Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blog Chain Post: Give Them Something to Talk About

It's blog chain time again! I know, I know. I should have posted sooner but I'm still remodeling the new house, finishing revisions on the new book, and piecing together the new quilt. I've fallen a bit behind on the 'ol blog and for that I sincerely apologize. Soon, dear readers, you'll have your blog captain back at the helm on a regular basis. Argh!

Anywho, this chain was started by Kate who asked:

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?

Oh, and how!

I just love Love LOVE good dialogue. (This is another reason I'm such a huge fan of Josh Whedon and Kevin Smith - they are the Gods of Kick-Ass Dialogue.) Maybe love isn't the right word, obsessed is probably more like it. (Remember that D&D short story of mine? It was nothing but an excuse to write dialoge that gave me the giggles.)

So what makes good dialogue? Good dialogue goes beyond the simple act of giving information. Good dialogue can move a plot forward. Good dialogue can express emotion. Good dialogue can make you laugh. And my personal favorite, good dialogue can show characterization.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Here's Bella Swan interacting with a vampire:
Bella: "A girl can dream...Mostly I dream about being with you...I love you more than anything else in the world combined. Isn't that enough?"

Now, here's Buffy interacting with a vampire:
Buffy: "So are you going to kill me or are we just making small talk?...You know, I always say that a day without an autopsy is like a day without sunshine."

See how cool dialogue is? You've got two girls, both of them teenagers, both from single-parent families, both only children (don't get me started on the whole Dawn thing), both new in town, and both interacting with vampires. Without dialogue these two girls would be indistinguishable - but with just a few sentences, we learn how incredibly different these girls are.

Want more?

Sure thing! Here's an example from my YA paranormal, BREATHLESS. Let's see if you can glimpse my characters' personalities with just a few snippits of dialogue.

Edith and Morgan

“Wait a sec.” Morgan’s eyes, sparkling with glitter, bulged from their sockets. “You mean to tell me you’re Edith Small?”

My body trembled, a precursor to the breakdown that was sure to come. “I don’t—I don’t want to talk about it.” She opened her mouth but I cut her off before she had a chance to speak. “I appreciate your help in the bathroom but we’re late for the assembly.” My shoes squeaked in protest as I spun on my heels and sloshed down the hallway in the direction of the auditorium.

“Smalls! Hold up!” Heavy footsteps descended upon me as I was twisted around by my elbow. A flash of silver appeared between her lips as Morgan played with the barbell implanted in her tongue. “You’re going the wrong way. If you don’t want to make a scene, you’d be better off using my private entrance.” She jutted her chin at a door at the opposite end of the hallway.

I frowned. “But that door leads outside.”

She laughed, looping her arm through mine and pulling me in the direction of the door. “You want to go to an assembly? Great. Let’s assemble. Who says we have to do it with the rest of the school?”

My mind reeled even as my feet followed her lead. “But—but that would be skipping.”

Morgan snorted. “Nothing gets by you, does it, Smalls?”

The memory of my visit to the military academy slowed my steps. “But we could get in trouble.”

“Not likely.” Morgan reached out and pushed the metal bar swinging the door wide. The sun’s rays spilled across my chilled skin like warm fingers urging me forward. “I’m pretty sure the teachers are expecting you to be all traumatized and messed up. This boat accident is your get-out-of-jail-free-card.”

I stumbled as the memory of the crash resurfaced in my mind. “People died,” I whispered.

She shrugged and continued to pull me down the sidewalk. “It’s natural selection, Smalls. Dumbasses are going to die. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s the Darwinian way.”

I thought about that. Could it really be that simple? Marty, Russell, and Gabrielle had all been drinking and smoking pot before the boat race. Did their stupidity absolve me from any blame? Or could I have done something more to prevent the accident? My head pounded under the weight of my thoughts and I pressed two fingers into my temple to ease them away. “Aren’t you worried about getting in trouble?”

“Me?” Morgan appeared to hold back a laugh. “In case you haven’t noticed, I make teachers uncomfortable.” She gestured to herself and her short plaid skirt dripping at the side with several chains. “They tend to look the other way when I don’t show up for class.” When I didn't answer, she stopped short in front of the turnoff leading away from our school. “Look, I’m not kidnapping you. I’m trying to do you a favor. For all I care you can turn back and go to the assembly looking like a drowned—” she bit off her words when I inhaled sharply, then waved her hand in hand in dismissal. “Whatever. Or you can come with me. Whatever you think you know about me—you don’t. I’m not going to smoke dope, shoot up, or any other dumb shit. My drug of choice is caffeine. Preferably in the form of a vanilla latte. It’s your choice, Smalls—free country and all that jazz.”

I swallowed as I considered my options. There was no denying that Sir would be watching me closer than before—that I walked a frayed rope on stilts made of scissors. But on the other hand, I was dripping wet and another pair of accusing eyes would be all it would take to send me over the edge. It was true I didn’t quite understand Morgan or her reasons for asking me to tag along, but ever since the moment she’d pulled me up from the bathroom floor the ever building pressure in my chest loosened. And that was enough. “I’m in.”

A smirk tugged at Morgan’s lips. “There’s only one rule if you’re going to hang out with me. You are not, under any pretenses, allowed to tell anyone I’m straight-edge. I’ve got a reputation to maintain. If anyone asks, make something up. Tell them I took you behind a dumpster and snorted lines of coke between shots of tequila. Got it?”

“Got it,” I smiled.

She grinned back. “Be careful, Smalls. It looks like you don’t smile much and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” She looped her arm back through mine and hummed the Star Spangled Banner as we hurried down the street.

There you have it! I hope I got you thinking about how to use dialogue to portray characterization. But don't stop there! There are hundreds of ways to use dialogue to your advantage. What's your favorite?

Please check out the His-Release-Day-Is-Fast-Approaching-SQUEE! Shaun for his take dialogue and I-Don't-Want-To-Be-A-Toys-R-Us-Kid Rebecca who will post tomorrow.

Cheers :)


  1. Sigh. I still love that exchange between Edith and Morgan. And I love how you pitted Buffy against Bella. Buffy FTW!

  2. awesome post! The example of the difference between Bella and Buffy was excellent and your own dialogue *happy sigh* Now I am even MORE excited to read BREATHLESS!!! :D

  3. Wow. While I like how you compared to two girls in the first excerpt, your own entry makes everything else pale in comparison. This is really good writing. Nice job.

  4. Man, awesome post! I love the characterization of Buffy and Bella (Buffy is so much cooler--is cooler a word?). And your excerpt of dialogue was so great! I love Morgan already. She seems like a very dynamic character.

  5. I think Buffy would kick Bella's butt.

    Your excerpt is FANTASTIC! Can't wait to read it.

    Oh, and thinking about release day is giving me heart palpitations.

  6. FANTASTIC! Can not wait to read your book Cole!

  7. Good examples! Yes, I can definitely get a sense of the characters through their dialogue in both examples.

  8. I loved the Buffy vs. Bella example! Too great! Dialog is such a great way to get across just who you're dealing with. And a few words is sometimes all it takes :D

  9. Hi Cole. I found your blog listed as a must read over at Elana Johnson's, so I thought I would stop by and follow. Feel free to visit mine and do the same. Also your title is awesome.

    As to your post you make a great point and illustrate it well. Dialogue is so important to characterization especially but it can be a subtle and touchy thing sometimes. Personally I struggle with writing great snappy dialogue more than anything else.

    Great examples!

  10. Loved the example between Edith and Morgan. That's right up my alley. Good stuff.

    And Bella vs. Buffy...think I'd pick Buffy in a fight anyday.

    Hope your remodeling is going well!

  11. For me dialogue that really works is when I forget that I'm reading and just *hear* the characters talking in my head - and just in that small snippet from your book I was totally hearing Edith and Morgan talking.

    Also loved Buffy vs. Bella. Poor Bella, next to Buffy she looks even more insipid than usual.

  12. Great post! Dialogue can make all the difference!

  13. Loved your Edith and Morgan! Wow!
    Does that stuff just flow out of your fingers or did you write it and then tweak it to death to get it so beautiful? Breathless has to be amazing.