Dialogue

I end every day by reading. Sometimes it’s only a page or two and my eyelids get heavy and the book falls into my face; sometimes I get hooked and read into the wee hours simply unable to stop until I reach the end of a tale.  I almost never, ever quit a book until the end, even if I’m not all that enthralled with it.  I figure I owe it to the story to see how it ends.  However, in the last couple of months, I’ve given up on two books before the end, took them back to the library and didn’t even have a second thought about what happened. That’s kind of  sad.  The thing is, they weren’t particularly badly written–I mean, they were grammatically correct, had decent plots and in the case of the second book, at least a couple of the characters were pretty believable. So what killed it for me?  Simple.

Dialogue.

Both books were the first in a series that each author has written. I was willing to overlook a lot because of that. But seriously, when a Navajo Indian on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico answers a question with, “My wife laundered my shirt.” I was gone.  “Laundered”???  Who says that? And specifically, what person in that setting would say that?  A BUTLER in a British murder mystery might say it–if the book were set before World War II.  That was it.  No more struggling to get past the odd, stilted dialogue of characters I couldn’t visualize or get interested it.  I no longer cared who killed the victim–I couldn’t even remember the victim.  What happened again?  Because this set of books is set in a place that I’ve been, I might be willing to pick up a later book by those authors and give them another shot.  However, I won’t be so lenient with the first author I gave up on.

The premise is good–main character is an assistant DA in New York, sort of like one of those SVU DA chicks.  The premise is similar to the movie “Laura”–a woman’s body is found dead in her car on Martha’s Vineyard (where she has a home) and when she comes to work on Monday, not having seen the news, everyone thinks she was the one killed.  I should have realized it didn’t bode well from the beginning when the main character was a little bit ho-hum about the whole thing.  Then, the boyfriend she’s been dating for a few months shows up from out of town and this poor woman tries to have some sexy dialogue and then a love scene.  I’ve watched paint dry that was sexier than that writing. Please.  I LOVE writing sex scenes.  Man/woman, woman/woman, three-some, whatever.  I confess I’ve never written a man/man sex scene, but I’d sure be willing to try.  I have so much fun writing sex scenes.  At the end of this author’s first scene, I wondered if the woman had ever actually HAD sex before. It was just boring. That is a crime.

I slogged through nearly 300 pages of this book, trying to give the author a chance and I simply could not finish it.  Could. Not.  Then, I picked up “Darkness Take My Hand” by Dennis Lehane and read that sucker in one day.  Yes.  One day, book done.  Thank you, Dennis, for cleansing my literary palate. 

I love his writing. Love the characters of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro and Bubba and the others, both recurring and new to each story.  I love the dark grittiness of his descriptions of Boston, the weather, the harshness of the city neighborhoods, the toughness of life there–the sounds, the scents.  And I adore his dialogue.  It sings.  It flows the way people really talk to each other–whether they’ve known each other for years or if they’re talking to someone they just met.  I can hear it in my head, the inflections of voice, the lilt and drop of expressions, the nuances.

Writing dialogue is both a skill and an art.  You really have to know your characters, how they are in their heads.  None of Lehane’s characters would “launder” anything except money. But they talk tough and true to themselves and to the story and that is what keeps me coming back to his books again and again.

I like writing dialogue almost as much as I like writing sex scenes.  Dialogue is a great way to reveal your characters and what’s happening in your story without a lot of heavy-handed exposition.  I think I have an ear for dialogue–spending all those years talking on the phone has paid off in some way, I guess.

I guess I’ve reached a point in my reading and writing career that I’m not willing to put up with words that don’t transport me somewhere else.  What about you?  What makes you give up on a book?  Curious minds want to know.

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4 thoughts on “Dialogue

  1. I am a reader and a painter and i am very visual. sometimes an author is just too wordy with out any visual connection for me and that will make me put it down. I need to “see” what i am reading.Needless to say i do read much non-fiction for pleasure.

  2. Sentence fragments! One or two here and there is ok, but I once started a book in which there seemed to be several in each paragraph and I just could not take it.

    Also not being able to get interested in the characters or what happens to them.

    Sometimes even over-use of commas will put me off a book because I feel like I’m having to pause too often, but if the story grips me enough I’ll deal with that.

  3. Bad writing in general. Heavy handed prose. Stilted dialog. I completely agree with you on the sentence you quoted! ARGH! No one talks like that!

    Another thing that makes me put a book down is when the author has some ax to grind that has nothing to do with the story. Sadly, I’ve run into too many “lesbian books” where the reader is bludgeoned with The Gay. I prefer a story where the character’s gayness is a matter of fact, not a plot point.

  4. e–I’m with you on “the gay”. There’s a whole “les-fic” audience that I probably could cultivate, but when I read those books, the writing is so…contrived…that it’s difficult for me to even think about trying to write one of those novels. I don’t care what gender or orientation the characters are if they are real and believable, and talk like people really talk. Oh, and a coherent plot helps, too.

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