualities prolonged beyond a strict necessity have passed into the Hollywood mores and produced that very exhausting thing, the Hollywood manner, which is a chronic case of spurious excitement over absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, and for once in a lifetime, I have to admit that Academy Awards night is a good show and quite funny in spots, although I'll admire you if you can laugh at all of it.

"If you can go past those awful idiot faces on the bleachers outside the theater without a sense of the collapse of the human intelligence; if you can stand the hailstorm of flash bulbs popping at the poor patient actors who, like kings and queens, have never the right to look bored; if you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, "In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived "; if you can laugh, and you probably will, at the cast-off jokes from the comedians on the stage, stuff that wasn't good enough to use on their radio shows; if you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously; and if you can then go out into the night to see half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats but not from that awful moaning sound they give out, like destiny whistling through a hollow shell; if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong, because this sort of vulgarity is part of its inevitable price."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The secret to great dialogue

Art, literature,
Dialogue by Doc Ross, Christchurch, New Zealand
Dialogue in fiction is not conversation. At least not the kind of conversation we have every day. Fictional dialogue always has a purpose. It must move the plot and be character revealing.

Many writers have difficulty with dialogue. Is there a secret? Yes: know your characters. You should know your characters as well as your best friend. Some writers create elaborate back stories, even if they never intend to use them. Others prefer to outline personality traits. I like to take long walks and have conversations with my characters. To get to know your characters, use whatever method feels right for you. Once you understand them, you'll soon discover that your characters speak with a consistent outlook and come across as real people. When you know your characters, all you do is put them into the right situation, give them something to accomplish, and then transcribe their conversation.

The following example is from my book, Leadville. The plot required me to move my characters to another location. This may not be a great literary example, but it illustrates how to make a mundane transition more interesting by letting the characters speak naturally.

Sharp and I stood outside the livery corral kicking our spurs into the dirt.
“Let’s get a ham steak,” Sharp said.
“Bit early for a noon meal.”
“Hell, McAllen went to see his ex-wife. No tellin’ how long he’ll be, and we might not see a hog for months.”
“You said something similar this morning when we ordered that glutinous breakfast.”
“True this morning, true now. If ya hadn’t hired them boys, you’d be hungry too.”
“What if McAllen shows up?”
Sharp leaned around the corner of the barn and yelled at the liveryman. “If a gruff gent comes lookin’ for us, tell ’im we’re at the café.” Sharp turned and gave me a pleased look.
“What if he comes before we finish our meal? You know McAllen.”
“Then we git up and head for the hills.”
“Could be a waste of money.”
“Might be right.” Sharp pushed himself away from the barn wall. “So you pay.”
And off he went.

Western fiction action adventure
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters