Like many writers, I often have to think about how a character comes across. This was a point of contention with my writers group this past week. One person was reading a piece out loud to the others and I had difficulty following. When they finished and asked for comments, I waited until the others had their turn. Then all eyes turned to me. Since I lead the group, it’s a given that there will be more from me that ‘a nice job’ or ‘it’s coming along well’. So here’s roughly what I said.
“Not everyone speaks in the Queen’s English, unless you’re writing a Victorian era story, which this isn’t. Some people who are using English as a second language might. But it’s rare. Think about conversations you have with others. Or bits from your favorite show. The character Henry from the Longmire series does not use contractions. However most characters rarely use full sentences. Slang or regional dialogue can come into play.”
One of the others agreed. They also pointed out that most of the dialogue was the same length. It made it difficult to differentiate the characters. I reminded the group that it’s important to mix up dialogue with narrative and to break up the length of your sentences. Dialogue can also be used to convey a full range of emotions. Here’s an example from Fleeing Beauty that I used.
Malone had just left when I sensed someone move up beside me. A cultured voice reached my ear. “Good evening, Jamie.” I didn’t even have to turn around.
“Hello, Mr. Mundy. I was hoping you’d be here.”
He took my hand and did the knuckle kissing thing. Beside him was Jocelyn, the exotic beauty with the raven hair, wearing a very tight red dress that accentuated her curves and showed off a lot of leg. She offered me a demur smile and nod.
I took his arm and guided him around the gallery. Jocelyn followed. Mundy made appreciative remarks after the first couple of pieces. My impatience took over.
“I don’t know whether to be pissed or pleased by your actions, Harry.”
“Perhaps some common ground between the two would be appropriate.”
My Irish temper flared. “You are one crafty son of a bitch.”
“I will deign to take that as a compliment.”
This was not the place to make a scene, so I kept my voice low as I moved him along. “You tagged my phone with some kind of high tech global positioning device.” I saw him about to speak and waved it away. “Of course, you yourself didn’t do it. Your darling daughter here did.”
Jocelyn leaned forward. “I told you not to underestimate her,” she said in a sing-song voice. In my peripheral vision, I saw her smile and wink at me.
Harrison was unflustered. “That is quite an engaging tale. Please continue.”
“There was only one way you could have gotten into the studio and viewed the collection in advance.”
“You really are quite resourceful, Jamie.”
“Cut the crap, Harry. I’d like the truth. I think you owe me that much.”
“As you wish. Jocelyn is in fact my daughter. She is also my associate, helping to resolve crimes related to art. Considering your relationships with the local police, I am certain you can understand how confidential this information is.”
“Who would I ever tell? Who the hell’s gonna believe me?”
“Point taken. That allowed me the opportunity to view the collection and to make some very fortuitous preparations.”
“No shit, Sherlock. You tagged the artwork.” His prim and proper manner was bringing out my vulgar side, but I really didn’t care.
Mundy twitched a little smile. “How did you discover my involvement?”
You can see how the dialogue can help set the mood of the people involved and convey the tone of the message. This even shows how vulgarity can be incorporated. So, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.