Though I was a member of the Writers Institute, part of the honors program at St. Louis University, I learned virtually nothing about writing there—there wasn’t a single writer on the staff (and you can’t teach what you don’t know).
I learned to write in my first job as a caption writer at the American Peoples Encyclopedia, and I learned to write clearly above all else. Readers should never have to struggle to figure out what you’re trying to say.
This has always suited me temperamentally, even when at last I came to writing fiction. Of course, in real life conversations people seldom say exactly what they want to say (or even know exactly what it IS they want to say).
The fiction writer’s trick is, first, to know exactly what the character wants to say (even if s/he want to be ambiguous or dishonest); second, to have the character say it (and in the style of language s/he uses); and third to make it sound like normal, spontaneous speech. The last of these probably can’t be taught.
Some people just don’t have an ear for dialogue (and are not going make it as fiction writers). And by the way, I agree with you; in this respect, purely as a work of fiction, I consider The Holy to be by far my best.
updated: 27 Aug 2004