Your novel has a slam/bang conclusion. And you, author, are in a hurry to get there. You’re itching to lay on the reader the big payoff in the final pages, even if it means throwing logic out the window or dragging in extraordinary coincidences to move the story along. Or, maybe you’re not quite sure how to wrap things up.
Your hero and heroine are trapped in a burning building, you don’t know how to get them out, and so….turns out it was all a dream. Or, the hero finds a diary, never previously suspected, that just magically opens to a page on which all is explained. The end.
One of the most frustrating challenges a new writer faces is the passage creating a conversation between at least two people. How can you resolve the he said/ she said interchange in order to identify who is saying what and how they are saying it?
Here’s what I often see in a stretch of written dialogue:
Amateurish. In a misguided effort to avoid “repeating oneself,” the writer comes up with a variety of these identifying verbs, some of which don’t even accurately relate to the dialogue.
In fact, if you have carefully established your characters, running dialogue should not need the he said/she said clarification. For years, Elmore Leonard, with whom I worked on GLITZ, before becoming best-selling author Elmore Leonard wrote original paperback westerns that filled a small but decidedly limited space on
Dialogue is people talking. It’s critical to write this copy in a way that sounds as if real people are doing it. In one of John Grisham’s novels the death row redneck was speaking with a young boy, and their voices were interchangeable. I never “heard” either one. This needed to be fixed. I don’t mean dialect (that’s another trap). I mean dialogue that’s true to the person.
Let’s say your character is an 18-year-old female high school dropout, street smart, tough as nails, cagey and suspicious in any human intercourse. There comes a point in the script when you want to get across certain information, back story perhaps, to advance the plot. Suddenly the tough kid is talking in long, articulate, emotionally revealing sentences. Where did that come from? It’s jarring to the attentive reader. The character loses a bit of credibility.
Michael Connelly, the hugely successful author of almost two dozen novels centered around detective Harry Bosch, sets his books in Los Angeles. That’s where Bosch lives, loves, broods and works his dangerous job. We come to know Los Angeles as intimately as we know Harry—the neighborhoods, the winding road into the hills, the ocean views, the crowds at Dodger Stadium, the look of the klieg lights sweeping the night sky over Hollywood.
Discussing Connelly recently, a novice writer said to me he was annoyed by all the car action. “You’re always reading, ‘Bosch drove east on Santa Monica and west on Ventura and caught the freeway heading north at,’ etc. etc. I don’t live in LA,” the writer said, “this doesn’t do anything for me.” It does do something for the book, however. The accumulation of specifics adds verisimilitude to the story. Bosch is not doing his thing in a generic city, anywhere U.S.A., but in LA. That helps us take him seriously.
There was a time, not that long ago, when certain Anglo Saxon words simply did not appear in print. They didn’t appear in conversation either, unless the speaker didn’t know better—a kind of social misfit.
Norman Mailer’s classic WWII novel, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, posed a serious problem to his publishers. Mailer’s characters were combat soldiers, a mixed bag of men with nothing in common but fit bodies and compulsory military service. Mailer captured their voices brilliantly; we heard them brag, complain, grunt. They talked the language of men among men. But how was a publisher to present this talk to a reading public used to more polite exchanges?
(Mailer, whose book would be acclaimed as the definitive WWII novel, was accused by his envious peers as the author who couldn’t spell “fuck.”)