Monday, June 13, 2011

MFA Monday: The Last Word... on Dialogue

In three more days I'll be boarding a plane and heading off to my second residency program. A year ago, I was barely thinking seriously about going back to get my MFA, and now here I am, one semester under my belt and not completely sucking at it.

 I think my writing has gotten better. I hope I've gotten a lot better. Of course, if that was true, I probably wouldn't be using the word "gotten." :) Still, I can tell a big difference in both what I write, and how I revise.

Along the way I hoped to share some of what I've learned, but I'm not sure I've done that well. Part of that is that it's hard to put into words what I'm learning. The residencies provide hours and hours of teaching - very practical put-into-words kind of learning, but the rest of the semester, where I'm working on my own with my advisor, what I learn isn't as easily quantifiable or definable.

But here's a tidbit I learned about dialogue that I passed on to one of my critique partners this week that might help you:

Dialogue has two purposes: to show character, and to propel the plot.

It should not be used to dispense information that the narrative could give.

Simple, and yet such wise advice. If you look at dialogue in a book that just doesn't work for you, or that seems hokey, it's likely it's because it's trying to give the reader information needed for the story that the narration really should be telling. Or it's a conversation in which nothing happens. I know real people have those conversations all the time, but in a book, stick to what's important.

So that's my last words of MFA wisdom for the semester. I'll be on a plane on Thursday, and I'll try to update as often as possible from Oregon.

There is sure to be pictures. None of the ocean this time, since I will be at the Pacific University campus instead of the beach, but since the sun is scheduled to shine for the first few days at least, there will be pictures! :)

Beyond that... You tell me - if you happen to come back to this blog over the next two weeks, what would you rather read about? What I'm learning in class, or what I'm doing?


  1. On my last edit, I've been revising dialogue - tightening it up and so your advice is very timely.

    Good luck on your next residency program. Can't wait to read about what you've learned.

  2. I'm so excited for you Heidi! I hope you have a super time. :)

    I can't wait to read about what you are learning...

  3. Have a wonderful, educational, fun time, Heidi. And those are two great tips about dialogue. I feel like I get so much helpful advice from your blog, and yet I like hearing about what you're doing as well. I suppose you can put me down as both. I like knowing what you're learning in class, but I like hearing what you're doing too!

  4. Can't wait to hear more about your residency! Thanks for the advice on dialogue.

  5. I love that dialogue advice! How exciting about the MFA. Have a great trip!

  6. Safe travels to you Heidi! And I hope the sun shines enough for a photo or two. Advise on writing and what you are up to are both good subjects. I can't pick one or the other!

  7. Uh... both??

    Hope the weather is nice for you - they've had a crap summer so far.
    Though, when you're on the coast, I think it's pretty gorgeous no matter what.

  8. How time flies!

    Congratulations on making it this far, Heidi. Would love to hear what you're learning, but if that's too esoteric, pictures and what you're up to are fine.

    Hope the sun shines for more than a few days. ;-)