From the archive
I would love to read a book with really excellent dialogue (as in, clever but recognizable as spontaneous human speech). I feel that reading good dialogue will both make me a better conversationalist and save me a lot of head banging in my living room. (The most recent occasion for self-abuse: “‘I think I’ll go to the store now,’ she said, ‘I’d like some whole-wheat crackers.’”) —Anonymous
Good dialogue has never saved anyone from either head banging or self-abuse, as far as I know. If anything, I think, good dialogue tends to teach us how little it resembles real speech. Real speech deals with whole-wheat crackers. That’s what it’s for. Dialogue deals with whole-wheat crackers only if those crackers tell a secret—if they reveal something about the character speaking. In this sense, dialogue is closer to lyric poetry than it is to expository prose. It does more work in less space, and it tends to deal in repressed or unconscious knowledge.