no conversation is safe
Dearest Reader. Reading this constitutes your consent to the following point:
I, Kelly Diels, plan to poach and scramble our every conversation and interaction
into yummy blog posts and other delicious content.
(Sorta. That disclaimer basically describes life with a writer. Just ask my loverloverman.)
…and now back to our irregularly unscheduled newsletter/loveletter/blog post…
So. I don’t put everything in my every blog post or story or article or Facebook update.
But my life and my art are intertwined. Explicitly. In all senses of that word.
I think it was Anais Nin who said “My life is my art” (if not, let’s pretend it was as that would be wildly appropriate since our girl Anais never let the truth get in the way of a good story, just ask her two husbands…whom she was married to AT THE SAME TIME) and that’s a much truer thing for me to say than my art is my life.
(I’ve been reading a lot of Victorian fiction. Can you tell? The tell is the overstuffed, overpunctuated sentence. It’s a delicious reprieve from online brevity.)
(Although with that particular sentence, I’m ape-ing Stephen Elliott’s comma splices too, despite the fact that when I first started reading him, they made me prissy. I’d see a series of his phrases hinged together with commas – all technically incorrect because they ran-on beyond a complete sentence – and sniff into my imaginary lace handkerchief thinking this: well that’s not correct.
And it’s not grammatically correct. But in his contexts and his voice it’s right.)
Because my life is my masterpiece. I just write about it.
And teach you how to write about it.
And then write about teaching it.
And then slip into an alternate dimension.
Let’s wander back to my point. I left the lead-up to it two sections and seven paragraphs back. But I’m going to pick it up in the next one.
(“It” being the aforementioned foreplay. We’ll climax a lil’ later.)
Writing realistic telling and compelling dialogue can be enormously difficult. No matter how many multitudes you contain, it can be hard to speak in the voices of several characters.
I can, however, teach you two ways to generate authentic, excellent dialogue.
1. Do like Chuck Pahalaniuk –
Chuck Pahalaniuk is known for his memorable dialogue. Think,
“First rule of fight club, there is no fight club”
“You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake”
“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”
– and define a limited vocabulary for each character. A narrow range of words. A verbal tic. Short sentences. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Think about it: everyone you know has a favourite word or phrase or schtick that we use over and over again like a chorus. Or shampoo. Or a recipe. And most of us cook the same three or four recipes using the same three or four ingredients. I didn’t make that up. That’s research, baby.
And that’s why most blog posts generally feel conversational: because they’re composed of short sentences and short paragraphs. It’s both intentional – bloggers are usually explicitly attempting to build a community and so speak naturally, conversationally, communally – and an organic feature of digital offerings flowing from the limitations of the medium: it’s hard to read blocks of texts – ie long sentences and paragraphs – online.
(But don’t let that stop you.)
(There’s always a place for The Great Wall of Text – especially when you’re trying to build to an emotional climax, because a long sentence or paragraph can feel like a stream of consciousness rant, similar to the kind of thing that flows from your mouth during an impassioned argument or tearful, uninterrupted confession.)
So that’s a way to guide good dialogue: define a limited, different vocabulary for each character and use short sentences. The conversations of your characters will instantly feel more real.
Or – and here’s what I do a lot of the time –
2. Just use real dialogue. Eavesdrop on conversations with strangers so you can drop that dialogues into your stories. Write down your own wrenching interactions for your novel or memoir (caution: this can be risky for the retention-rate of your relationships). Copy and paste your IM or Twitter conversations into blog posts. (But yo, tell the other person you’re doing it!)
And so when students of Artful, Heart-full Blogging ask me how to write authentic, easy-feeling dialogue, that’s what I often suggest/advise/insist/command.
To write great dialogue, steal from your life. And the lips of everyone around you.
And those two practical, tangible how-to’s bring us a touch closer to my more existential point.
Good artists copy. Great artists steal. – Pablo Picasso
That wasn’t it. We’re still caressing and corresponding. Onward.
But Picasso presumably knows of what he speaks, yes? He’s kind of a big deal, art-wise.
Because, as Picasso so crassly, concisely explained, this is what artists do. They sculpt, paint, dance, and write their lives, their experiences, their thoughts, their worlds, so that we can see the world through their eyes, see it differently, see…
…because when what we see changes, everything changes.
And so, to show us their inner lives, artists steal from their outer lives: a gesture, a line, the line of your back.
Which, Dear Reader (dear writer!), can prickly and problematic for the people in your life. When you’re telling your story, you’re often telling theirs, too. And maybe they didn’t sign up for that.
And maybe sometimes that doesn’t matter.
Maybe when you’re telling the truth you don’t protect the liars. Even when you love them.
And maybe sometimes it does.
This dilemma makes it essential for you to make up your own writing religion and define the artistic commandments by which you will abide and at the core your doctrine will be this question:
Which relationships in my life will I protect?
(Hello, point! We finally come together!)
(I may need a cigarette. Or a cuddle.)
There are certain relationships that I’m unwilling to lose in the world, that would trump me publishing something, and have. I have written a few things that he’s been very uncomfortable with, and so they haven’t made it out of the house. But generally, he [Lauren’s husband] is very comfortable being written about. He knows that aspects of our life are going to be all over things I release, and he’s perfectly fine with that. He’s believes in me, and he accepts it. He knew this about me when he married me. I didn’t marry somebody who wasn’t okay with it. So yeah, there are a couple of relationships I’m not willing to lose.
And that’s it.
That’s the point of my cracked-up introduction/disclaimer + two-point dialogue tutorial + my life, really.
Thus far, writing has been the most enduring and compelling relationships I’ve ever had but I refuse to be entirely faithful to it. My first loyalty is to my loverloverman, whom I do write about…and, when I do, he sees it before anyone else does. If anyone else does.
Because I want to be like Ayelet Waldman and Matt Damon.
Ayelet Waldman has publicly braved slings and arrows of outraged parents by declaring that she loves her husband more than her children. Of course it’s a false dilemma; “more” or one over the other isn’t the point; the point is that we raise our children to leave us – that’s our job – but your lover is your lover for life, so love your lover first. And always. Forsaking all others (for the sake of your children who’ll then blossom in the light of the love of their parents).
Similarly, in this month’s Vanity Fair, when Matt Damon was asked, What’s your greatest accomplishment?, he answered,
My marriage, so far.
And that’s what I aspire to. My life is my art. My love will be my greatest accomplishment.
(That and my thus-far imaginary, unwritten, best-selling book.)
(It’s coming. I hired childcare and everything. ‘Cuz I need more time than “nap time” for writing my magnum opus.)
(PS I love you, baby.)