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:: Archived Articles ::

Act Two: Scene One
...Say What?

The kid stood on a chair in the kitchen.
     “What are you doing?” I asked as I stared at the tube of Super Glue  in of her one hands, her other arm raised toward the ceiling.
     “Nothing,” she said.
     “Doesn’t look like nothing.”
     “I was going to be Spiderman.”
     “And that would mean...
     ”I’m going to put SuperGlue on my fingers so I can scale the kitchen walls.”
     In life as in fiction, dialogue is an important tool that can be used to convey ideas, emotions – and in some situations complete disbelief and the loss of logic.
     “You know that isn’t going to work, right?”
     “Why? It’s a good plan.  The SuperGlue  is strong enough.”
     “Yeah,” I said, “but your skin is not.  It won’t hold up your own weight you nit wit ...
     In writing as in real life, we use dialogue to convey what we are trying to say.  And because we are reduced to black and white print as opposed to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, the job of the writer to put these emotion into the written word is even harder.
     Dialogue, by definition is a conversation.  It’s an exchange of ideas through spoken form.  For writers, it’s the bread and butter of what we do.  Because even if we were to write out all our story ideas, if we never put dialogue into the mix, then our characters would ever get a chance to interact.
     Interaction builds conflict. Conflict makes the reader turn the page.    
     Dialogue presented in our stories is a reflection of what our characters are going though as they face their own story, their own situations.  It is not about what the writer is trying to say, but what these fictional people are trying to say.
     Warns Debbie Macomber  “When writing, we have to write in the character’s voice.”  When the character’s talk, it is the character talking, otherwise the writer would be guilty of ‘author intrusion.’  In his 1989 Writer’s Digest book, Dialogue, Lewis Turco explains “ ... the wish of a modern author generally is to create the illusion of reality, to make the reader forget he or she is reading a story rather than living it.  Therefore, an author tries to hide himself, to make the story seem natural as possible.  Adjectives and other sort of descriptions tend to remind the reader that somebody else is controlling his or her interest.”
     Turco recommends staying away from flowery tag lines.  Where “he said” will tell the reader who is talking, “he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster ...” takes the reader out of the story.
     Sometimes our characters won’t be local boys.  Sometimes they will came from a far away place. Roxanne St Claire handled this situation beautifully in her novel First You Run.  Hero Adrien Fletcher came from Tasmania.
     Excerpt: “And then I opened your book,” he continued.  “And heard you read.  And I realize you were not only beautiful – byu–ee--ful -– “but intelligent as well.”
     Ms. St. Claire managed to add the touch of the accent without it over powering. It is added sparingly and just often enough so that you hear Adrien – Fletch to his friends – voice in your head.
     “In First You Run,” says Ms. St. Claire, “my Aussie hero has an accent that is only ever "shown" to the reader when the scene is in the heroine's POV and she notices. She happens to notice it a lot because she is a linguistic anthropologist and her ear is highly tuned to accents, even one as subtle as Tasmanian. I also like to judiciously include phrases and metaphors that reflect geography, upbringing, or the career of the character.”
     The operative word here is judiciously. When adding slag or dialect or foreign languages, always do so with a light sprinkling rather than total immersion.  One or two words, as given in the in the example for Ms. St. Claire, goes a long, long way.  The reader isn’t forced to sound out the dialect or find a dictionary that holds an unfamiliar word.
     Dialogue must flow naturally and never be stilted or cliche.  Listening to the dialogue of your stories, either by reading out loud or by tape recording a read-through and then playing it back, is a simple way to find out where your character’s voice flows and where it needs improvement.

Says Ms. St. Claire: “For me, the secret to any dialogue ... is to "hear" your book rather than read it ... Another secret to dialogue is to be sure your characters have distinctive voices, phrases, pacing, and, if appropriate, accents that are woven throughout everything they say.  Remember who they are, and let that be reflected in how they talk ...” 

     Different genres of writing will have different types of dialogue, even within the romance community.  Where as a Harlequin Presents may present their character voices in a lighter tone, a St. Martin’s Single Title Romantic Suspense will have its own distinct voice.  The same with action romance, paranormal or a historical.
     In Turco’s Dialogue, he explains about action or spy novels: “Robert Ludlum ... uses tremendous amounts of dialogue.  There are whole pages of it, with just a line or two of narration ...” whereas in a Danielle Steel novel “ ... she uses .. colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions ... she keeps the action going simultaneously with the conversation.”
     The same holds true for science fiction, fantasy or any other type of writing.  Each genre will have it’s own nuances which can be learned by reading books within a particular style. Stephen King says in his book On Writing: “There are two things every writer must do: they must read a lot and they must write a lot.”
     Roxanne St. Claire sums dialogue very well.  “Remember, characters ... don't always say what they're thinking or mean what they say.  The fun part is to reveal that to the reader with introspection and action, and how that is done is really a lesson in point of view, not dialogue. The balance of thought, deed, and words - making them either contradict or support each other - is one of the most powerful tools of storytelling.”




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