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[process] Some notes on dialog

Had a constructive conversation the other day with the delightful about the uses of flash fiction as a personal development tool. I’ve commented on this before at length, how flash serves as a laboratory for focusing on specific aspects of craft. Character in a setting with a problem: “The cop stumbled over the body in the apartment door.” What cop? Whose body? Whose apartment? But also, focusing on characterization, blocking, action, background detail, dialog, etc. Any one of those things, in the framework of a very short story. Might be salable, might not, but good practice nonetheless with the cardinal virtue of being closed-ended and therefore a rewarding activity that can be concluded over a single writing session.

and I got on to flash as dialog. I pointed out we all have a tendency to write who we are. I write lots of middle aged, over-educated heteronormative white guy dialog when I’m defaulting. And one thing that drives me bats in fiction is overuse of dialog tags.

Which are necessary if you have two middle aged, over-educated heteronormative white guys talking to one another. On the other hand, if you have a stuffy old closeted professor of Classics talking to a newly-immigrated Somali cab driver, you could get away with almost no tags whatsoever, other than a little blocking assistance. These two characters will have very different speech registers, and very different assumptions about the world.

One of my more extensive experiments in flash was working on integrating dialog with characterization, blocking, setting and other story elements so I could get away from “Jane said”/”Aaron said” tennis matches. Finding ways to signal the speaker through their actions or context or placement in the scene allowed words to do double, treble or quadruple duty, all while cleaning up the text. This makes the story world both economical and interesting.

What’s a favorite example from your own work, or others, of how to embed dialog like this?

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