My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Every writer needs to master dialogue, making it as believable and expected as everyday life, but allowing it to convey the simplicity intermingled with surprise and excitement expected in modern novels. In addition to dialogue, perfecting a paragraph or passage’s structure, namely placing an important thought towards the end, is another device modern writers need to understand in their daily writing. In Voltaire’s Candide, dialogue and placement help construct a lasting story and develop the plot into an all-time classic satire.
Dialogue is by far one of the easiest aspects of a novel to mangle, and the most noticeable by publishers and agents in the modern publishing industry. One of the main attributes of Voltaire’s utilization of dialogue in Candide is to keep it simple in structure but not in idea. Most of the lines of speech, sometimes broken by a comma or semicolon, fall somewhere between five syllables (or beats) to no more than fifteen, establishing a poetic rhythm to the dialogue, much the same way poetry is written. Any more than fifteen, in upwards of thirty, becomes tiresome for the reader and overly exerts the reader’s ability to maintain a rhythm and to completely comprehend the ideas stated in the conversation.
François-Marie Arouet, or ”Voltaire”
By keeping it to a much smaller scale, Voltaire is able to enforce magnetic and grandiose ideas in a line equivalent to a line in poetry. One example of Voltaire’s skill appears in Chapter XVIII: “What they saw in the Country of El Dorado” (note: line breaks are not presented in the text, nor will they be here, but the beats will be inserted at the end of each line broken by punctuation to clearly illustrate the poetic aspects of Voltaire’s dialogue):
The old man reddened a little at this question. ‘Can you doubt it? ’ he said. ‘Do you take us for wretches who have no sense of gratitude? ’ Cacambo asked in a respectful manner about the established religion of El Dorado. The old man blushed again, and said: ‘Can there be two religions then?  Ours,  I suppose,  is the religion of the whole world.  We worship God from morning till night. ’ ‘Do you worship only one God? ’ said Cacambo, who still acted as interpreter for Candide’s doubts. ‘Certainly, ’ said the old man; ‘there are not two nor three nor four Gods.  I must confess the people of your world ask extraordinary questions ’ (Voltaire 71).
Granted the last line exceeds fifteen beats but does so with such flawless rhythm that the first three words of the sentence “I must confess” could easily be followed with a colon to break, but grammatically does not require it. For the most part, Voltaire’s sentences located throughout the novel, both in dialogue and narration, rarely exceed fifteen syllables between any two punctuation marks. This easily identifiable mark of a well-seasoned writer establishes a delicate flow to the story while keeping the pace smooth and simple.
Nevertheless, in the dialogue cited above, the conversation, albeit broken down into simple words and simple sentences, does not contain anything simple about it. The content discusses monotheism versus polytheism, but in such a way that readers at most any level of understanding and ability can apply a deeper meaning to the context, and enjoy the story at the same time.
Jon Franklin in Writing for Story advises writers that “It’s not what you say, anymore, it’s all in how you say it” (198). Dialogue, therefore, can be crafted to help establish a rhythm to the narration by keeping the syllables mindful of the written laws of poesy and to use simple, believable words that, for the most part, would be found in everyday speech on the sidewalk.
Franklin further proposes to writers that “the strongest thought should always appear at the end of a sentence, a paragraph, or a passage” (196).
Voltaire continually takes notice of this rule throughout his satirical novel Candide. At the end of the paragraph containing the above cited dialogue, the last line reads “There is nothing like seeing the world, that’s certain” (Voltaire 72). Candide, the speaker, places the strongest thought at the end of the conversation which, as mentioned earlier, is primarily about the differences of religion between different parts of the world.
In another scene, when Candide has been reunited with one of the sheep he lost from El Dorado, the man claims, “Since I have found you again…I may find my Cunégonde once more” (83); and, thus, the chapter comes to a close, thereby foreshadowing that Candide will find his beloved Cunégonde sometime in the future.
In one last example of how important placing is to a sentence, paragraph, or chapter, the very last line of the book, which is actually repeated by Candide from the page before, states, “But we must cultivate our garden” (Voltaire 130).
The book ends with the importance of the entire plot, according to Candide, that life is meant to be worked and not to be idle, because therein lies the evil which plagues humanity.
Repeatedly, the reader will discover Voltaire’s ability to expertly and cleverly insert quick sentences, which may often go unnoticed by an untrained eye, at the end of a paragraph or chapter, but lends itself to a much higher scheme by the author set at hand.
Douglas Bauer states:
The relevant point, as it applies, to writing literary fiction, is my sense, based on talking with new writers, that some of them treat dramatic events so cavalierly, piling them up, heedless of an inventory, because they believe that it’s the way to capture not only a reader’s attention, but also some sort of narrative verisimilitude (140).
In truth, many new writers pile up extraordinary events because many of the early classics did as well, namely Candide by Voltaire and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which the latter will not be discussed further for its blatant disregard for Bauer’s statement.
In the light of Bauer’s truth, however, new writers may learn from Voltaire that one may capture a reader’s attention by paying careful notice to the crafting of dialogue and the placement of important thoughts throughout the writing of a manuscript.
Other Books to Consider:
Bauer, Douglas. The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Translated by Tobias Smollett, and revised by Carole Slade. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print.
Franklin, Jon. Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner. New York: Plume, 1994. Print.
Voltaire. Candide. Translated by Henry Morley. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Print.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5