Thursday, October 3, 2013

Say what?

As a writer, it's not going to surprise you much if I tell you I love to read.  I don't read quickly, but I read constantly.  In bed, on the settee, in the kitchen, even standing in queues, which in Cyprus is like nothing you might have seen before.  There is no line for one, no order, and a whole lot of shouting about not very much.  Alright when you know what's being said, not so easy when you don't.  It resembles what you might imagine an early Athenian democracy to look like, minus the togas.  An amphitheatre of people surrounding the target, be it doorway, cashier, whatever, all pushing and shoving, handing out opinions to the air and perhaps even numbers to each other for who was first.  Of which there might be five contenders.  Anyway, I digress.

One things that is so important to me when I read a book is the dialogue.  It is the difference between me liking and believeing in a character or believing that they are just that.  Just a name on a page which does certain things or acts in certain ways to move a story along.  It doesn't matter what a writer does in the prose, if you screw up the dialogue you might as well stick a nail in your protagonist’s coffin right then and there.  If he or she doesn't speak like a real person, they die on your page.

I read a good novel a few months ago (which shall remain nameless) and the story was pretty good.  However, every few pages somebody would come across a problem and irrespective of what it was, their response was, 'oh no'.  If they ran out of milk it was 'oh no'.  If they lost their phone it was 'oh no'.  They found a dead body, and yep, 'oh no'.  I think most characters might have something a little bit more to say about a corpse tied up in a cupboard.

And then you come across an absolute gem, which is why I am writing this post.  Sometimes you don't realise what bad dialogue is until you see the absolute standout-in-a-crowd dialogue that just blows you away.

I started reading American Psycho yesterday and it is full of dialogue.  I have, perhaps, never read dialogue quite like it.  It's all over the place; I have to re-read sentences to follow where I am properly.  It's random and jerky, and there are interjections from outsiders.  Jokes thrown in which seemingly have nothing to do with just 'moving a plot along' as we are told dialogue must do to fulfil its purpose.  It feels so real that I feel I might be sat in a fifth chair at their dinner table just listening in and checking out the women nearby and then dismissing them for their petty imperfections. 

Real dialogue breathes life into a character, and this has has got me thinking about the dialogue in the manuscript that I am currently editing and wondering how I can improve it.  My only problem now is making it as good.

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