Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Come Talk to Me

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Although I was last on the previous Blog Chain, I'm third on the current one (hence the reason I'm posting another one so soon after the last one). Kate would like us to talk about talking, or dialogue:

Do you enjoy writing dialogue? Do you use a lot of dialogue in your writing (for our purposes "a lot" will be defined as more than a smidge and yet not so much that the quotes key on your computer is completely worn out.)? Do you have example(s) of dialogue you especially enjoyed from something you've read? Do you have example(s) of dialogue from your own writing? What about these examples makes them special?

Amanda posted before me, and Eric comes next.

I can't resist posting this video, even though I've posted it before.

I would have to say yes, I enjoy writing dialogue, and I employ a fair amount of it. When I'm drafting a scene, it tends to be mostly dialogue and action. Dialogue comes more easily to me than, say, description, though that doesn't always mean it works as well as it should. I've been told in crits that sometimes my characters sound younger than they are, so that's something I have to keep in mind as I write. But I like how dialogue can advance conflict and show character; it's especially fun if your characters can throw in some wit as well.

Speaking of wit, here's an example of some dialogue from Gail Carriger's Soulless. The book is set in an alternate Victorian London where vampires and werewolves are part of polite society. Here, Alexia, a spinster with the ability to negate supernatural powers with her touch, is talking to two werewolves about a vampire who tried -- and failed -- to attack her. I'm cutting out most of the expository text (there is a lot of it), but I still think you can learn a great deal about the characters by how they speak. Words are italicized as they are in the novel.

"I suspect that is precisely what the vampire was thinking when he found you without a chaperone. An unmarried female alone in a room in this enlightened day and age! Why, if the moon had been full, even I would have attacked you!"

"My dear sir, I should like to see you try."

"You do realize modern social mores exist for a reason?"

"I was hungry, allowances should be made."

(The other werewolf gives Alexia a sandwich, and she says, "this is delicious!")

"I keep them around for when his lordship gets particularly testy. Such offerings keep the beast under control for the most part. Excepting at full moon, of course. Would that a nice ham and pickle sandwich was all it took then."

"What do you do at full moon?"


"Uh, do you want half of this, my lord?"

For an example of my own dialogue, here's a bit from Across Two Universes. Here, Paul's father is explaining to him how he was cloned from a famous rock star who also happens to be his ancestor. This is backstory, something writers are normally advised to avoid telling through dialogue. The reason I think it works here is because this is information Paul himself really wants to learn at this point in the story:

“Jo was against it from the start. That’s why she became your mother.”

“Huh?” Paul looked at Dad — or the man he’d always thought was his dad — again. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“I guess I’d better start from the beginning.” Dad pulled out the tranquilizers again. “Are you sure you don’t want to take one now? You’ve had an awful lot of shocks the last couple of days.”

It was very tempting to numb his emotions away, but Paul shook his head. “I’m an actor; I have to feel this. Maybe I can use it later.”

Acting was the only thing he could count on right now. He opened himself up to the chill in the air, the sick feeling in his stomach, the sense that his vision was going to blur.

“Here, eat something.” Dad pulled out a sandwich and a can of his favorite soda, pressing them into Paul’s hands. He adjusted the thermal sensors woven into his shirt as if he was still too young to do it himself.

“When I first met your mom, she’d already been hired by her uncle to retrieve Sean’s DNA—”

“But you said she was against it. And she hated Great-Uncle Jack, or did that happen later?”

“Let me tell the story. Jo was more chip than shoulder when I first met her. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she saw very little of your granddad when she was growing up. She blamed him for everything, even when her mom developed TransAIDs and they couldn’t pay for both her medical expenses and Jo’s education.”

“Granddad didn’t help?” It seemed so unlike the man Paul knew.

“Jo didn’t ask.”

That was very like Mom.

Dad gestured for him to eat. “Anyway, shortly after the Sagan survived its first passage through the wormhole and found the alternate TwenCen Earth, people realized they could harvest genes from organisms long gone from our Earth. From there, it was only a short step to cloning famous people, like Elvis Presley. That gave your great-uncle the idea to clone Sean.”

Paul spit out his sandwich. “You mean I owe my life to him?” He wasn’t normal, his parents weren’t who he’d always thought they were...that fortune cookie at lunch had been right after all.

“Jack doesn’t own you, Paul. No one does.” Dad’s gaze pierced him. “He couldn’t have done it without your mom. There’s a lot of Sean still on your side of the family, and she could pass for his cousin. And she did. When she visited the other Earth, he wasn’t a star yet, so she was able to meet him, stay at his house, and steal a DNA sample while he slept.”

I feel as if I should provide some advice on dialogue, even though Kate didn't ask us to do so. As a science fiction/fantasy writer, I create new settings, including expressions unique to that culture. I do this by making my world-building details serve double duty. For instance, in one of my shelved projects, there are four gods and goddesses protecting the country of my heroines. The God of Winter is also the God of Death. After people die, their souls spend some time in His realm before being reincarnated. However, the irredeemably evil souls are frozen so they can't be reborn. Therefore, in this book, my characters use "freeze it" and "frozen" the way we use "damn" and "damned."

That's all I have for now. Please look at the other Blog Chain posts for more dialogue about dialogue!


Mandy said...

Great post! I really like the phrase, "she was more chip than shoulder.." :D

Eric said...

Interesting post. I like your thoughts at the end. They give me something to think about, to be sure.

Sarah Bromley said...

I enjoyed this post, especially 'cause I love me some Peter Gabriel. :-) I like the idea of using "freeze it" and "Frozen" in place of damning things. Nice job!

Christine Fonseca said...

Great post. and yeah - I use different words for some things as well - based on world building!@

Cole Gibsen said...

Great post! Gotta say, your dialogue has me intrigued - so good job there. Definitely leaves me wanting more.

Kat Harris said...

Ditto on what Sarah said about liking the "freeze it" or "frozen" as opposed to damn.

That's very clever. I love it.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I love how you created your own words based on the world you built. That's awesome. So, so cool.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I actually think dialogue is a great way to get rid of some pesky exposition as long as the conversation doesn't feel artificial - like two being both saying things the other knows just to get the info out to the reader. Love both your examples here.

B.J. Anderson said...

Great bit of dialogue! It definitely makes you want to read more. Great post.

Michelle McLean said...

wonderful post! Like everyone, I love your "new"'s one of the things I really like about alternate world books. It's fun to see what they come up with for situations like that.

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