George Saunders says, “Bad dialogue is when A asks a question and B answers it,” while good dialogue is like two people “firing missiles past each other.” From said-bookisms (the substitution of complicated synonymns for the word “said”) to As-you-know-Bobs (using dialogue for the purpose of redundant expository summary), the perils of dialogue are many—but the opportunities are also infinite. Good dialogue can betray characters’ socioeconomic backgrounds; reveal their conscious desires and unconscious biases; hint at otherwise unspoken nuances in their relationships; and make for plotty, propulsive reading.
In this course, we'll get deep into the mechanics, stylistics, and possibilities of written dialogue. We'll close-read some passages from masters of dialogue in different genres (e.g. George Saunders, Paul Beatty, Agatha Christie, Kevin Kwan, Robert Altman, Nora Ephron) to see what makes great dialogue tick. We'll revise short passages of dialogue from our own works-in-progress. And we'll leave with new tools and tricks by which to craft great dialogue going forward in our own writing.
This intensive is best suited for writers of fiction and nonfiction who have already produced at least a partial draft of an extant work-in-progress.
- Revision of an existing passage of dialogue from your work-in-progress
- A handy list of dos and don'ts for crafting great dialogue in the future
- A deeper working knowledge of what makes compelling, readable dialogue in prose
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
In advance of the class, students are invited to submit up to one single-spaced page of dialogue (with minimal narrative exposition) for workshop by the group.
Rachel Lyon is author of Self-Portrait with Boy, which was long-listed for the DUBLIN International Literary Award and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her short work has appeared or is forthcoming in One Story, Longreads, Joyland, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She is Editor-in-Chief of Epiphany and a cofounder of the reading series Ditmas Lit, in her native Brooklyn NY.
"Rachel Lyon has written a haunting tale of how a singular, devastating event in the life of a young woman photographer changes the trajectory of her life and comes to define her utterly. Beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY will suggest, to some readers, the obsessive interiority of the great Diane Arbus, conjoined with an original and disturbing examination of the ill-defined borders between life and art."
"Rachel Lyon navigates a spectrum of loyalty and betrayal like a tightrope-walker, with all of the attendant suspense. A life-changing moral choice powers this atmospheric novel which shows what can happen when you do what scares you most."
"A formidable novel, equal parts ghost story, love story, and riveting bildungsroman. Full of big ideas about art and love and ambition, with prose so vivid it gives off sparks, this debut won me over completely. Chilling and beautiful, just like the work of the artist at the heart of the story."
"Before Rachel's class, and for a long time, I wrote furtively, dejectedly, and often without a sense of purpose. It was all hypothetical and dizzying, though I yearned for it deeply. Through her workshop, I have learned of the tangible joys of the practice itself, real and hard. She taught me that I have much to learn and much to look forward to in the process, which no matter the discipline I always find to be the best lesson. I am very grateful to her; she reintroduced me to my own writing."
"We asked Rachel a lot of questions that often had no right answers, and she took the time to answer honestly and knowledgeably. She answered all my questions even though they did not all focus on the craft of writing."
"Rachel was funny, smart, and kept us focused on the material at hand, guiding each writer to be the best they possibly could. She gave detailed feedback that was thoughtful and incredibly instructive. I gained confidence in myself as both a writer and reader."