Eudora Welty Interview in The Virginia Quarterly

The Virginia Quarterly has a long interview with Eudora Welty that was a series of conversations compiled by William Ferris. It goes over a lot of themes and is a genial interview (she seems to have liked everyone she met and they were all very nice). Nevertheless, there are some interesting parts. She does talk about writing some which was interesting, if the number of people who violate her ideas.

The ability to use dialogue, or the first person, is just as essential as the knowledge of place in a story. Dialogue has special importance because you use it in fiction to do subtle things and very many things at once—​like giving a notion of the speaker’s background, furthering the plot, giving a sense of the give-​and-​take between characters. Dialogue gives a character’s age, background, upbringing, everything, without the author’s having to explain it on the side. The character is doing it out of his own mouth. A character may be telling a lie, which he will show to the reader, but not to the person to whom he is talking, and perhaps not even realize himself. Sometimes he is deluded. All these things come out in dialogue. You get that, of course, by your ear, by listening to the rhythms and habits of everyday speech. I listen all the time. I love it. I do not do it because I have to, but because I like to.

I do not think you can transfer anything as it is spoken onto the page and have it come out at all convincingly. What comes out as a sound is not what the speaker thinks he said, or, really, what he did say. It has to be absolutely rewritten on the page from the way it happens. But if you did not know how it happened, you could not start. It is a matter of condensation and getting his whole character into speech. It is a shorthand. It is like action. It is a form of action in a story. People do not talk that way. You have got to make it seem that they talk that way. You are giving what seems to be reality, but it is really an artistic illusion. You have to know that, just the way you have to know other things in a story to make them seem believable. They are not duplicates of life, but a rendition of it—​more an impression, I guess.

Color is different from dialogue. One comes through the eye, and the other through the ear. Color is emotionally affecting to me, and I use it when I write. I may not use it exactly as I see it. I use it as I think it ought to be in my story to convey a certain emotion—​just as I would use a time of day or a season of the year. Color is part of that. It gives the sense of a real place and the time of it. Life does not happen in monochrome. It happens in color. So it belongs in the story.

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