WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Oh, dash it all!

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Another little bugaboo of mine.

You know you’re a serious novelist when you’re permitted, without critics attacking (or agents rejecting), to present your dialogue like this:

–It looks like your fly is open.

–My eyes are up here.

–I guess you think you’re pretty special, don’t you. You and your magenta underpants.

–Did I tell you my mom died?

–Oh God. I’m sorry. When?

–Fifteen years ago.

You get the point. When you set up your dialogue like this, as Dave Eggers has in his new novel, you’re giving yourself a license. It frees you up. You’re like one of those unencumbered Europeans now, and you can tell your whole story with dashed dialogue if you want.

Good for you. Knock yourself out.

Most of us can’t get away with it, but Dave Eggers can. Lucky SOB.

End of rant.

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6 comments on “Oh, dash it all!

  1. J. S. Collyer
    August 6, 2014

    Must be so good to be good at that. It’s a really good example of less is more

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 6, 2014

      Exactly! Revealing through dialogue all that a reader needs to know is pretty fraught. I imagine it’s fun to write in that style, though…

  2. kingmidget
    August 6, 2014

    When I read books that don’t follow the conventions of dialogue — you know, things like quotation marks — it really bothers me. I interpret it as the author trying to do something that says “yeah, I’m so good, I don’t have to care about the rules.” And, the thing I like the most about writing is that there really aren’t any rules. So, I don’t know why this bothers me. I guess it’s because while there aren’t any writing rules, there are grammar rules and certain basics and when somebody isn’t willing to follow those, it just kind of grinds at me. Dave Eggers is definitely an incredible writer, but he also dearly loves to violate the rules and conventions — to the point where it’s kind of part of his shtick, which is the other problem. It’s not really about anything other than that he’s found this gimmick and he’s gonna keep trotting the gimmick out there. Why? Because he can.

    As for writing entirely in dialogue … I have written a couple of stories like that and enjoy eliminating all of the other story elements and seeing what I can do with just dialogue. It’s a good experiment to try and a good way to just try telling a story a different way.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 6, 2014

      Great points, dude. There is a kind of showmanship to these techniques — Look at me! I’m like James Joyce! Bottom line should be, I guess, Does it work? Is it right for this material?

      More often than not, it does feel a bit gimmicky, though.

      I’ve done a few all-dialogue pieces in my time (including one with dashes!), but I’m not sure I’d risk it in a novel.

      • kingmidget
        August 7, 2014

        Yeah … novel length all dialogue would be very difficult. I’ve done it twice. The first was a couple thousand words, the second was 15,000. I think I’m done with that experiment.

  3. 1WriteWay
    August 10, 2014

    The whole novel is like that? Kill me now ;(

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This entry was posted on August 6, 2014 by in Writing.
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