I read a mediocre novel on the plane from Edinburgh to London, and watched a mediocre film on the plane from London to Toronto. In both instances, I was struck by how peculiarly bad the dialogue was. It often seemed as if the characters weren’t even engaged in the same conversation. I’m not referring to the sort of missed communication dialogue that can reveal so much about the relationships between characters in, say, a James Salter short story. I’m referring to characters that don’t seem to be speaking to one another at all.
I can’t help but think that it would take hard work to create this effect, that it could be nearly as difficult as writing good dialogue. How does it happen? Perhaps, at least as far as the film is concerned, it’s a script-by-committee problem. The various people involved in the drafting may have different ideas about the identities of the characters, the nature of their relationships with one another, and hence what any given conversation between them is about. Inconsistencies and contradictions creep in and are never resolved.
This seems a less plausible explanation with respect to a novel where one expects a lone authorial consciousness to be at work. Then again, in light of recent revelations about the roles played by researchers, collaborators, and book packagers in the drafting of some high-profile novels, perhaps it’s naïve of me ever to assume a lone authorial consciousness. It might have required a whole team of people to produce the terrible dialogue in my airplane book.