Wednesday 25 September 2019

Making conversation

Dining with friends the other evening, the subject came up of the effect that things you read may have on what you write. I've never been much for literary fiction. I write escapism, I read escapism.If I want to get serious, I let my academic side out, but that means history. All other attempts to improve my mind have been sadly doomed to failure. I did confess that when I was supposed to be ploughing through a list of literary works in order to sit what was then an 'S' level in English - when dinosaurs still roamed - I got half way through the first book and gave up. I did the exam on the basis of play texts - I was theatre mad, even then, I got a merit and as far as I know, my English teacher never found out.

That led us on to the question of the effect of reading plays on writing dialogue, which I have been thinking about since. Two of my favourite playwrights are Shakespeare and Harold Pinter, miles away from each other in time and style, but I suspect both may have had an influence.

With Shakespeare, it's rhythm and the shape of a sentence. A good way of testing what you have written is reading aloud, and I often add a word to a sentence when doing that, as it seems to help the flow. Is that Will's influence? I think it might be.

Pinter is at the other extreme - pauses and half sentences and non sequiturs. The way people speak in real life, although stylised for the stage. I'm pretty sure that absorbing a large number of Pinter's plays at an impressionable age had an effect. I think it taught me to listen to the gaps between the words and not to be afraid of  them. When people talk, they speak over each other, don't finish sentences, don't reply exactly to what the other person is saying.

It's a messy business, as you can hear if you eavesdrop on other people's conversations. And these days you get phone calls as well. And most of the writers I know are incorrigible eavesdroppers. I would never use a conversation I overheard, but I love listening to the rhythms and patterns of speech. Those I can use. And, of course, I'm horribly nosey.

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