Happy New Year!
I am SO glad to see 2008 fade into the sunset and give birth to a new year of hope for us all! I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention the recent passing of one of my favorite playwrights, Harold Pinter. He was an actor's dream - sparse dialogue with lots of room to fill empty spaces, and to make those spaces become all sorts of things...including increasingly menacing and uncomfortable. I was fortunate to be in more than one Pinter play, starting in high school and on into my life at Northwestern.
The NY Times described Pinter's work as showing "the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence". Director Peter Hall said "words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other." But my favorite is what Pinter himself said: "One way of looking at speech is to say it is a constant strategem to cover nakedness".
I know that somewhere, he has infiltrated my writer-self. I find it reassuring to think that the page does not always need to be filled up with dialogue, that sometimes pauses and what's going on in the subtext, under the surface, tells us much more. We need to show what our characters are doing, not simply let the reader hear what they're saying, especially when they contradict each other. We can't be afraid to let them be naked on the page.
Perhaps that's why I write some of my books in free verse - the sparseness of poetry lets you say worlds more than if you vomited words onto the page. And when you DO use words, they need to be the absolute best.
Whichever your medium is, choose your words, and your lack of words, carefully...then let your characters have fun filling the spaces!