I had never thought about how dialogue was like jazz until I spoke with Wesley Brown.
Wesley Brown knows dialogue and he knows jazz. His latest collection of stories, Dance of the Infidels, brings the two together and I learned so much from talking about music and writing with him. In addition, Wesley is Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and teaches literature and creative writing at Bard College. He is the author of plays, fiction, and nonfiction so there is something here for every genre of writer.
As someone who has long struggled with bringing scenes to life with dialogue, that topic was of particular interest to me. If this is a tricky point for you, or if you struggle with hearing a character’s voice come to life, this episode will help. We also hear about Wesley’s current collection of stories and its fascinating concept. I am happy to be the new owner of a copy and I know everyone listening will want to read it as well.
Discussed in Episode 57 with Wesley Brown:
- Working in a variety of literary forms
- A play about a subway murder
- How different ideas manifest in different formats
- The difference between writing and experiencing a play and a book
- How it feels to watch your work performed
- How performance is like jazz
- Dialogue as a way for characters to define who they are
- Potential problems with dialogue
- Ways dialogue can work well- when characters say things that are unexpected yet truthful
- Discussion of the stories in Dance of the Infidels
- Why he can never write with music playing
- How music is assimilated into the writing process
- The decision to do a series of linked short stories instead of a novel
- Writing about real-life characters and the challenges and gifts of this process
- Why Wesley doesn’t outline, and how he writes stories instead
Music and Images referenced in this episode:
- The Savoy
- Music of Cecil McLorin Salvant
- Music of Dexter Gordon
- Body & Soul by Coleman Hawkins
- Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen
- Mary Ellen Mark
- The Darlings of Rhythm
MaryEllen Mark’s photograph of Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen.