Thursday, January 31, 2019

Crafting conversations

She's lover shopping, and her new boss could never be the goods on her wish list

My contemporary romances include quite a lot of dialogue which I always enjoy creating. Time spent working on a particularly significant exchange between the two main characters usually exceeds that taken when writing the appropriate same number of words for narrative.

An effective conversational exchange can move the story forward, divulge information including relevant elements of the characters' histories, illustrate personality, foreshadow events, generate tensions, and more. I like to think that one of the most important functions of dialogue is to establish communication from the characters to the reader. I want the reader to get to know them, their personalities and speech habits, to feel drawn into their world, to worry about them, love or hate them, laugh or cry with them.

When I've completed the first draft of a conversation, I read it aloud, listening for each character's word choice, sentence length and absence of complete sentences as is of course common in dialogue, tone, style, nuances. Do the speakers sound natural and distinctive from each other? (Or do they sound like me?!)  Is the conversation original?  Is the purpose of this conversation evident, or is it inconsequential chat? (Though sometimes 'chat'  has a place. In Class Act, Gina does talk a lot, and Lee jokes that she has a PhD in chatting.)  I must make clear who is speaking, so the reader doesn't have to pause to check or to re-read. Having fixed glitches obvious when read aloud, my critique partner reads it. Her comments reveal points needing attention which I hadn't spotted. Several drafts later, I'm able to construct a dialogue which satisfies me.

The lead characters in Class Act are experts in zippy repartee. In high school, Lee and Gina bounced banter off each other. Fifteen years later, with no in between contact, they've just started working together where he is the boss, and they're struggling to maintain the barrier between professional and personal. In this extract, Lee is playing saxophone in a jazz concert by the beach.

He unscrewed the wine, poured two glasses and handed one to her. "Only one for me." he said. "I've go to stay halfway sensible or I won't find my notes. You finish it."

 She took a sip."I really like this wine, but I wouldn't be able to walk back." 

"That's why I brought the blanket. The sand's soft, you can sleep on the beach."

"But the tide might come in and drown me, and I have to go to work tomorrow."

"I could tell your boss you've drowned."

"No, I wouldn't  dare not turn up." She shook her head. "You don't know my boss."

"Oh? Is he tall, dark and handsome? Tell me about him."

"He always needs a haircut, and he's fierce. I don't think he does any work because his desk looks like it's just come from the laundry, all clean, shiny and ironed. He just uses his office as a place to play the saxophone. I do all the work."

"What a lazy wretch. You should take your case to the fair work organisation."

"I already did. They said to have patience, because he's heading for an international career as a saxophonist, and then I can have his job."

He didn't respond. Had he taken seriously her last few words, that she wanted his job? She did, but not for a year or two. She glanced at him. Nah, no way was he thinking about work. His jewel eyes glowed. Their silver lights sparked, sending her a message in flashing neon. Trouble. Lee Wylde was going to be big big trouble tonight. Trouble she didn't know if she could handle. Or wanted to.

"Amazing how we still do it," he said softly.

"Do?" She wrenched her glance from the begging-to-be-touched wisps of black hair curling around the edges of his open shirtfront.

"Carry on like that. Like when were were at school."

Now I'm off to a cafe to do some secret eavesdropping, perhaps to add to my notes on conversations. 

Happy reading, Priscilla.

P.S. I have no monkeys in any of my stories. I couldn't resist adding these two having a serious discussion.


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