Can We Talk? Dialogue Can Be So Romantic
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.
Uncrossed legs and arms
Open arms and palms out
Finger to face (as opposed to hand covering face)
Hand covering mouth or shading eyes
Need for reassurance:
Sucking on pen, pencil, glasses or other item
Cuticle picking, biting nails
Hand to throat
Hands in pockets
Hands locked at back
Hand rubbing back of neck
Body twisted away
Stalling for time by cleaning glasses, pipe, rearranging, etc.
Hand to cheek
Hand over nose
Rapid eye movements
Affirmative head nods
Rubbing hands together
Interim phrases of agreement or acknowledgement (Eh? Uh-huh? Hmmm, oh, etc.)
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 www.makeminemystery.com or look for free stuff at www.robertwalkerbooks.com
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