Monday, May 24, 2010
Those Voices in Your Head
One of the main reasons teens dislike certain authors is, according to my entirely random survey, "They never sound like anyone I know." I think it's really difficult to get down authentic teenspeak; in fact, I think it's really difficult to get down any human dialogue that sounds authentic. But dialogue makes or breaks a story: if the writer lacks a good ear, it becomes dreary reading.
To some degree, you have to prune dialogue. I have this weird knack of remembering fairly long passages of conversation (and then forgetting to pick up ketchup two shopping trips in a row). Here is an actual dialogue that took place in my house on a Sunday morning:
Emma: "Mom, did you know that the juice of a dandelion root will remove moles?"
Mom: "How do you know that? And why would you want to?"
Emma: "I looked it up. It's right on Google."
Mom: "I'm beginning to think that you have too much free time. And you don't have moles."
Dad: "We have moles? Where? In the garden?"
Emma: "But I could get moles. You get moles when you get old. I never want moles."
Dad: "I haven't seen any moles and I was outside clearing brush."
Christopher: "Who ate the rest of that pizza?"
Emma: "You did. Duh."
Christopher: "I thought there was a piece left."
Emma: "You have to boil the dandelion root."
Mom: "Do you drink it or put it right on the moles?"
Dad: "Is that what moles eat? Dandelions?"
Christopher: "Are there any pizza rolls in the freezer?"
Dad: "You know moles are also spies..."
And so it went.
Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was "life, with the dull parts taken out."
I think the same applies to dialogue, maybe even more so.
Right now, I have changed the dialogue on a new YA no less than 17 times. I haven't written more than three pages in any one "voice", but none of them make me go, "Yeah, that's what she sounds like." I jot down different opening sentences that I think will fit this girl, but I think I'm having so much trouble because she's not really present in my mind. I'm going to put this idea away for a time, and wait for it to happen.
My guess is that writing good dialogue, dialogue that advances the plot and fleshes out the characters, rises from listening to those voices in your head of characters that don't exist - at least not yet.
I'm wondering how many centuries ago they would have burned you at the stake for admitting that.