From Scene II of Barbara Guest’s play, The Lady’s Choice
Christian: You like only myth,
And so you would go riding,
Greensleeves and all
To where love’s hiding.
Antoinette: I like you.
Christian: Lady in the heavy manner
Of kings, you do not please.
Antoinette: Am I not pretty?
Christian: Pretty a dash, but not
To my tasting.
Antoinette: And do I not please?
Christian: You please yourself.
Antoinette: You rock me.
Christian: You rock all foundations.
You are almost an earthquake.
Antoinette: Your name?
Antoinette: Than you’ve some charity.
Christian: Enough to lend.
Antoinette: Spend it on me.
I am obsessed with well-written dialog; I find it to be one of the most intriguing aspects of a story. Here Guest serves us her characters’ attributes with little explanation needed. Antoinette is some version of a privileged debutant, and Christian is some version of a shining nobility who Antoinette thinks she has fallen for without even knowing his name (so it’s also clear Antoinette is severely desperate). Remarkably, these are assumptions Guest leads us to without having to write much at all.
Today I am going to be featuring an interview with two fabulous fiction writers, Selah Saterstom and Elizabeth Frankie Rollins (who I will refer to as Frankie). They both speak about each other’s writing as operating not from what is explicitly written, but instead from what is implied within the writing. For example, from Selah’s 2007 book, The Meat and Spirit Plan (Coffee House Press):
For my response essay I begin with the sentence: There are worse things than enduring sadness. The teacher reads it out loud. I shoot this girl Bitch Lisa a look like: fuck you, I’m deep (pg. 67).
Implication: Narrator- 1, Bitch Lisa- 0.
And this is an excerpt from the beginning of Frankie’s Origin, a novel in installments, where a husband and his pregnant wife are venturing off to settle an island:
Paramon spoke saying, “You look pained. Are you alright?” He rested the oars against his chest, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, which was soiled with two days’ rowing. His eyes, despite lack of sleep, surprised her with their shine.
“Darling,” she said smiling, pulling herself up a little in the boat, straightening her damp skirts at her feet. “I was only thinking of tea in china cups.”
He blinked and winced.
“No! No reproach, Paramon. I was only making fun of myself. Not complaining. Just trying to make light of my homesickness." (From Chapter One.)
Implication: the woman’s miserable.
We, as readers, are often drawn into characters and scenes by what we can assume about the person, or the situation. It's really psychological; this way other people's stories can become our own. Selah and Frankie know that. They also win the award for Most Creative Dialog this week. (See Frankie’s answer to: What about your career would be most drastically different if you two hadn’t met?) As you will read, these two clearly display a real, and rare bond, a bond that originated not only from encouragement and inspiration, but also from friendship.
Be careful, like Guest’s Christian, they’re easy to fall for.
Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other?
Frankie Rollins: We met in a barn. At grad school. Goddard College’s Haybarn. Selah walked in and I saw her across a room of full of people and folding chairs. She had this great big bright aura all around her. Our eyes met and I smiled and waved to her like I knew her, automatically, instinctively. She waved right back. After the readings, we found each other and introduced ourselves. The only thing strange about any of it was the moment when I realized that I did not, in fact, even know her name.
Saterstrom: I’ve known Frankie for 13 years. 13 has always been a lucky number for me.
We met in Vermont at Goddard College where we were both pursuing MFAs in fiction. Frankie was ahead of me in the program, but I had seen her around: she glowed. I mean that she changed the energy of any room she was in and in a visceral way – such a presence – this was a fact, and in my book she was 100% glorious in every way that ever has mattered.