Like 497, 651 other people, I have “liked” David Sedaris on Facebook. You can too, if you click on his name. You can help his PR people to say he has half a million FB fans. Wow!
Recently an interview with Sedaris appeared on his page that reminded me of something I am struggling with as I write memoir.
Remember picking books from the library when you knew nothing about them and you were craving a really good read? One that took you out of your time, place, maybe even out of your own body for a little while? Did you do what I did in elementary school–look for the white space on the page?
White space= dialogue. Dialogue equals speed of reading and engagement with character.
The interview shared on facebook comes from this story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sedaris can sell out a house, not only here in America, but in Europe also. He’s compared to Bruce Springsteen in the article. He himself seems bemused by his success.
Here’s the paragraph that jumped out at me:
Q. Do you think that the performing – that constant reading out loud – has affected the way that you write?
A. Yes, definitely. If you’re reading something in front of an audience, you need to have dialogue in your story and it has to clip along in a way that if it’s just on a page, it doesn’t have to. People can just say, “Oh, that’s nice that he put that word in front of that one. Oh, I always liked that word. Look! That word has seven syllables in it.” But when you’re reading a story in front of an audience it has to move along.
Memoirists treat dialogue in many different ways. Right now I am reading Miriam Toews’ memoir about her father called Swing Low: A Life (recently reviewed in The New York Times.) So I thought I would observe the way the author handles dialogue in this unusual memoir–a daughter writes a narrative pieced together from fragments of information about her bi-polar father’s life.
Since the main character — Mel Toews — is notoriously silent unless he is in school or in church, the dialogue is mostly internal. So the lack of quotation marks makes sense. In general, it makes sense not to use quotation marks in memoir, I think. It takes some of the burden off memory when the reader does not see punctuation as a promise of fundamentalist truth.
However, I also picked up a copy of Toew’s novel, A Complicated Kindness, and I note the absence of quote marks there also. Yet there are more white spaces in the novel because the main character, a teenage girl, is voluble compared to the terse Mel Toews. Toews skillfully uses dialogue, both internal and external, to establish character and bring the reader close in as an observer.
Dear reader, what are your own preferences? Dialogue, description, or philosophic musings? If you are a writer, do you employ the same mix you yourself prefer as a reader? Do you like or dislike quotation marks?