Be that as it may, I'm again using Jacqueline's blog last week on dialogue as the theme for my blog on dialogue in commercial genre fiction. Fictional dialogue is not a verbatim recording, not a play-by-play or blow-by-blow. Its purpose in a novel is not veracity but excitement. If, as Swain said, readers read to experience tension, there is nothing less tense than actual conversation.
Character dialogue, like every other part of the story, needs to move the plot along and ramp up the emotions. Without sounding silly, false, strained or trite.
Less so than you think, if for no other reason than good dialogue is out there. You're not being asked, in writing dialogue, to do something no writer has ever done. You're being asked to do what's been done and do it as well, if not better. You have role models. You have templates. You have a plethora of writing-how-to books and blogs like this.
The trick is applying what you learn.
Here's my favorite dialogue writing tip: get your characters angry (hence the title of this blog).
I'll explain why this works in a moment. But first, let's revisit what Jacqueline said: fiction is an illusion and fictional dialogue is an illusion of speech. That means word choice is essential. Placement and cadence is a must. Real people ramble on with loads of 'umms' and 'yunnos' and 'dudes' and 'uhs.' Characters should keep those kinds of things to a bare minimum. Good dialogue goes for the vital organs, which in this case should be the reader's heart and brain. In that way, it's not unlike poetry or song writing. Good dialogue has impact
But dialogue is also very often the writer's tool to impart needed information because (good) dialogue moves more quickly than narrative.
So what's the writer to do if she has a good chunk of information that--gasp!--might even have a tinge of backstory, and she needs somehow to get that before the reader without having it seem like an info dump
Get the characters angry. Why
Listen to any angry conversation between friends, lovers, strangers. I know. I said fictional dialogue isn't real dialogue but there are some similarities. The one time it feels "natural" for people to explain something in detail, or for people to recount the past, is when they're having an argument. It's a defensive thing: I'm angry with you because... and then the laundry list of past foibles comes out
Anger is a really good way to sneak some back story in.
In Shades of Dark, tensions are building between Captain Chaz Bergren and her lover, Gabriel "Sully" Sullivan, due in part to a new crewmember on their ship: a Stolorth Ragkiril named Del. Del is self-assured, flirtations, confident, aggressive and sexy as all get out. He's also supremely dangerous--something Chaz senses more than Sully does.
I was standing under the steamy streams of the ship’s recycled water when the lavatory door nudged open. Sully, dressed in his usual black, leaned against the edge of the sink, sipped from the cup in his right hand, and held another for me in his left.
“I told Dorsie they were both for you so she wouldn’t try to poison me.”
“Find Burke’s lab ship, unmask Tage, and she’ll love you again,” I said, tapping off the water and turning on the dryer cycle. I circled slowly, ignoring Sully because nothing could be heard over the noise anyway.
Except this way, he reminded me. Then: Chaz, Del is not the problem you perceive him to be.
Let’s see. He ambushes me on Narfial, blocks you, wanted to neutralize Marsh, and then locks you away from me in some mystical woo-woo place that used to be a shuttle bay. In between all that, he has an annoying habit of calling me “angel” and “lover,” walks a very thin line between harmless flirtation and practiced seduction, and then has the balls to say I’m touchy. I have no idea why I think he’s a problem.
Mortimer drummed his fingers on the tabletop, anger rising with each tap. It was twelve-thirty. Gladys should have been here an hour ago. He hated the way she was always late. He wondered if she was playing some kind of control game with him. He'd known her for twelve years--ever since that fateful day in Mrs.
Chelligump's English class at Beachside High School. That's when he first fell in love with her but now that he thought about it, she was late coming to class. So late that he ended up talking to Gertrude instead. Dating Gertrude. And marrying Gertrude. He shuddered...
The drumming of Mortimer's fingers halted abruptly as Gladys approached.
She smiled as she slid into the empty seat at the table. "Hey, Morty,
"You're late, Gladys. Late! I've been waiting an hour."
"There was a long line at the grocery store. What did you want, I should leave without paying?" She shrugged. "I'm not a thief like your ex-wife."
Mortimer felt his eyes narrow. Why did she always bring up Gertrude? "Don't start that old argument."
"It's not old! I know you saw her last week and I know you loaned her money again. And yes," she continued, waving one hand to stop whatever was about to come out of his mouth in protest, "I know we're all supposed to be friends now. For the sake of good old Beachside High. But I'm tired of--"
"She helped me out then. I owe her now."
"She wrote your senior year term paper for you, Morty. Twelve years ago. Twelve years! I think you owe her nothing!"
“Your life is at risk fighting for the Alliance,” he said finally.
“We’re underfunded, understaffed. You’ll be serving—quite possibly fighting—under conditions you’ve never faced before. Being a rebel is not the glamour and glory the vids make it out to be.”
“The danger doesn’t concern you?”
“Danger concerns any good officer. But I’m ImpSec, sir. Special Protection Service.”
“Polite, professional, and prepared to kill?”
He nodded slowly. “And if I put you in the same room with the man responsible for the death of your father, and handed you a Carver-Twelve, would you be able to press the trigger?”
Did he really doubt that? “Absolutely, sir.”
He pulled his Carver out of the right side of his shoulder holster and held it up toward her. The grip of a second Carver—another 12, she thought—curved out of the left side.
She took it, not understanding. Did he mean for her to carry his weapon? A small thrill raced through her. Okay, it wasn’t that small. A Carver-12, and his as well. It was still warm from the heat of his body.
“Why haven’t you pressed the trigger?” he asked quietly.