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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Words Between Us--Dialogue by Kitty Griffin

Ah, Valentine's Day and young love!
And what big dance looms in the future? The prom.

Let's say there is a teen-age character in a story and that person has just been told that the person they hope to go to the prom with is going with someone else.

Here are four responses. What do these responses tell us about this character? Can you picture them?

A.  "Like I really care."
B.   "That's great. They make a great couple. Yeah, it's really    great."
C.   "Good. I didn't want to go."
D.  "Well, guess she wants to have a really lousy time."

Dialogue, realistic dialogue is so important in writing Young Adult fiction. Without realistic dialogue your teen reader isn't going to dig it. Like, you can't be square when telling your tale nightingale. 

No matter when your story is set, 1957 or 1597 it's important to pay attention to dialogue. If your story is historical, of course, you're going to be given more room for longer sentences.

Here is an excerpt from page five of "The Secret of the Old Clock"

"I want to apologize to you, Nancy, for thinking you hit Judy," the woman said. "I guess Edna and I lost our heads. You see, Judy is very precious to us. We brought up her mother, who had been an only child and was orphaned when she was a little girl. The same thing happened to Judy. Her parents were killed in a boat explosion three years ago. The poor little girl has no close relatives except Edna and me."

Phew...a bit long winded for today's reader. It reminds me of soap operas and how sometimes the doorbell would ring and the character at the door says, "Hello. So good to see you after six years. I just want you to know I've been around the world and fathered twenty-two children."

Even though you might be working on a historical novel and you want the dialogue to feel as though it's part of the times don't let it become too long-winded. You'll lose your reader. 

This book, published in 1993, may be a bit dated, but the dialogue still holds tension. This is from page 30.

“I want to know now,” Shane said in a harsh voice. “Now.”
The cold, cruel look came back into Kent’s eyes.
“Would you like to see your precious violin again? The Guarnerius?”
“You know I would.”
“In one piece?” Or shattered into fragments?”
Shane paled.
“Well, Lockwood?”
“You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t.”
The man nodded slowly.
“Oh, but I could.”
“Only a savage would do a thing like that.”
The man laughed softly.
But this time it was not a pleasant laugh.
“I’ve never considered myself anything but a savage. Does that surprise you, Lockwood?”
“That violin goes back centuries. It’s a supreme work of art. It’s…”
And he couldn’t go on.
“Yes. Yes.”
“I know that very well. That’s why I took it from you.”
Shane tensed and leaned forward toward the man.
“How much money do you want? How much?”
Kent smiled an shook his head.
“Not a cent.”
“Just the favor.”

This writing is staccato. It's a finger thrust into your chest...poke...poke...hard and quick.

Here's another book from the 90s with sharp dialogue.

The Facts Speak for Themselves by Brock Cole

     The woman policeman says would you like something to drink? A Coke or something?
     No, I don't want anything.
     We're trying to locate your mother right now. We'll just wait here until she comes.
     Oh, I said.
     Is that all right?
     Yes. That's all right.
     The other policeman came in. The one with the white hair and the stomach.
     He says well how are you, Linda.
     I'm okay.
     He spreads some papers out in front of him but can't find what he's looking for.
     He says how old are you?
     Yes, I said.
     We haven't been able to locate your mother, Linda.

This novel was considered shocking when it was published. Some people would still consider it shocking. The author, Brock Cole wanted to leave out punctuation because he wanted the reader to be as close to the story as they could be. Without the dialogue marks it's as though the story is naked, isn't it?

"Inexcusable" by Chris Lynch is a more recent book (2005) and it too, deals with a shocking subject. 
Here is an excerpt from page 3. You'll see short sentences, staccato, and intensity.

     She grabs, can't grab, scratches instead at my chest, then slaps me hard across the face, first right side then left, smack, smack.
     "Say what you did, Keir."
     "Why is Carl coming? Why do you have to call Carl, Gigi?"
     "Say what you did, Keir. Admit what you did to me."
     "I didn't do anything, Gigi."
     "Yes you did! I said no!"
     I say this very quietly, but firmly. "You did not."
     "I said no," she growls. "Say it."
     "I don't see why you need Carl. You can beat me up just fine on your own. Listen, Gigi, it was nobody's fault."
     "Yes it was! It was your fault. This should not have happened."
     "Fine, then it didn't."
     "It did, it did, it did, bastard! For me it did and it's making me sick."

Wow, right? Very powerful 
So we started with Nancy Drew, very drawn out, stilted dialogue and came forward to very sharp, direct dialogue.

Words, words, words, the words between us. What makes a story powerful? What makes the reader suspend disbelief and keep reading?
Often, it's dialogue.
It has to be real. It has to feel real. And that, dear writer, is now in your hands.

1 comment:

  1. This is a powerful blog. The examples are perfect and I appreciate having it all spelled out so clearly. You made your point and I am going to try and keep it in mind when I am writing dialogue. Thanks!