Dialogue (Part 3) - We All Remember that Conversation Differently
Updated: May 10
Helpful Terms and Links
Dialogue- Finding ___* through talking (*logic, meaning, ideas etc.)
Essay- “an attempt”
Memoir- (the author’s personal retelling of a crucial event or life-lesson learned) versus autobiography (a retelling of the author’s life events, in general).
Art and Stories mentioned
Examples of personal essays;
Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace
Essays, Michel de Montaigne
Small Victories, Anne Lamott
Many works by C.S. Lewis
Truth-telling in story
The Lifespan of a Fact, John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay
In this episode, we explore how dialogue takes shape and varies in nonfiction writing through journalism, personal essay, and memoir. The question we return to again and again is, what does truth telling look like when we write down the words of other, real-life people?
Dialogue is the ultimate “show don’t tell” tool in writing. Writing great dialogue is important for writing works of fiction, but it’s also important for writing nonfiction.
In journalism, dialogue comes in the form of things like direct quotes, or a transcription of an interview. In this genre, dialogue is fact-based and should be a source of reliability for the reader.
Unlike fiction writing, where the author is creating the words on the page, a reporter who’s writing a news article or a piece of narrative journalism should simply be a vessel for the words the person is saying. They shouldn’t be adding or taking away from the words they’re transcribing; any additional detail they give should be supplemental facts or pockets of description to help create more context for the reader. Investigative journalism/narrative journalism gives us a lot of context, because we get a longform transcription of an interview.
Journalism at large;
After a conversation about where we appreciate journalism and where we’re frustrated with it, Avery and I agreed that we really enjoy listening to the news or news commentary in the form of a podcast, or any kind of interactive conversation.
Podcasts for news are more rooted in story and narration than a clickbait news article. The value is in the fact that we’re listening to real people talking, and it helps news feel embodied and grounded. Podcasts give us more tools for interpretation- like hearing inflection and the feeling of the speaker.
No matter our preferences or frustrations with journalism, we can’t deny that journalism has value.
This nonfiction writing style is very exploratory, curious, and often leaves the reader with a deeper takeaway than they would expect at first glance.
When it comes to dialogue in a personal essay, it’s not going to be chock-full of actual quotes/written dialogue. Dialogue in personal essay is more anecdotal, used to explain a concept or point, rather than being the point of the article itself.
This is where things get tricky with written dialogue and the issue of truth telling in nonfiction.
Memoir and memory are very connected. When we write about a crucial moment in our life, conversations with others are often a big part of that. But our memories are also fallible...so what do we do when we need to write dialogue, but we can’t ensure its accuracy?
The short, un-nuanced answer is that the dialogue is worth telling, regardless.
The detailed answer is that your perspective is extremely important in writing memoir, so be honest about your perspective, but also work to cultivate good intentions behind the dialogue you share.
Art is a work of repackaging, and we all will package things differently. It is still important to fact-check, to interview other people who were involved, and then work to get as close to the truth as possible.
Honesty in writing is extremely important...if you’re really struggling with how to be honest about something in your writing, tell that to your reader! Make it explicit. Lots of things can be true at the same time.
Writing isn’t a linear process, but a process of discovery and learning.