Friday, July 28, 2006

The Blank Page - Using Dialogue For Back-Story...

Just in case I haven’t said it already, I think the thing to remember when you’re writing, no matter what category you’re writing for, is that the characters will always have one vital thing in common…

They are all human beings …

This means that they all have to figure each other out, learn about each other and communicate, in the same way the rest of us do. So in writing believable characters you have to understand people. I think this is why you’ll find very few writers who haven’t been crowd watchers at some point in their lives…

So, as ‘ordinary’ human beings, our characters don’t have the narrative or layers of deep POV to understand their counterparts that we would find in a book, any more than we do in real life. And it’s this very important detail that I’ve learnt the hard way to keep to the front of my mind as I write.

Keeping in the back of your mind the two pertinent facts we’ve already discussed:
The Emotional Journey &
The fact that we only have 50-60k to play with;
Then this human aspect becomes all the more important. Because through the dialogue we can add information, dribble in back-story and allow for all the types of misinterpretation that can occur in real life without the benefit of a narrative on the person we’re with…

How many times growing up have you heard a friend bemoaning the fact that she just doesn't get what's going on in her boyfriends mind? You may even have said it a time or two yourself. I know I have! And it's simply because she/we/I don't have a manual that we can read that let's us inside this person's mind to read the POV they have. So how do/does she/we/I find out? We talk, we have conversations, we ask questions. Quite often to the disgust of the guy in question. Cos they don't always feel the need to talk things through like we do!!! Mind you, in a book we can make up for that with the odd secondary character...

Now, keeping in mind that the lines I write for are heroine driven (mostly), we have yet another opportunity for added conflict. Cos there’s nothing like a woman to read between lines and interpret dialogue in such a way that 2 + 2 equals 7…

And as a woman I can say that!!!

So your characters dialogue can cause as many problems as it might solve…

For now, let’s look at the dilemma of back-story. As we’re jumping straight into the ‘action’ with a short category, due to the word count restraints, we really can’t spend a lot of time on long passages of narrative that fill in the back-story, the lives our characters had before the book started that make them who they are when our story starts. Exactly the same as any people we may meet in their twenties and thirties; they have a wealth of experiences and emotional issues that have shaped them.

So, what we’ve got to do is try and drizzle all this through the story as we progress. We can use hints of it in the way they react to a given situation, we can add little lines here and there in the narrative to tease the reader and get them thinking and, we can allow our two main characters to get to the heart of it through the dialogue…

Even two people who knew each other before, may not have really known each other as well as they thought they did. So, with dialogue alone, let’s look at Teagan and Brendan in my November Romance release; Project: Parenthood.

“Anne is very fond of you.”
“She’s been a great neighbour and very friendly since I moved in.”
“Not too close, though?”
“I don’t have that many close friends outside of work these days.”
“So, I’m not the only one you keep at arms length then?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Tell me about Eimear?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything you think you can tell me without it starting another argument would be good. This could be a pretty long journey if we spend all of it not talking.”
“She’s beautiful. But then I’m a little biased, seeing as I was kind of a Mother to her most of her life.”
“She’s younger than you, I remember that much. By how much?”
“Four years. She was my parents’ second attempt at making things better.”

When you read over that dialogue, or read it aloud – ask the questions off our dialogue check list again… Does it make sense? Does it flow like normal conversation? Has it let us know something about the characters thereby moving the story forwards?

People discover things about people by talking to them. You know that. I know that. So why would we try to be clever and change that when we come to tell a story? After all, we want these people to be as real and believable as possible, don’t we?

So, even if we do tell the reader a lot in narrative and deep POV, we’re still gonna have to find a way for the characters themselves to discover that information, right? Which means we could end up telling that part of the story twice; a use of words we really can’t spare in a short contemporary! So let the characters and the reader know at the same time through the dialogue… It's what works for me…

Then, once you’ve allowed the information to start to seep through you can let it either make sense of some of the characters past or future behavior promoting a greater understanding between them. Or you can use it as a way for them to discover more to keep them apart, adding to the conflict. The thing is, it has added to the flow of the story without you having to add a large paragraph of background ‘dump’.

Make sense?

Next up. How inner POV can contradict the Dialogue, adding to the conflict…

4 comments:

allyblake said...

Love it Trish! All good stuff.

And don't be sick!!! I was much happier when your little post-it chick said you were feeling
"creative"!

A

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Hi Trish, Mags pointed me in the direction of your blog and it's BRILLIANT!

I've got loads of posts to catch up on, but I want to thank you in advance for sharing all this great advice!
Sue :-)

Trish said...

Ally - *someones* cyber sniffles must have made it down the line to here...mmm...???

Sue - WELCOME!!! And so so glad it's of use! My mommy always taught me to share... ;) And so long as folks find them useful I'll keep doing them... tho, to be honest, if I didn't have this to chat about then that would leave me chatting about my life *YAWN*

Jacqui D. said...

Thank you for posting this Trish.
I found it to be very helpful - your blog is wonderful!

And I'm so glad your mommy taught you to share. What a wonderful community - now I must go off to the pink heart society and see what's going on over there...

Thank you.