Writers often are asked, “What is your strength? Narrative or dialogue?” That’s an easy question for me to answer. My writing strength is dialogue.
My characters’ dialogue rarely changes between the rough draft and the published version. My narrative passages, on the other hand, will go through five or more drafts. I blame my journalism background for this. In journalism, the focus is on facts. There’s never anything flowery or poetic, so I must work on adding these elements when describing the scene I envision in my head.
I enjoy writing dialogue for a variety of reasons. Here are a couple.
- In real life, we can’t plan ahead what we’re going to say, particularly in a heated discussion. But in fiction, my characters always have the right comeback for the situation.
- Snappy dialogue exchanges are fun. Plain and simple.
Here are some of my favorite passages from my WWI trilogy.
This scene is from Chapter 17 when Hettie’s brother, Freddie, discovers she has been corresponding with a stranger.
Freddie raised his voice. “Who is Lieutenant Colonel Taylor, and why is this the first time I’m hearing of him?”
Why did I have to make the mistake of asking about the mail? It was a simple question needing only a simple response until Bessie complicated matters.
“I am the older sibling, not you. There’s no need to get all overprotective.”
“Okay hot shot, by 17 and a half months. Yippee. You’re so much older and wiser. How dare I care and worry about you?”
“I don’t ask you what you do when you’re on leave, do I? I don’t question you about your French and Belgian girlfriends.”
“What French and Belgian girlfriends?” Suddenly, Freddie’s face flushed.
Hettie held up her finger. “You were always a bad liar, Freddie. You had better stop what you’re doing right now before you get syphilis.”
“What?” Freddie looked back and forth to see if anyone had heard the comment. “You’re frightening me. You sound like Mother.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Mother doesn’t worry about you getting syphilis. But I’ve seen enough men treated for it around here to know what happens.”
“Stop it. If you’re trying to embarrass me, it’s working. But what does any of this have to do with you receiving letters from a strange man?”
“I have work to do, Freddie. I’m due in evacuation. You can be cross with me later.”
Hettie turned on her heel, nearly slipping in the process, and began slogging through the mud toward evacuation. She heard Bessie say something and giggle awkwardly before following.
The following scene is from the chapter “Solving One Problem Causes Another.” Ida’s husband James recently underwent a dental procedure and claims his pain has only increased, a claim she does not believe.
“What is it?” she said.
He shuttered. “What do you think is wrong?”
“The tooth again?”
“Yes, the tooth. What else could I be upset about? The queen’s manicure?”
“I swear lately you’ve been practicing for a dramatic stage role. You’re overacting a bit too much, don’t you think?”
James slammed his fist into the mattress. “I shouldn’t have listened to you. I was better off before.”
“Better off with an infected, rotted tooth that would destroy your health? Not that it matters. According to you, you’re in pain either way.”
During the night, James had pulled the blankets onto his side of the bed, and she pulled them back to her side.
“I wish I were dead,” he said.
“I’m getting so tired of these dramatics. I begged you for weeks to see the dentist. Had it been pulled earlier, you’d feel better by now. Instead you’re fighting an infection.”
“You have no pity.”
Ida’s cheeks were burning. “I have no pity? I have no pity? You have too much self pity.”
“You have a lot of nerve, woman.”
“Right now, I’m the only one in this room with any sense.”
James stood. “I’m going to take my medication.”
“Good for you. Should I applaud you?”
He made a noise in his throat before leaving the room. Ida breathed a sigh of relief and sunk into her pillow. Before I was married, I was told there would challenges. But I never imagined this.
This passage is from Chapter 14. Hettie learns Freddie has been keeping a secret from her and that he knows hers.
Hettie followed him to the boy’s bedroom and watched as he pulled a stack of envelopes tied together with string from their hiding place.
“You hide your letters in Walter’s old mattress?” she said.
“I can’t risk Mother or the housekeeper finding them. Their interrogations would be worse than yours.”
Hettie crossed her arms. “My interrogation?”
“Sit or I won’t continue.” He pointed to the bed.
Hettie sat, and Freddie spread the letters between them.
“Do you remember,” he said, “when you were demobbed and I told you I had things to take care of? Well, that’s what these letters are. I needed to start the process in person. I’m looking for my girlfriend Francesca. She fled in terror during the war, and she took our child with her.”
Hettie shook her head. “Oh, Freddie, what did you do?”
“Don’t judge me, Hettie.” He shook his finger. “I can do the arithmetic. Simon wasn’t born early. That was the secret you wanted to tell me privately at the Armistice party but didn’t have the opportunity.”
“How do you remember that? You were drunk.”
He tapped his temple. “I remember everything.”
She rolled her eyes. “All right. You win,” she said, her voice softening. “How long have you known?”
“About your baby or mine?”
“Don’t be cheeky. Yours, of course.”