LET’S TALK by Michele Drier
I never thought I could write dialogue. As a newspaper reporter and then editor, I could drop in quotes from sources, but that wasn’t conversation, it was questions and answers.
Then out of the blue, I got a call from an acquaintance asking if I’d write a screenplay.
A screenplay is nothing but dialogue. I checked out books on screen writing from the library and ended up with the first twenty-five pages of a script. They never got the funding, I never got paid, it never got sold, but I came away understanding a whole lot more about dialogue. And now I’ve had people using my dialogue as the right way to do it in craft classes.
In SNAP: All That Jazz, communications are misdirected and misunderstood between Jazz, a regular, and her lover, Nik, a vampire. Nik uses a form of telepathy and is only now learning how to communicate verbally, and with a woman to boot.
All of this communication is dialogue, and it’s both fun and miserable to write. Dialogue is how the plot moves and how we learn abut the characters. It’s spoken, and needs to read like spoken language, something that Microsoft’s version of the English language doesn’t understand. In the previous sentence, a squiggly green line showed up under “it’s” and suggested I use “it is.”
Outside of formal or Biblical language—Lord, it is I—this is one contraction that’s always used in speech. Dialogue needs to reflect the way real people (or vampires, maybe) speak. As you write it, read it aloud to yourself. Does it ring true? Is that the way you and your friends talk?
Use contractions. Use sentence fragments. It’ll drive Microsoft crazy but it’ll sound like us, the real people we’re writing and reading about.
Here is an Excerpt as an Example:
Nik stood in front of her. “You look well. Is that a new dress?”
“Yes. Maxie and I went shopping today. I’m well, are you?”
Nik’s glimmer increased until his skin was alive with light. “No, I’m not well.”
Jazz’ mouth fell open. He certainly looked well, but he was a vampire. She didn’t know what he’d look like if he were ill.
“I’m sorry. Is it a virus?” A sudden thought hit her. ”Did you pick something up in LA.?”
“I may have, but it began even before that.”
“Oh. Have you had it for a while?”
“I think about seven months, now.”
A puzzled expression crossed her face. With his incredible immune system and healing powers, she was surprised he could have a long-term illness. “Is it curable?”
“I certainly hope so. I’m beginning the cure tonight, if all goes well.”
“Will it take long? This cure?”
Nik gave a slow, sad-but-sexy smile. “Jean-Louis said it might take a long while. Even a year or so.”
“Has Jean-Louis had this, too? Maxie never mentioned it, but maybe it was before they met.”
“Yes he’s had it and no, it’s since they’ve known each other.”
Jazz was concerned. Was there some terrible vampire disease that was long-term? Maybe debilitating? But Jean-Louis looked gloriously healthy and so did Nik.
“What kind of disease is it? Can I do anything to help?”
Nik’s glimmer lit up the room. “It’s terminal idiocy.”
And please, please, don’t use dialogue as a way to get across information that the people speaking already know. That’s just a cheap way to shoehorn facts in. If you need to get certain information to the reader, use description.
Michele Drier was born in Santa Cruz and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state, calling both Southern and Northern California home. During her career in journalism—as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers—she won awards for producing investigative series. SNAP: All That Jazz,is Book Eight of The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, waspublished June 30, 2014. The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles paranormal romance series include SNAP: The World Unfolds, SNAP: New Talent, Plague: A Love Story, DANUBE: A Tale of Murder, SNAP: Love for Blood, SNAP: Happily Ever After? and SNAP: White Nights. She also writes the Amy Hobbes Newspaper mysteries, Edited for Death and Labeled for Death. A third book, Delta for Death, is coming in 2014.