Thursday, 5 April 2012

E Is For...Etc

The fifth post for the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, E Is For...Etc:

I like writing dialogue and I try to make it read and sound as realistic as possible. I'm fascinated by words we don't use. We "blah" when we should go into detail and we "and so on" when we don't want to be asked any more.

This doesn't mean we say less. It means quite the opposite. We obfuscate, we ramble and we waffle. The more we say in quantity, the less we say in content.

"Et cetera" translates from the Latin as "and the rest", but isn't it all the more revealing that we would take a phrase that already lightens the load and then abbreviate it to lighten the load even further.

One of the worst crimes committed in dialogue is clumsy exposition, but this does not mean exposition is inherantly bad. Good exposition finds a way for characters to reveal what is required at the right time and in a realistic fashion. Everything else is et cetera.

I don't mean that it has no importance, but it is the et cetera that gives a script or a story flavour. We shouldn't be dismissive of et cetera, we should embrace it. People can argue about plot versus story until they are blue in the face, but we learn more about a character when they stop to smell the roses than we do on busiest or most exciting day of their lives.

Incidentally, I distinctly remember the day I learned what etc meant and that sadly it wasn't the same day I learned what et cetera meant.

INT: A classroom. A group of children are reading from books while a teacher sticks their drawings on to colourful sugar paper and then staples them to the wall.

David: Miss?
Teacher: Hmm?
David: What's etc?
Teacher: Et cetera.
David: Miss?

Teacher sighs heavily.

Teacher: Yes, David?
David: What's et cetera?
Teacher: Get on with your work, David.

There it was gone. The perfect opportunity to impart a little knowledge. A day to learn something that everybody has to learn eventually. And yet strangely in itself a great example of etc.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's why I'm grateful I have critique partners and a test reader who rocks at dialogue. It's not my strong suit.

MOV said...

nice post. I agree with you about dialogue, it needs to sound real! if it sounds forced, I lose interest.


Anonymous said...

Gotta have those test readers along with a great editor. I thank my editor for helping make my diamond in the rough into a polished gem.

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Oh man, this was so good.

Masquerade Crew said...

Dialogue is hard to balance. That's for sure.

Dave said...

Alex, I think that acknowledging that dialogue is not your strong suit already improves your chances of writing it well.

MOV, thanks. You can always tell when exposition has been shoehorned

Stephen, keep polishing.

Gillian, thank you.

Masquerade Crew, yep.

KC Kendricks said...

Stopping by as a participant in the 2012 A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Cute story about learning, etc.

Jessica Bell said...

hehe. I love dialogue too. It's my favourite part of writing because I love to play around with sub-text, etc. ;o) New follower!

Tara Tyler said...

dialog is fun!

deathwriter said...

Nice post. I love writing dialogue, but I don't get to do it much anymore. I write nonfiction now, but I always interview people in person to see what they're doing when they respond, which to me is the best indicator of their personality or if they're telling the truth. And if they say, you know or etc..., I ask what do you mean?

Dave said...

KC Kendricks, thanks etc.

Jessica Bell, it's what they don't say that counts isn't it? And thanks, welcome aboard.

Tara Tyler, yes it is.

deathwriter, thanks. It's interesting, that your fiction writing has informed your non-fiction writing.