The gift of gab – something I feel I have in spades; something I feel I will never discover. I sail smoothly through one conversation about Christmas gifts and sink in the calm waters of chat about Christmas dinner. The holiday season always hits me with contemplations of how we humans learn to interact. And how easy it is to miss the mark in routine exchanges.
Mother-in-law: You’re looking quite nice today.
Me: Yeh, I have to do laundry.
It turns out that typical human interactions depend on a variety of factors (isn’t that just typical.) It depends on expectations – what each person in the interaction is expecting from the interaction. It depends on circumstance, on what each person is doing or about to do. It depends on each person’s experience in similar conversations.
You’re not reading this for a sociology lesson; I get it. This applies to writing, and very much so. Back to laundry. Leaving that particular bit of dialogue alone could be fun.
Pop quiz: What kind of tone is the character “me” using?
Answer: Rueful, I bet, though, every person reading this answered something completely different. Because our interactions depend on a variety of things, like expectation and experience, none of which is provided in that bit of dialogue, forcing you to rely on personal experience.
As a reader, I like a bit more than pure dialogue, though. Yet I feel we often go overboard one way or the other – we provide way too much for our purposes, or we give too little information.
I just think we, as developing writers, need to consider how we approach providing information. I think we need to play with it a little bit, experiment with our particular gift of gab and dabble in others.
Neither way is bad, of course. Actually both have their merits. Both have their problems. Too little information and our readers will misinterpret something vital. Too much information and it’s easy to get lost in the details.
A reader, looking at my dialogue above, should probably know that I was dropping my baby off at his grandmother’s house, that this was a regular visit. Readers may or may not know that having a baby with you probably quadruples the chance that you’ll get something on your clothes. And it’s guaranteed to be something you want off your clothes immediately but have no option but to ignore – possibly until laundry day. Frankly, readers can figure that part out for themselves, or not.
It would be very pertinent for a reader to know that this person is a frequent social stumbler – which would be the point of including a scene like this, and considering how much of all the expectations / experiences / circumstances surrounding the conversation is important to know in this instance.
It’s worth consideration. After all, every conversation about Chanukah presents or holiday movies, no matter how mundane, are the patterns upon which our friends and colleagues learn our personalities. We learn about each other from them, and about ourselves. Why wouldn’t it be the same for our characters?