Saturday, 16 August 2014

Drama to Prose Fiction: Dialogue Transformations

I like the idea of applying good advice from one genre to another genre. Studying Plays by Mick Wallis and Simon Shepherd aims to help people understand how to read plays. The chapter on dialogue has a subsection on conversational maxims as devised by H.P. Grice. The theory is that people are supposed to follow a set of rules when they are in conversation so that the speakers seem co-operative. When someone disobeys one of these rules, that agreement to co-operate is broken.

The co-operative maxims, words verbatim from pages 58 and 59 of the third edition, are as follows:

(1) quantity: give the right amount of information (neither too much nor too little)
(2) quality: try to be truthful
(3) relation: say something pertinent (don't go off on a tangent)
(4) manner: don't be long-winded and be clear (avoid prolixity, ambiguity and obscurity)
(5) respect:: give your interlocutor their due (give them the respect they deserve)

Page 59 lists the ways people break these maxims:

(1) quietly violate a maxim e.g. deceive
(2) opt out of the co-operative principle e.g. claim a right to silence
(3) avoid a clash by breaking one maxim e.g. tell a lie to be kind
(4) brazenly flout a maxim e.g. when the customs officer asks if you have anything to declare, reply "Nothing but my genius"

In drama, a violation of a maxim can reveal the relationship between the speakers or reveal ironies related to plot, among many other things.

I decided I would do an exercise that Wallis and Shepherd describe (59). I took a piece of dialogue from the novel I am working on and changed it so that one of the characters broke a maxim in a specific way. Once that maxim gets broken, the other character's responses must change too. Even if a character is already breaking a maxim in the original, I have to make the characters break another one.

Here is the original dialogue. Burghie is helping Gilda find Gilda's brother Pete, Burghie's childhood friend, whom Gilda thinks is planning to leave town. At this point in the story, Burghie and Gilda have just found out that Pete has left. "He has a crush on Gilda and has decided to tell Gilda how he feels about her. Burghie is speaking to Gilda while sitting on his bike. The story is from her point of view.



    “What did you want to tell me?” Gilda said. “Is it about Pete?”
     “No.”
     “What, then?”
     “I just wanted you to know, Gilda,” Burghie said, “that this thing with Pete has been fun. I mean, I don’t think it’s fun looking for someone who has disappeared. But it’s been good to get back in touch. I mean that it’s been fun hanging out with you and working on this stuff. It’s like old times.”

     Gilda nodded. “Sure. I think so too.”
     He nodded back. “I’m glad you think so too.”
     “You’re easy to worth with.”
     He hesitated, then said, “So are you.” 

(1) Quietly violate a maxim (relation)


     "What did you want to tell me?" Gilda said. "Is it about Pete?"
     "No."
     "What, then?"
     Burghie opened his mouth, then shut it with a click. "Do you think this neighbourhood is going downhill?"
     Gilda frowned. "Um, no. I mean, it never was the best neighbourhood, but it's not any worse that it always was. Why do you ask?"
     "I was just thinking of starting my own restaurant, maybe around here."
     "I don't know," Gilda said. She couldn't believe that he'd asked her to come here, in person, to talk to her about the food industry. "I don't know anything about restaurants. I'm the wrong person to ask. I mean, don't you work in a restaurant in this neighbourhood?"
     Burghie flinched. "Yes, of course you're right."

(2) Brazenly flout a maxim (quality)

     "What did you want to tell me?" Gilda said. "Is it about Pete?"
     "No."
    "What, then?"
    "I just wanted you to know, Gilda, that this thing with Pete has been fun. I mean, I don't think it’s fun looking for someone who has disappeared. But it’s been good to get back in touch. I mean that it’s been  fun hanging out with you and working on this stuff. It’s like old times.”
     "Sure it's been fun, Pete. Sitting around wondering when or where my sibling is, wondering if he's dead. Risking getting into trouble at work by making phone calls to try to track him down. Spending all my free time calling people I wouldn't normally talk to."
     Burghie flinched. It reminded her of a dog being hit across the head with stick. She had gone too far with him.She'd forgotten. He was not like her that way. Damn her cynical mouth. "Not that I'm saying you're a bad guy or anything."
     He was looking down at his pedals, but under his eyebrows she could still see his eyes glistening. "Of course that's not what I meant," he said. When he lifted his head again, his eyes hardened. "I'm not a monster."
     "I know that. You know that I know that."
     "Why say that, then, Gilda?
    





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