Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blog Chain: He said, She said

This lovely round of the blog chain is brought to you by the fabulous Kate, who wanted to know:

Do you enjoy writing dialogue? Do you use a lot of dialogue in your writing (for our purposes "a lot" will be defined as more than a smidge and yet not so much that the quotes key on your computer is completely worn out.)? Do you have example(s) of dialogue you especially enjoyed from something you've read? Do you have example(s) of dialogue from your own writing? What about these examples makes them special?

*warning: the following post is long....like, REALLY REALLY long. Mostly due to the two excerpts I included. In fact, I think I'll try and pare them down some :D*

The answer to the first two questions: yes and yes. I do enjoy writing dialogue, probably because most of the time when scenes pop into my head, it is of my characters speaking to each other. I spy on their conversations and even have a few of my own, just between myself and I, more frequently than I usually like to admit. So it's kind of fun getting those conversations down on paper.

And I do use a lot of dialogue in my books. I think dialogue is a great way to get information across without doing an info dump, and it's a great way to let the reader get to know my characters. I think you can learn a lot about a person (or a character) by how they speak.

As for an example of dialogue, this excerpt is from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I like it for a few reasons: 1. It's an excellent example of using a dialect. The characters speaking are Scottish, and their brogue comes through brilliantly without being distracting. 2. The characters' personalities shine through - you can get a real sense of who they are. (there are two other characters in this scene as well, but it is rather long as it is, so I cut everything but just two of them. And 3. This scene had me both laughing and crying. Gotta love dialogue that can evoke emotions like that.

To set it up, Jamie and Jenny are brother and sister. They haven't seen each other in years. The last time Jamie saw his sister, she was being dragged into their home by an English soldier, Randall, who was intent on raping her, something she sort of volunteered for in order to save Jamie's life. Jamie has believed for years that she was not only raped, but had become the soldier's mistress for a time and had born him a child - both of which were untrue, as Jenny sets about telling him. Ian, Jenny's husband and Jaime's best friend, tries to mediate every now and then.

The excerpt begins with Jamie furious in his belief that Jenny had married Ian without telling him about what had happened.

"Did ye not tell him about Randall?" He sounded truly shocked. "Jenny, how could ye do such a thing?"

Only Ian's hand on Jenny's other arm restrained her from flying at her brother's throat...Then Ian put his arm about Jamie's shoulders and tactfully steered him a safe distance away.

"It's hardly a matter for the drawing room," [Ian] said, low-voiced and deprecating, "but ye might be interested to know that your sister was virgin on her wedding night. I was, after all, in a position to say."

Jenny's wrath was now more or less evenly divided between brother and husband. "How dare ye to say such things in my presence, Ian Murry!?" she flamed. "Or out of it, either! My wedding night's no one's business but mine and yours - sure it's not his! Next you'll be showing him the sheets from my bridal bed!"

"Weel, if I did now, it would shut him up, no?" said Ian soothingly.

(Ian and Claire, Jamie's wife, drag them off into separate corners)

Jamie rubbed a hand over his face, then raised his head, ready for a fresh round.

"I saw ye go into the house with Randall," he said stubbornly. "And from the things he said to me later - how comes he to know you've a mole on your breast, then?"

She snorted violently. "Do ye remember all that went on that day, or did the Captain beat it out of ye wi' his saber?"

"Of course I remember! I'm no likely to forget it!"

"Then perhaps you'll remember that I gave the Captain a fair jolt in the crutch wi' my knee at one pint in the proceedings?"

Jamie hunched his shoulders, wary. "Aye, I remember."

Jenny smiled in a superior manner.

"Weel then, if your wife here - ye could tell me her name at least, Jamie, I swear you've no manners at all - anyway, if she was to give ye similar treatment - and richly you deserve it, I might add - d'ye think you'd be able to perform your husbandly duties a few minutes later?"

Jamie, who had been opening his mouth to speak suddenly shut it. He stared at his sister for a long moment, then one corner of his mouth twitched slightly. "Depends," he said. The mouth twitched again..."Really?" he said.

Jenny turned to Ian. "Go and fetch the sheets, Ian," she ordered.

Jamie raised both hands in surrender. "No. No, I believe ye." .... (Jamie gives up the fight, but asks if Jenny knew that Randall would be unable to rape her when she went with him. Jenny takes offense at the idea Jamie would think that his life was a "suitable exchange for her honor" but wouldn't agree that she should give her honor for his life - implying that he loves her more, to which she replies:

"Because I do love ye, for all you're a thick-headed, slack-witted, lack-brained gomerel. And I'll no have ye dead in the road at my feet just because you're too stubborn to keep your mouth shut for the once in your life!"

Blue eyes glared into blue eyes, shooting sparks in all directions. (Jamie finally agrees he was wrong and begs her forgiveness. When she won't answer, he finally tells her he'll do whatever she wants. She tells him to stand up and take off his shirt. He refuses so she forcibly pulls his shirt out of his kilt. She walks around him, gently touching the whipping scars that cover his back.)

"Weel, and if you've been a fool, Jamie, it seems you've paid for it." She laid her hand gently on his back, covering the worst of the scars. "It looks as though it hurt."

"It did."

"Did you cry?"

His fists clenched involuntarily at his sides. "Yes!"

Jenny walked back around to face him, pointed chin lifted and slanted eyes wide and bright. "So did I," she said softly. "Every day since they took ye away."

---it's right about here that I start bawling in my Cheerios. :)

And, for an example of my own stuff, this is a favorite scene of mine from my first book. The book is set in 1850's England. My main character, Min, is a bit of a clutz but very intelligent. She has a huge crush on her dance instructor, Mr. Westley, who finds her reading in the library one day. I like this scene because in it, Min finally is in her element. She's not tripping over her own feet in dance class or accidentally choking on her peas at dinner. She is smart and gets to show it off.

Mr. Westley glanced at the stack of books on the floor beside her.“Jane Austen, Lord Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Browning…” He cocked his eyebrow. “You have read all of these?”

Despite the anger building in her gut at his incredulous tone, she tried to keep it civil. “Yes, sir,” she said, taking her book back, “I have, several times.”

“No Shakespeare?” Now he was mocking her. The amused disbelief on his face as he settled back in his chair enflamed the familiar ire she felt whenever a man dismissed her as too weak and womanly to have a working brain.

“No, sir. I do not care for Shakespeare.” She shut her book with a snap and gathered the rest to her chest.

Mr. Westley’s smile was growing broader by the minute. “And why would that be, Miss Sinclair? Do you find him too difficult?”

Min took a deep breath through her nose and placed her books on the chair beside her. She turned to him and looked him full in the face. “Not at all, sir. He writes prettily enough, and some of his works are acceptable. But I do not care for his attitude toward women.”

Mr. Westley sat up, the teasing light gone from his eyes. He looked genuinely interested now. “I have always found the women in Shakespeare’s plays to be strong-willed, passionate, and powerful characters. In what way would that be displeasing to you?”

“If you’d really like to know, I have always thought Shakespeare’s view of women was too subject to the beliefs of the patriarchal society in which he lived. As those views were so much a part of his life and world, they were incorporated into his plays. As a writer, Shakespeare endowed his characters with traits he personally liked or disliked in women, depending on what type of a woman the character was meant to be. Yet, the base character would have been founded on the type of woman that Shakespeare lived with, the Elizabethan woman. ”

Min smiled as Mr. Westley’s jaw dropped and a rush of excitement flooded her chest.

“I do not care for Mr. Shakespeare’s portrayal of women,” she continued, “because strong-willed, passionate, and powerful or not, they all represented the type of woman that was ideal in the time in which Shakespeare lived. In short, women that were seen as inherently inferior and therefore in need of male guidance and protection.”

Min sat back and enjoyed the stunned shock on Mr. Westley’s face. Well, she thought, that will teach him to think I am some silly girl without a thought in my head but how devastatingly handsome he is.

He closed his mouth and leaned closer, his eyes alight with curiosity.“But many of Shakespeare’s female characters flouted their conventions, refused to marry their father’s choice, spoke their minds, chose their own paths. So perhaps, he was really an advocate of the independence and emancipation of women.”

“Perhaps,” Min replied, “but if you will notice, no matter if the women began the play as strong-minded, independent forces to be reckoned with, or as weak-willed, obedient slaves to other’s desires, by the end of the play, they always ended in the same place.”

“And where is that, Miss Sinclair?”

“Exactly where every proper Elizabethan woman should be, Mr. Westley. Safely married or dead.”

Min smiled, gathered her books, and stood. Mr. Westley continued to stare at her with a strange mixture of shock, amusement, and something else she couldn’t quite name.

“If you will excuse me, sir, I believe I should retire now.”

:) Sorry for the ridiculously long post. I think I have now beat everyone else on the chain LOL If anyone out there is still reading, tell me your thoughts on dialogue. Do you like it? Do you use it a lot? What are some of your favorite examples?

Be sure to check out Bonny's answer from yesterday, and stop by Shaun's blog to see what he has to say on the subject :D


Michelle McLean said...

Jill left a comment early this morning when I accidentally posted this before it was done :D She said:

Yes, yes, yes! I find dialogue to be both easy and fun to write. Occasionally I stumble over ways to give characters distinct voices, but overall, I like writing dialogue.

(you can find Jill at http://jilledmondson.blogspot.com/)

Eric said...

Nice post, Michelle. Your first excerpt is an example of something I really enjoy - a writer who can put in dialect effectively without making it sound forced. I really liked it. And your own example is also good. I can see the two of them talking, hear the personalities in their voices. That's good stuff.

Christine Fonseca said...

Nice excerpts - I agree with Eric about Voice!

Sandra said...

I enjoyed both examples! Thanks for sharing them!

Abby Stevens said...

Though my WIP is a fantasy, which tends to be more plot-driven, it is actually very character-driven, so there is a LOT of dialogue, though, I hope, not a distractingly large amount. Dialogue is my favorite thing to write!

Michelle, I awarded you the Awesomesauce award for helping me get my query to sparkle!


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I loved both of your long examples! I agree that the Scottish accents in Outlander are insanely well done - you can just hear those characters talking in your head.

Love your example as well. Min's line: “Exactly where every proper Elizabethan woman should be, Mr. Westley. Safely married or dead.” - is brilliant!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Eric nailed the comment for the day! I agree with him 100%. :-)

Chantal Kirkland said...

I loved both the excerpt you chose and the one from your own book. They're both very fluid and get across the emotion. I loved it.

L.T. Elliot said...

I quite love dialogue and think, when used properly, it always enhances a story. However, I hate it when it gets unweildy. When two characters go on and on about nothing in particular, I can't stand it. Neither of those are in your examples and both of them were very fun to read. (I especially loved Min's exiting dialogue about women safely married or dead. That was killer!)

Michelle McLean said...

Yeah that parting shot is my favorite line in the scene also :) I actually wrote that bit for a grad class on Shakespeare...but it worked well for what I was going for :D

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love writing dialogue. I edited a scene this afternoon and before I knew my two teen characters stole the conversation away from what it had originally been. Fortunately they remembered to add conflict, but then I had to change the action and the rest of the scene. The funny thing is I hadn't plan to change to dialogue, it just happened.

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for sharing these examples. I like to write dialogue most of the time. I love the way it moves things forward.

Cole Gibsen said...

*happy sigh* I absolutely <3 Min. I just know that we're going to see her in print some day!

Sarah Bromley said...

Really nice examples of dialogue, Michelle. In your own example, I think you did a great job of capturing the voice you find with that time period and kept it authentic. Great job!

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Fantastic examples voice in there. I love how distinct and real your example sounds.

B.J. Anderson said...

Yes, I love how Gabaldon gets those dialects in there without them distracting from everything. And I loved the revisit of your book! :D

Mandy said...

Great post, Michelle! Your personal example was my favorite :D

Kat Harris said...


I especially love the excerpt from your own work. I definitely get a feel of the characters without being distracted by their diction.


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