Talking It Out)
Being interrupted is one of the most hated parts of communication. Every idea that we speak of comes with it a desire to be completed. To be stopped short of doing so is like feeling a sneeze that never comes to fruition. Understandably, interrupting another is therefore considered bad manners, and yet sometimes we feel the need to do it even so.
Conversations are not lectures, and the purpose of them is not to have one person express their opinions only. Each side needs to feel understood, and will therefore pull the conversation into a different direction as needed for them to be able to attain full expression.
A poor conversation will therefore become a constant war of jerking the focus back and forth. Each individual sees the other person’s expression and their own as being mutually exclusive, thus only one perspective can be conveyed, and so it must be their own. These sorts of conversations are called arguments, and they represent the worst possible form of communication. The inevitable result is that neither side receives full expression and both leave dissatisfied. This might occur by each escalating until they are shouting over one another, or else one turning submissive and just tuning out the ranting of the other.
That type of conversation is combative, whereas the ideal conversation would be collaborative. In collaborative discourses each side is actively trying to help one another to express themselves. They are each seeking to understand the other, as well as together uncover a shared middle ground. Each side leaves not only feeling fulfilled, but also larger in insight. Where argument shrinks you further into your own perspective, healthy discussion broadens it.
Interestingly, though, interruptions still occur in healthy conversations, they just take a different form. Instead of being competitive such as “oh never mind that, listen to this…” they become clarifying statements such as “hang on, I didn’t quite understand you there, did you mean…”
Positive conversations can also use gentle interruptions to cue where you think greener fields lie. They are a succinct way of asking “can we talk about this other matter now?”
Isn’t This a Story Blog?)
Thanks for that friendly interruption, guess I got a little off track. Because yes, all this does relate to story-telling, and I was hoping this conversation would steer towards that at some point!
In the end, a story is made up of many different parts, all of which need their say in the overall conversation. Plot needs to be thickened, characters need to be arced, tension needs to be built. A sloppy writer will slap these things back-to-back with no thought for how they gel together as a whole. It will make for a story that feels like it is combating with itself, each scene being a rude interruption to the one that came before.
But a skilled writer will let each scene seamlessly transition from one to the next in a way that collaborates in a cohesive narrative. Just as how two courteous conversationalists will take the last statement of the other as the launching point for their own piece, the next scene in the story will wait for a lull in the action of the current, segue on a shared theme into the new premise, and then proceed to express itself more fully. Even if the new scene is thematically contradictory to the prior, it will still feel like the two belong together and form a shared message.
Consider how this is accomplished in the example of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Two of this book’s voices are quite opposite to each other: one being that of rousing, epic action, and the other being of calm respites with fanciful fantasy characters. Are these two halves of the story breaking the overall narrative? No, they actually support one it together.
This is because one of the story’s overall themes is that good things are worth fighting for. The heroes of the story are convinced that there is a beautiful world which is deserving of their sacrifice to be preserved. In order for us to be convinced of this point as well, we need to spend some time in those beautiful places. And so an extended deliberation among Ents provides essential depth to the world and making the stakes of later conflict feel like they truly matter. We are intrigued by the odd mannerisms of the passive creatures during their entmoot, and then invigorated to see their race rescued through the rousing battle at Isengard. Each of the two sections combine to form a satisfying arc for the species.
There is an example of interruptions in story-telling with my last entry of Washed Down the River. Here I had one character pick another up in his car, and then the two of them discussed the details of the case they were working while driving to their next lead. As they went, the discussion of the case was suddenly interrupted when Daley suggested doing something rash in regards to it. This derailed everything, and soon the two men were arguing about Daley’s aloofness to his friends, family, and life. Each of the two interrupted the other, and each tried to force their own perspective on the other, much like how the narrative forced this scene of conflict out-of-the-blue upon the reader.
Of course neither character was left satisfied by the conversation. Each became more entrenched in their own perspective. Then, right on cue, the two men arrived at their destination and the argument was put on pause as the case interrupted into the fore.
The sudden transition from case to argument and back to the case might seem disjointed, but it was so intentionally. The staccato of quickly moving pieces was meant to reflect the tension playing out in those scenes. At the same time, necessary housekeeping tasks were accomplished, such as reminding the reader of other threads that are a part of the story, and also of providing a distraction while loading in the next scene.
In the end I think I wrote scenes that feel chaotic and disjointed when taken individually, but which smooth out the overall narrative when viewed as a whole. One might say that I am trying to take many jagged parts and fit them into a unified mosaic.
With my next post we’ll be continuing that process, and along the way I will try to utilize each transition in as effective of a manner. Come back on Thursday to see how it turns out.