I've asked questions in the past about dialogue and I've read some questions about balancing dialogue with plot, however I have discovered yet another corner case in my writing. In my story Cured, the main character (Tony) who has taken a pill to increase his empathy is discussing his relationship with the pill with a chaplain.
I want this conversation to happen, because Tony needs to address some things about the pill he can't do on his own without making the story huge. Here's what I want the conversation to cover:
- Tony's fear that he can't function without the pill and what that means.
- Tony's discomfort with being beholden to something artificial and external.
Here's what I've come up with after multiple re-writes:
"How," I ask, "do you deal with the contradiction that every moment you live, you should be helping reduce the humongous amount of suffering in the world, but you don't."
"I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I can every day."
"But I mean for the average person. All I ever hear is the cliche 'try your best', but what does that even mean?"
"Well, try to notice the people around you and understand that their lives are just as meaningful as your own."
"But apathy is always holding you back. What if, hypothetically, you could take a pill that made you more emotionally sensitive to other people's suffering. Would you take it?"
"Of course. Assuming that it has no ulterior cost."
"But it's hard being empathetic. It tires you and it makes it easier for people to take advantage of you."
"Assuming that you can avoid exploitation with thoughtfulness, it sounds like a move in the right direction to me."
"But it stops you from being happy. It's not natural."
"What's your natural state like?"
"It sucks. I know that I should care, but I can never make the first step. I keep drifting. Maybe I'm bad at being a human being."
"Being a good human being isn't a default state. It's something you and I will always be learning. If your definitions of right and wrong didn't change since you were five, you would be seen as a menace to society."
"So nature isn't ideal?"
"Not always. But you just have to keep in mind moderation. I'm assuming you only have a hypothetical pill and not a hypothetical brain control device accompanying it."
"Just the pill. But even if it isn't addictive, a pill is still a dependency, shouldn't my solution come from within myself?"
"Well, what is the self? Actually, let's not go there. Why do you think the solution has to come from yourself?"
"Because it's more admirable?"
"Doesn't having to care offer enough admirable struggles?"
"But if you take the pill, you're no longer in control."
"The way I see it, control is when you're still able to define and choose your own choices. This passes that test. You create the choice of caring and you enable it when you take the pill."
"The hypothetical pill, which you hypothetically can't tell the cops about because this is a religious practice."
I'm tying to find the balance between making the dialogue sound like it's skipping over an important topic and the dialogue being excessively dry.
Orson Scott Card does this type of dialogue really well and I'm going to try and find an example of that once I can get my hands on one of his books. Until then, any suggestions about where my dialogue might be going wrong (or if I'm wrong to try and shove this type of development into a dialogue in the first place) are greatly appreciated.