If someone pulled a weapon on me and shouted, “TELL ME YOUR STRONGEST AREA OF WRITING OR I’LL CUT YOU!”, I’d probably say ‘dialogue’. (in my head, it’s Delilah S. Dawson‘s voice asking that question. I don’t know why.)
Dialogue is the first thing people compliment me on when they read my stuff. I take it very seriously. Moreso than other aspects of writing. Nothing bugs me more than weird or off-putting dialogue, so I work hard not to screw it up.
I’ve found that the story defines the dialogue. When I started working on the story that became Consumption, I knew very early on that I wanted a very deliberate cadence and structure. I don’t want to say ‘formal’, because that is a kind of dialogue that makes me cringe – but it was certainly informed by formal speech. As an example, there were no contractions. None. As it was set in post-Lincoln America, I also wanted a bit of a rustic twang to come through. Many people picked up on that, and liked what I did.
John Henry looked over at Robert. “Been a spell since I have ridden,” he admitted. They were in line to see the mummy with George in front of them positively fidgeting. Given the burning in his legs, John Henry was content to stand for a bit.
“You do not forget, just get a little rusty,” Robert commented. “Do much riding in Georgia?”
“Enough,” John Henry replied. “Suppose in the territories, everyone rides every day.”
“Some walk,” Robert said. “Taking care of a horse can be expensive.”
I think dialogue is why I like writing Samantha Kane. Since the stories are urban fantasy, and first person, it’s like the entire thing becomes a form of dialogue.
From Samantha Kane: Cold as Ice:
“I’m going to sleep,” I lied. “Now go home so I can rest.”
“No buts. Get out. I need sleep. And if you’re not in school tomorrow, and every day after, deals off and we go with plan b.”
“What’s plan b?”
Simon visibly paled, which is difficult for those of us with the red hair and pale skin.
“Gotcha,” he said, moving towards the door.
“Simon?” I asked. “What are the rules?”
He turned back. “Go to school. Pass.”
“Yes, but those aren’t the rules I’m talking about. The rules, Simon. You just broke one.” After last year, I came to understand just how dangerous the supernatural world could be. The more you knew about it, the more likely you were to become a target. Mikey knew it, Jenni knew it, but Simon was still a kid and needed a reminder. Hence, the rules.
“Oh,” he said. “Right. We don’t say the M-word. Don’t talk about M. Never talk about V or W’s.”
“Unless in context with superior German engineering. And?”
“No more goth clubs. We don’t tell Mom,” he answered.
“Eggsactly,” I said while pretending to get ready to hop into my bed. “Now go home.”
I’d say that, when it comes to dialogue, I can be a bit of a snob. It has to flow, never stumble. It has to be real.