Do you see what I see?

Typewriter illustration by Chris Madden

I realised long ago that dialogue is my thing. Unfortunately, you can’t write a novel with nothing but dialogue.* That would be a play – and I don’t want to write plays.

So I struggle on with the descriptive bits that go between the conversations. They provide a necessary variation in the pace and delivery method of information, but I have to fight the urge to bang out a scant paragraph and return to the reams of dialogue that flow far more easily from by brain, through my fingers, and onto the page.

I did read something helpful recently, though, and am trying to keep it in mind. It was an Oliver Burkeman column in The Guardian magazine. He was talking about a forthcoming book by the psychologist Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style.

He quotes Pinker as saying: “When you write, you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, and that you’re directing the attention of your reader to that thing.”

Sound advice – the only problem is that what I tend to see, and be interested in, is people talking!

*Actually, Nicholson Baker did back in the early 90s. It’s called Vox, is about phone sex and, perhaps surprisingly for someone who has such trouble writing sex scenes (see my novel Tandem), I seem to remember enjoying it.

PS: The illustration is from Oliver Burkeman’s column and is by Chris Madden.

Do you know what this is?

Mystery device

Do you recognise the mystery device? Please don’t give the game away if you do! It’s one of the items I’ve been learning about in the course of research for my next novel.

It and several similar gadgets feature in one of Pressmennan’s central strands. They’re linked to a world I understand a little about but, to make sure I get every last detail right, I’ve called in a favour from a couple of experts.

I took page after page of notes as they very generously talked me through everything I needed to know. Now the challenge is to judge exactly how much of what I’ve discovered to share.

Too little and several key scenes won’t be believable. And if I give in to the natural urge to show off my new knowledge and throw everything at them, that’s exactly how it’ll come across – as if I’m showing off – and that’ll spoil the believability of the story too.

So that’s today’s dilemma. The title of the chapter I’m working on is “A problem shared”. My problem now is that I’m no longer sure it’s true!

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