Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Dialogue ('Cause Everybody's Talking About It)

Excuse me while I wipe the single teardrop from my eye. Puns will get me every time:)

My husband and I recently had a conversation. It went something like this:

“My children are killing my muse!” I screeched.

To which my husband replied, “Don’t ever show your face on this mews again!”

“What?” I asked.

“You know,” he said. “From THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE.”

Oh, look, another pun. And there goes another teardrop. But muse/mews aside, this sort of exchange happens often in our home. He says something, I say something, he says something back, and I think, “Wow, that’s good enough to be in a book. We’re like two regular Jane Austens--minus the accent and, you know, those little feather hats.”

But then I sit down to write and this comes tumbling out:

“It’s not going to turn out to be something salacious, is it?”

“Salacious?”

“Sleazy.”

“Mom!” I exclaimed, genuinely disgusted.

“Well?” she pressed, still looking stern.

“No, of course not!” I took a step back. “Gosh, what do you think I am, some kind of--harlot?”


Harlot? Are you (am I) kidding me (myself)? What person under the age of sixty-eight (let alone a teenager) uses the word harlot anymore? Now, in my defense, this was only the first draft of a novel I had the good sense to scrap, so that ought to count for something. But still. I should have known better.

Why is dialogue so difficult to write convincingly? We only use it every single day. I really don’t have the answer to that. I was just proofreading a few things from Bob, my current work-in-progress, yesterday and was struck by how awful some of my dialogue sounded. Maybe it’s because I’m still in the early chapters and the characters’ voices are still settling. Or maybe it’s because I still have some things to learn.

Imagine that: I haven’t attained perfection yet. But I’m pretty sure I’m on the verge. And when it happens, I’m sure you all will be the first to know:)

Any of you have any good (or bad) lines of dialogue you'd like to share? Or any advice for me on how to write it?

8 comments:

Ant said...

I'm all for bringing harlot back in style...there's something very romantic sounding about it, I think ;) Dialogue, dialogue, oh how I despise you. Sometimes I close my eyes when I write and see my characters talking in my head. The more I "watch" them interact, the more I learn about them, which makes the dialogue easier in my head. Also, I find that stopping after a few lines and reading the lines out loud helps A LOT...and entertains the dog quite nicely. Might as well kill two birds with one stone. I think your observation that you may not know the characters well enough yet and this is making dialogue difficult is probably true. It does get easier as the novel moves along. Good luck!

Krista G. said...

Thanks, Ant. And nice to meet you:)

WORD VERIFICATION: undoe. And now my question: Is that what happens when a deer gets spayed? :)

Myrna Foster said...

I read my dialogue out loud too. In fact, with my poetry, I have my kids read it out loud to me. I know how it's supposed to sound, but if it sounds awkward when they read it, it needs more attention.

And the professor I mentioned in my last post had us eavesdrop and write down conversations. It helped me pay attention to the way people actually talk (and was immensely entertaining).

Holly said...

I'll chime in with everybody else. Yes, read the dialogue out loud. Find a friend with a sense of humor and ask her to read it out loud with you.

And don't just stick to dialogue. Read the whole manuscript out loud.

P.S. My revised manuscript is with the copyeditor (who is marking up a paper manuscript -- I don't agree with all her edits). I guess I should wait until the Christmas season is over to start mailing queries.

Question for you: I find personalizing each query letter to be the biggest bugaboo. I go through agent client lists, use the "look inside this book" feature on Amazon, and then trot to the library to look at actual books I think my nanuscript might have something in common with -- and frequently discover I'm wrong (and am glad I checked the real book).

Do you find it's really hard work to personalize each query letter?

Krista G. said...

Well, sounds like I'll be reading my manuscript out loud when I get to editing:)

As for your query question, Holly, here are a few of the things I do to personalize queries:

1. If the agent has a blog, read enough posts to be able to make a genuine statement about it ("I appreciate your taking the time to answer query questions on your blog").

2. Check out the bio on an agent's website. If you find something there you connect with, mention it.

3. As you've already mentioned, check out the agent's client list. If you notice someone there whose work you admire, point that out, especially if they write in the same genre or have a similar style.

4. If all else fails, you can always fall back on the standard, "I noticed your interest in [whatever your genre is] and thought of [your title]."

Hope that helps. And I hope you didn't have to pay your copyeditor. We (well, I guess I shouldn't speak for the group, but definitely I) would have done a line - and content - edit for free:)

Holly said...

Krista, thanks for your suggestions and kind comments.

Your query letter suggestions are good ones. Ideally, I am looking for something the agents have represented that is similar to my novel, but it's turning out to be a stretch. I read a sentence I like: "Readers of ___________ would enjoy [insert title of my novel]," but I feel I should say why.

Yes, I am paying the copyeditor ($35 an hour, a discount from her regular rate). She's a friend who works as the managing editor of a literary magazine. The novel is about 300 pages, just too long for me in good conscience to ask anybody to check without paying them. I begged/cajoled/forced four friends and relatives to read the manuscript for common sense errors ("An eighteen-year-old wouldn't say that" or "You wouldn't really do that if you saw a monster"). The editor is checking the commas and verb tenses and all that good stuff. Since she is VERY academic, and I wrote a sci-fi/fantasy novel, I gave her a paper copy to edit -- I don't want "whomever or whatever was chasing them" appearing on the pages.

Thanks again for the ideas! I'm going to save your notes. Sometime at the end of the month I will be knee-deep in query letters. I was thinking maybe send them out on batches of 10.

Krista G. said...

You're welcome, Holly. And I'm serious about the whole beta-reading-for-free: That's what crit groups are for:) I'll actually be trying to put one together in the next few months, once my own work-in-progress is a little closer to being finished. But I'm always up for helping out a fellow writer.

Holly said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Krista. I belong to a weekly writing group in the real world -- we get together every Sunday afternoon to write in silence for several hours -- but we don't exchange anything. The other people in the group are professional writers; I'm the novice. I did post my query letter on two websites, survived the potshots, and got some good advice. My email is hgrant@embarqmail.com. I am always up for exchanging chapters (and query letters, too).