I write romance. Because I love romance. Mostly historical romance and right now mostly Regency/Victorian era for reasons that will be its own blog post. Because I love romance, I obviously read a lot of it. But I also read it to better my own writing. So while part of my brain is (hopefully) falling in love with the characters, another part is analyzing how far in the characters meet, how much backstory there is, how snappy the dialogue is.
Sometimes the characters, the story just don't catch me. Those books I try to analyze even more and for right now, I've determined that more often than not it is the the snappy dialogue (or lack there of) that has done a story in.
Perhaps I should clarify. Not every couple has to have rapid-fire, Julia Quinn-ish verbal repartee to be engaging. However, the dialogue has got to be natural. And more often than not, when I don't love the characters, when I don't fall in love alongside the characters, it's because their interactions are contrived.
True confession time. I started this blog post three weeks ago because I was reading a book that just had such contrived dialogue it was a chore to finish the book (I rarely don't finish a book even if I don't love it. Sometimes I shut it down, but usually I plow through). Then I thought, "This post won't make sense if I don't show some examples of contrived dialogue." But then I thought, "How can I in good conscience hold up someone else's work for criticism when my own writing is far from perfect?" So then I thought I would create some pseudo-dialogue to demonstrate but seriously, I am trying to write better dialogue and I don't think it's a good idea to purposefully write bad dialogue. Plus, who really has the time. I mean, c'mon. So I saved this post in drafts.
And I finished the book with unnatural dialogue. Finally. And then I read another book. Am currently reading, I should clarify. And OMG the dialogue is so stilted! (And, coincidentally I looked at my blog posts and realized I'd only posted two updates this year...) And so here I am again, dragging this post out of the drafts folder.
I really try to enact dialogue scenes in my head. Well, that's not exactly true. What I do is hear the dialogue in my head (seriously, I have very little control over it) and transcribe it. Sometimes I have to create it to link two scenes, to get important information across, or perhaps because the voice in my head has laryngitis. Either way, I read it and re-read it and try to make sure it sounds like actual human interaction. Perhaps that's why I use so many em-dashes. Because I am often incapable of completing a sentences without thinking of something else I want to say, forgetting what I was going to say (because my mind has already gone on to the next subject) or occasionally because someone has interrupted me with their own interjections.
It goes something like this:
Me: "I heard this story on NPR about how exercise can prevent Alzheimers--oh did you sign up for that dance class? Are we going because I have something that evening--but we should really make each other--
Friend/husband/child: "No I don't want to learn Samba. By the way, what are we having for dinner--"
Me: "That reminds me, I forgot to ask you to pick up a loaf of bread--oh there are my keys! Anyway, about this story..."
As a result, this sounds natural to me and while I try to keep my characters on topic, I do allow their sentences to be interrupted or their words to fade off. Do other writers do that? And by other writers, I mean the one's whose dialogue feels so contrived to me. And does it sound natural to them? And if so, is that how they speak? Because if so, she and I would clearly never meet for coffee...
Great, all I need is one more reason to procrastinate! As if Instagram wasn't enough...