Monday, January 12, 2009

On The Phone

Modern technology has given us many ways we can communicate without seeing a person face to face. One example is talking on the phone. In writing, they all amount to the same thing. They create scenes in which the characters are communicating, but they aren’t doing much. Sometimes that’s okay, but we must be careful. Unless we have an omnipresent narrator, we can only follow the actions of one of the characters. This quickly degrades into a he said/she said scene. Even though he may be doing something while he talks on the phone, he is still tied to the phone and there is a limit to what he can do.

We can help these scenes by giving our narrator character something to do as he talks on the phone. He might be opening his mail, driving down the road or polishing his shoes. Nearly anything will work, except in situations where the character is consumed by the conversation. When he is so consumed, he won’t be doing mundane tasks, taking us back to a scene with pure dialogue.

It may be helpful to bring in a secondary character who has nothing to do with the phone conversation and is inconsiderate enough to cause a distraction. For example, a man might be talking on the phone at work with a woman from another state. The phone call is required due to geographical distance. As the man is deep in conversation, trying to persuade the woman to his point of view, the janitor come in and wants to vacuum the floor. This forces the man into some kind of action other than sitting his chair as he talks on the phone. If nothing else, we can tell about him lifting his feet and moving his chair out of the way, all while trying to understand the woman on the other end of the line.