DIALOGUE CAN BE DIFFICULT
Very difficult indeed! But it is essential when you are writing a story. Dialogue develops character, moves the story along and helps paint the picture. When we are speaking (as in conversation) we often fail to use complete sentences and our choice of words depends on a number of factors: our relationship to the other person or persons; the situation at the time and our attitude to that particular situation…
For example, consider the following from an extract from my (unpublished) children’s story, Chaos in the Kingdom:
‘…the sudden explosion of a loud voice from some distance away startled all in the room.
‘What’s this about visitors? Who are they? Anyone know? Where’ve you put ‘em?’
‘Two ladies, sir. In the sitting room, sir.’
‘Any idea what they want?’ The voice was much closer now.
‘No, sir. No idea at all.’
‘Well if they’re trying to sell us something, I’ll soon send ‘em packing.’
‘Very good, sir.’
The door was flung open and a large man exuding repressed energy strode into the room. Then stopped short.
There are no names given but it is obvious that these two are in a master/servant relationship; that the master (at least) is male: decisive, possibly intolerant and used to giving orders that are always obeyed. However, the ‘servant’ character is unperturbed by his master’s bossiness; lack of respect and obvious propensity for making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. A great deal of information in only ninety four words!
A bit further along in the story:
“Then he turned towards the tall woman standing nearby. ‘Honoria?’ he queried. She smiled and nodded. ‘Welcome back, old girl. Nice to see you again. No hard feelings, eh?’
‘No,” she said. ‘None whatsoever. It’s good to be back. We’ve had quite an adventurous time of it.’
‘I’ll bet you have. Can’t wait to hear all about it. You haven’t changed a bit, y’know.’
‘From that I take it I looked middle-aged when I was twenty.’ This was said quite tartly.
He glanced piercingly at her for a moment, shrugged slightly, then turned back to Lady Cecilia. ‘Mother, this is marvellous. Absolutely amazing. I’ve got so much to tell you, so much to show you. You’ve got to meet everybody. So many people you don’t know. Place swarming with kids, now – grandchildren everywhere. I say!’
The excited flow stopped suddenly.
‘That means that you are a great-grandmother! How about that?
Lady Cecilia gasped.
‘I never thought…. Oh dear! What a shock!’ She shook her head in disbelief. ‘So you must be a grandfather! I can’t believe that. I really can’t.’
She then turned to the third woman who had been standing by, silent and dumbfounded. ‘My dear, we don’t know each other but we must be family. So please, who are you?’
Before there was time for an answer Cyrus butted in, ‘That’s Celia; Ceddie’s wife. Mother of those two.’ A casual wave of his hand in the direction of Cynthia and Cyrilla implied they were of little account.
‘Now come on, Mother. Let’s show you over the place. See all the changes we’ve made.’
‘Cyrus! Please!’ said Miss Honoria. ‘Your mother needs a rest. We’ve come a long way and are very tired. And please give us a chance to meet all these new people before showing us things and places. Cecilia is an old lady now and…’
‘Honoria, dear, I’m not decrepit!
‘Of course you’re not, dear. But you’re not as strong as you were when we left either. Cyrus has to look after you now.’
‘I’m sure he will, Honoria. Won’t you, dear?’ she said, smiling at the paunchy, somewhat grey headed man she was still finding it hard to believe was her son; superficially so unlike the slim young man with his shock of tousled red hair that she remembered from long ago. Yet the eyes, the smile, the voice and vitality were all still the same.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Cyrus. ‘I didn’t think.’
‘Well that’s something that hasn’t changed,’ murmured Miss Honoria.
He glared at her and the twins nudged each other. They sensed sparks were going to fly and, thrilling at the thought, studied Miss Honoria carefully. They were determined to get to know her, make friends with her.”
This time 455 words; more characters are incorporated and more information about the overbearing, bossy male from the first extract is given. There is somewhat less dialogue but enough to flesh out the picture. We now know his name and have realized that there is at least one person who cannot and will not put up with his thoughtless exuberance, someone from his past.
Dialogue is powerful; as it moves the story along it can show us a great deal about your characters’ personalities. However it is critically important that it does truly reflect each one’s different personality in the words they use; how they put those words together; the rhythm and timing of their speech, even their pronunciation of particular words if that differs markedly from the accepted standard for the time and place you are writing about.
Not always easy. But doable. Have fun!!
© Mary McDee 2022
Feature Photo: Conversational Geese, Murray Bridge © L.M. Kling 2017