Tuesday, March 08, 2011

He Said What? She Said What?

In my manuscript, OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a final judge said recently that my dialogue between my hero and heroine was a “little iffy”. What the heck does that mean?

So in effort to figure that out, I pulled the dialogue out of the first scene where the hero and heroine had a “date.”

Boy, was I surprised. I could read the dialogue and tell what was going on in most of the story. Then again, I not only wrote the thing, I’ve read it like a zillion times. But something else jumped out at me. The parts where the guy talked didn’t come through…well…sounding like a guy. A tough guy. And it needed to show more of the characters' personalities in the story.

The final judge was an editor and a guy. So he should know.

It made me curious about other authors and their dialogue. Here are examples from a couple of my favorite authors.

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Calebow? Other than the obvious.”
“The obvious?”
“Football, of course.” I can’t imagine that a man like you thinks about anything else. I know my father didn’t.”
“Now you might be surprised what a man like me thinks about.”
“Sorry, Mr. Calebow, but I already have more jockstraps hanging from my bedpost than I know what to do with.”
“Do you now?
“Athletes are s-o-o-o exhausting. I’ve moved on to the sort of men who wear boxer shorts.”
“Wall Street?”
The conversation is between Phoebe Somerville and Dan Calebow in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s IT HAD TO BE YOU. Note how much it says about the heroine and how the hero keeps his comments short. Just like a man.

“Is there some boon I can grant you, Lady Alys?” “Or are you simply here for the pleasure of my company?”
“I want you to choose me.”
“Choose you for what?”
“Richard said he’d offered either of us as…. I mean to say, he wanted you to….” “I want you to choose me.”
“Because it would kill Claire.”
“You’ve been listening to too many fairy stories, Lady Alys. I don’t eat children or maidens. Your sister would survive marriage with me quite handily.”
“She’s high-strung.” “Willful.”
“And you aren’t?”
“No!” “I’m really very meek and quietly behaved.”
“I’m not certain your brother would see it that way.”
“I would cause you no trouble.” “I would keep out of your way, I would ask no questions, I would be the perfect wife.”
“Was this your sister’s idea?”
“Oh, no!” “She would never ask me to sacrifice myself in such a way. It was entirely my own idea.”
The conversation is between Alys and Simon in Anne Stuart’s LORD OF DANGER.
Note how it shows how the heroine is the opposite of what she claims and the hero knows it.

Interesting how information comes out about the characters. Try it in your stories and let me know how it works out.


Anne Gallagher said...

Guess I better go back in and see what I've written.

Callie James said...

Great observations, Carla. I think I'll try it. :)

Carla Swafford said...

Anne and Callie, it just amazed me when I checked out other authors' dialogue. Though I will admit there are sections I couldn't use as they were short and really the narrative helped. But when it comes to the first chance the hero and heroine have a chance to talk to each other (good or bad), it really makes a difference.

Lexi said...

Dialogue is tough, especially if there are multiple characters in a scene. When there's just two people, I drop a lot of the tags because I know the reader can follow what's going on. Not so when there are a bunch of characters in the room!

Louisa Cornell said...

Dialogue can convey so much, but it is tough to decide what dialogue moves the scene along and what is just a way to get some back story in there!

I try to read my dialogue for the flow and rhythm of it. As a musician I tend to see the written word as a musical composition. If the rhythm is right the words can convey all sorts of things and completely set the tone of the scene. IF it is done correctly. Otherwise I bang my head against the wall and say "Why did I just write a conversation between Dumb and Dumber?"

Gwen Hernandez said...

Interesting thoughts, Carla. I occasionally stop myself and ask "would a guy really say that?" Sometimes my husband will give me a thumbs up or down if I'm not sure.

It would probably be a great exercise to go back and read my scenes with dialogue only, but I've never done it all the way through.

Christine said...

Guy speak is so tough to mimic. I am married to a talker and a scientist, so he's not typical. I like hanging around the military guys we know. They are men's men of talking.

But I see that there is also a difference between the genres. I have had to add way more to my guy speak for my current revision. And I have to be in his head more, too.

So I'd look at the genres as well.

Carla Swafford said...

Thanks, Lexi, Lousia, Gwen and Christine.