Saturday, May 22, 2010

When to put the Die in Dialogue

Can We Talk? Dialogue Can Be So Romantic/Moving


by Rob Walker

Let’s start with the face but don’t forget the cuticles either.

Whose face? Why the face of the Speaker in the Rye, or rather the novel, and the features of the other speaker as dialogue means 2-logues, not one. Facial expressions and features are a starting point. Squints, ticks, licking of lips – it all becomes part and parcel of how it all comes off the page like life itself or remains on the page like a dead, dehydrated piece of road kill.

In other words, it is not only what she says to him, but how he reacts to it; his facial expressions, his hands moving, his breathing, and then how she looks in reaction to his reaction. In my Dead On I intended for the duo to have a Boggie and BaCall relationship while they are being hunted like animals! In Children of Salem the lovers are a great deal more tentative with one another; after all, they have not seen one another for ten years as Jere went off to make his mark in order to feel worthy of her.

Nowadays we know so much about non-verbal communication in men and women, that in my humble opinion, after penning some fifty novels from the POV of the female lead and the male lead and many shared leads, I feel strongly about one element in all mysteries – that there be an element of love and romance afoot alongside the dastardly stuff. That it is incumbent upon us writers of mystery to understand the greatest mystery of all is romance and historical romance. To that end we must absolutely get with the program and utilize from three to five non-verbal “triangulations” in a scene just as we would triangulate at least three to five senses in a scene.

In a dialogue scene eye contact is huge, facial expressions, big, sounds, sighs, rolling eyes, as well as gestures and even how a character sits, legs crossed or not, and how he stands, firm or shaky. Posture and proximity. These are all key to making dialogue action rather than feeling like inaction. Think of those steamy scenes between Boggie and BaCall wherein she says so much with so little and he does likewise.

So what does science tell us about body language? Here is a pretty good list of items that I use as I write:

Non-verbal signs of Cooperation:

Standing with feet apart, head tilted high.

Direct eye-contact

Uncrossed legs and arms

Open arms and palms out

Finger to face (as opposed to hand covering face)

Suspicion/Secretiveness:

Hand covering mouth or shading eyes

Head down

Throat clearing

Need for reassurance:

Sucking on pen, pencil, glasses or other item

Clenched hands

Cuticle picking, biting nails

Hand to throat

Defensiveness:

Hands in pockets

Hands locked at back

Hand rubbing back of neck

Body twisted away

Stalling for time by cleaning glasses, pipe, rearranging, etc.

Interest:

Hand to cheek

Chin stroking

Leaning forward

Scratching head

Doubt:

Pacing

Hand over nose

Brow furrowed

Anxiety:

Nail biting

Strained voice

Rapid eye movements

Open Gestures:

Smiles

Eye contact

Affirmative head nods

Rubbing hands together

Interim phrases of agreement or acknowledgement (Eh? Uh-huh? Hmmm, oh, etc.)

Closed Gestures:

Fidgeting

Leaning back (as opposed to forward)

Hand covering mouth

Peering over top of glasses



In other words, it is as important to see/hear what a character says but just as important to see and hear what is going on between the spoken lines, alternating with interesting actions the character is involved in and engaged in. This keeps the dialogue interwoven with the action, and the action engaged while speakers speak. Let your characters do the walking as well as the talking simultaneously as they have wine and a meal.

Action should not end when a character opens her mouth to “speak.” Same as with thinking; we are in real life normally involved in multi-tasking as we are thinking, no? Same as when speaking. Your dialogue needs to walk; your dialogue requires legs. When the man says, “Lights, action, camera” include in that list “dialogue” but ratchet it UP!

My latest madness is found at http://tinyurl.com/ykch9vf Dirty Deeds – Advice where you can keep tabs on the work in progress – Curse of the Titanic, or google Write Aide, or check out his blogs at http://www.acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com/ or look for free stuff at www.robertwalkerbooks.com

Do leave your comments please!

Rob
FREE example of romantic/moving dialogue at my website

3 comments:

Emily Casey said...

Wow, what a great go-to source for writers! Thank you so much for posting this.

Tamara said...

Great post. I find these actions lagging in my ms. Spent the afternoon at the library searching for nonverbal communication books. This list is more succinct and helpful than anything I've found so far. Thank you!

Rob Walker said...

You guys are welcome; I try my best. Would appreciate your letting others know about this post. Spread the word. But as with anything, even non verbal cues can be overdone....so everything in moderation, I say.

Rob