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By Ron D. White
“Add some better dialogue” is the most common phrase in reviews of my work.
The last class of the spring session was about to begin and I had not signed up for any Lit Fest courses. Mostly I needed some time off. On the Lighthouse porch were two people I’d never met having what looked like a thoughtful conversation. One guy wore a cap with the name of a renewable energy organization. I’ve seen caps like that from Cape Town to Hohhot, but not at Lighthouse. So I stopped.
The conversation wound down and I ask about the cap. It was a friendly answer that included “but I teach here.” Then came his list of Lit Fest classes and information about more in the fall. I got his name and scampered off to class.
The Lit Fest booklet had the details and I circled one that jumped out as a different perspective on dialogue—The Screenplay: Form and the Visual Narrative. If I put real energy into preparing for class, it had to work. I asked myself what my last draft might look like if Chekhov wrote it. Reading a few scenes from the Cherry Orchard and rewriting some dialogue of my own felt like real learning. No Russian agent would consider me a marketing threat, but it was more productive than spending the next week at a coffee shop listening and taking notes.
The next day an email with an attachment on writing screenplay came from Michael Catlin. I read through it a couple of times and rewrote a few more pages of dialogue. Now I had pages to show and a few specific questions for class. There I got comments and answers. Of course, the coffee shop theory was suggested. Michael paused a few seconds before saying that the most illustrative conversation he listened to in a long time came from two people walking down the stairs and stopping to finish their conversation in the hallway at Lighthouse.
He’s right. Conversation on the Lighthouse Porch is more productive than coffee shop banter.