Basil Exposition ... or why writing dialogue is so difficult
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in their professional life. After working as an architect for 20 years I still found color a challenge and would work endlessly on materialpalettes.
With writing the most challenging part for me is dialogue, or more specifically conversations. I find ideas, environment, feelings all come naturally but making each character have their own individual voice takes me longer than any other aspect. This makes sense when you think about it, we all have feelings, we all exist in an environment so even if we add spin to it writing about these issues comes from a place of personal experience while writing a meaningful conversation between a group of people is something based entirely upon imagination and the technical craft to get it on the page.
The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve reached the end game of ‘Mechanical Intelligence’ where the protagonist, Alice, is reunited with the rest of the cast and and am in the middle of a scene where they discuss what has happened and what to do next. I thought this would be easy, take a few thousands word and a day or two. So far its been a week and five complete rewrites and it still isn’t not good enough.
There was a character in the old BBC show Ripping Yarns called, ‘Basil Exposition’ which was Michael Palin’s dig at bad writers' use of a character that appears, reels of lines of exposition then disappears. I come back to Basil often when I’m working as characters need to discover for themselves not be told what is going on in pages of wonky dialogue from an irrelevant character.
Last week I was temped just to hurdle this scene, leave it behind festering then return when the rest of the book was finished but, dammit, I can’t let it go. The story unfolds from what the characters do, It’s not up to me, and if I don’t finish that conversation … well then I don’t know what they agreed to do which leaves me stuck
So I left it alone over the weekend, the longest break in working on this novel for nearly a year, and am about to try it again hoping for some divine intervention or random mutation has made me a better author overnight. Ha, yeah right, over to you Basil …
* Yup, I know this is Gumby from Python not Ripping Yarns but my brain does indeed hurt so seemed more appropriate.