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Real Dialog

I’m reading Alan Alda’s autobiography, NEVER HAVE YOUR DOG STUFFED, and it’s fun and fascinating and at times upsetting.  What I didn’t expect was to find something profound about acting that has a very real application to writing.

It’s very easy when you’re writing to just make your points, ride your own personal hobby horse, and set up straw men to be demolished by your protagonists.  This is especially common in science fiction where the characters in some books are more like actors in a 19th century play.  One declaims.  Then pauses and the other party declaims.  It’s not actually a conversation.  It’s monologuing disguised as conversation.

So what makes a conversation feel real?  In Alda’s book he was talking about relating and listening.  He wrote:

“And listening was more a kind of waiting than anything else.  I talk and then you talk.  And then I listen for when I get to talk again.”

He begins to understand that this is not an effective way to relate.  He goes on to say:

“Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”

Sit with that for a moment.  How many of us as writer’s are willing to grant the other side in a discussion the chance to be right?  Or at least to make a valid point.  

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