Dialogs MonologS And Other LogS

Whether you're writing fiction or creative nonfiction, the most effective technique for involving readers—making them feel as though they are right there—is well-written dialog. I've decided not to use the word "dialog" for this book because I don't want to mislead and have the reader think that I'm talking about "created" dialog when I discuss creative nonfiction. "Captured conversation"—conversation overheard (or taken from a formal interview) while conducting research for an article or book—is the term I use for creative nonfiction dialog.

A creative nonfiction writer does not use all the conversations captured during research. Similar to the use of character detail, only those bits that seem most illustrative of the subject matter under consideration or revelatory of one or more of the persons involved in the conversation are used. To avoid distortion, the writer exercises great care in selecting those bits. Anyone can seem stupid, brilliant, humorous, humorless, obfuscatory, vague, or otherwise unusual in any single conversation. Do not let the desire to write interestingly and dramatically make you select those conversations that serve drama over truth.

People reveal themselves and shed light on situations through other devices besides conversation, providing the writer many opportunities to collect information and making his or her work more varied, more vivid, more dramatic, more involving, more interesting. People reveal something directly, or indirectly, through historic letters, court records, memoirs, journals, diaries, reminiscences, official letters, newspapers, and the use of telephones. We believe we understand a people or a region a bit better by the signs and symbols we read along the road or in a hotel room—not to mention graffiti we read on their walls. People reveal themselves not only through regular conversations but through monologs, conversation where one participant speaks at such length that his or her parts in the conversation resemble more a series of monologs. All of these devices of revelation provide grist for the word mills of creative nonfiction writers. Let's look at some examples of how our better writers have used these devices, beginning with the main one—captured conversation.

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