When most people write a memoir (who aren’t professional), their stories are written in a long narrative. It’s not broken up by any kind of dialogue. People can often feel intimidated by using dialogue.
Some of the common complaints are:
- It’s not accurate. I can’t remember exactly what they said.
- Liability. What if I say something she said when she didn’t say it?
In Jesus, My Father, and The CIA, author, Ian Morgan Kron, uses dialogue with a legal disclaimer. If you ever read it (and you should), it’s in the introductory. Here he goes through a humorous explanation why the dialogue and details may or may not be accurate. He said no one ever gets the story right over the dinner table. If you bring up your version of a memory, your family members will bring up their versions and suddenly you have World War Three because everyone believes their version is the correct version.
I found that to be true in my life. This is his way to eliminate liability or slander. You do the best you can to keep things accurate. When putting dialogue into a mission letter or memoir, you start with the basic idea of what happened in the conversation.
The basic idea: Jody told me she wanted to be baptized.
We all know the thousands of conversations and prayer that paved the way for this event in Jody’s life. You have established a relationship over time with Jody. She is more than just someone who approached you to get baptized. She has a history. So how do we re-tell it using fictional methods?
The rest of the basic idea is filler, time, and place.
You have been meeting Jody at the same coffee shop for the past three weeks. At church, she sits with you. Her parents are atheists. Her grandmother is a believer. Now we have some story to work with!
After we change Jody’s name to Andrea (to protect her identity), we start the missionary letter like this:
Andrea Meets Jesus!
“I’m ready.” Andrea (not her real name) blurted out as she picked at her muffin.
I nearly dropped my Vanilla Latte on the floor and did an Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries, saying, SHUT UP! Instead, I chose a more temperate approach to her announcement.
“You mean…?” We had been meeting here for the past two years. It’s how I became addicted to Lattes. My pastor taught me you had to adapt to culture as a missionary to reach those with the truth of the Gospel, even if that meant learning to like coffee and spending time at a place where people spent more time on their phones than with each other.
Andrea did that thing where she bites her lower lip. A half smile was on her face. “Yeah, I got down on my knees last night after my mother called and chewed me out. I surrendered to Jesus. I wasn’t doing very well on my own anyway.”
Andrea’s mom was bi-polar, and was not always easy to talk to on a good day.
“Are you ready to show that commitment through baptism?”
Andrea nodded, this time wearing a smile and allowing her inner sparkle to shine in her eyes. She was baptized a week later, and she is working on her relationship with her mom so her mom will come to know Jesus. It’s not easy with angry atheists.
Andrea and I continue to meet twice a month, but this time the conversations are different. We talk about her walk with Christ, scripture, and her questions as she grows. So thank you for praying for Andrea all this time.
- The basic idea is present: Jody now Andrea, declaration that Andrea is a fake name, basic facts about Andrea’s home life, Andrea’s coming to Christ and how, and the baptism.
- Fillers. You can fill in most conversations you can’t recall exactly with I, they, them, me, him, was, etc. I don’t recall if I said, “Are you ready to show that committment through baptism?” All I remember is asking her if she was ready to get baptized.
- New person talking, new paragraph.
- “I like blue,” said Jack. Quotes around punctuation.
- Italics for inner voice.
- Basic idea illustrated in the talk.
- Beat is an action. Tag is a, he said or she said. READ MORE