Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WIP Wednesday: A Character Named Dialogue

"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." And "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." -- Elmore Leonard. "Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing,"

I am of the camp that believes dialogue should sound like it's being spoken by a living breathing person from inside the page and not being recited by the living breathing person holding the book. Not only does dialogue set a time and place, it also brings characters to life (the whole speaking to you from the page thing).

Dialogue done right, should help the reader enter into the story and into the minds of the characters in it. But of course to do this mind manipulating feat, one must butcher spelling and defy the Grammar Police. Not something that comes easy to the timid or better educated of us. I am neither, BTW. *smirk*

My question is, while writing my present WIP, how far can I take this defiance without turning off future potential agents and publishers? Or is my defiance of proper grammar in dialogue (the rest I will fix in editing...PROMISE!) a important feature of my writing voice and I should just flow with it?

Chime in if ya like. It's something that's been concerning me while I type away Under the Steps, so I know it's been a concern to some of you out there.

I leave you with another rough bit from my WIP Ghost Mountain, illustrating dialogue as I like it.

‘Maybe I would have avoided the whole bloody mess if I’d just let Old Ginny have her say.’

Sheriff Wyatt Paxton popped the empty shells from the shotgun and into his pocket. Evidence bags hadn’t made it to Mercy Corners.

‘And bloody…,’ Wyatt roughly ran his hand over the back of his buzz cut and turned to survey the nightmarish scene around him ‘Not the whole la-tee-da English cussin bloody. I mean bloody as in the nice little old church lady went ape shit, shot up her neighbor Old Man Mirty and half his beef cows due to the fact she felt I didn’t let her make it clear at the town meetin how much she didn’t want trespassers on her property—bloody!’

Settling the double barrel at his hip, the young Sheriff could only shake his head in disbelief. The buzz of horse fly’s resonated in the cooling fall air. The smell they came looking for—brown and black mounds of flesh, sinew and bone, lay scattered at the outskirts of Ginny’s vegetable patch and past the first row of corn. Further out into the yard, just a stone’s throw away from his fallen heard, lay Titus Mirty slumped up against Ginny’s outhouse. One shot taken to his head from off of Ginny’s back porch. Wyatt had to admit old Ginny was a hell of a shot if she had been planning it.

“Teddy, see about callin’ Marcus and the boys down from Fairways farm. We need these cows buried. And tell ‘em Doc’s off for the weekend so he might want to stop by the coroner’s office for a body bag.”

“What about Ginny, Sherriff?” Deputy Reed sidled up to his boss, earning himself a hard glare from the man. “I mean I know she’s bat nuts but look what she done…?”

Wyatt walked away before his deputy could continue and approached the back seat of his Wagoneer. Ginny was a whole lot quieter now. She’d taken to muttering under her breath while she sat cuffed and rocking in the back of the Sheriffs SUV.

“Ginny.” Wyatt opened the back door. “Ginny?”

“Why Sheriff, have ya seen my Pa? He’s lookin’ for his shotgun…”

Wyatt leaned heavily on the open door, said shotgun in hand.

“Ginny, your Pa is dead. Has been for some fifteen years…”

“There’s my daddy’s gun!” The frail little woman smiled brightly, ignoring the stated facts. “You know how he won that state wide skeet shoot with that gun? Or when he shot that interlopen bear trying to get at our pigs?”

“Ginny” Wyatt Paxton was never one to humor anyone’s delusions or false hopes and he wasn’t about to start now. Squatting down on his haunches, Wyatt met his prisoner and old friend eye to eye.

“Why did you shoot Titus and his cows, Ginny? Did Titus get in the way when you were shooing the cows? You shouldn’t have been using that shotgun to go doing that. Your daddy wouldn’t have approved and if ya had called me…”

Without warning the old woman’s smile turned saccharine to sour. Before Wyatt could stand away, Ginny leaned forward in her restraints and spat in his face. Wyatt reeled back and stood, wiping away the spittle, shocked.

“Don’t go saying what my Pa wants! He can speak for himself!” Ginny howled, bringing the deputy to his sheriff’s side. “He told me to protect what’s ours like he did the day of that bear. And those trespassing cows got in the way of MY bear!”


Shortly after the boys from Fairway’s arrived, Wyatt had his Deputy take Ginny to the clinic a county over in Essexville for a psych eval. It knotted his gut to think little old Ginny so gone she could kill her neighbor over cows, but if bothered him more to think her a cold blooded killer. At least being crazy meant she hadn’t been herself.

Wyatt stepped onto Ginny’s porch and into the house while the workmen made short work of the fallen herd and their master. The screen screeched then slapped behind him. His eyes fell to the far wall of the front parlor.

Pictures, a littering of faded and worn frames covered the wall with faces, some familiar and most gone from this world. Ginny was the last descendent of the Kale family line.

Wyatt had been thinking of his own long gone kin a lot these last few months; in passing and sometime in dreams that woke him up drenched and heaving. But he wasn’t thinking any of his dead to be alive. Maybe with him because the dead never do leave when their held onto too tight, but not here on this Earth wanting to be heard. Hell, Heaven knew Earth was better off with most of his kin gone from it.

Reaching out to one of the frames, Wyatt tilted it straight and then stepped away from the dusty and crowded shrine.

And even if the dead were speaking to him too, he’d never listened to them when they were living. Why start now?


  1. this story keeps getting more and more intense! will be waiting for the next one! i want to know what ginny is thinking, i liked the dialogue... thanks, carla.

  2. Dialogue is the key to a winning novel. You're right there, Nicole.

    If you use dialect, you condemn yourself to use it for the whole novel. It is better to use phrasing that mirrors dialect without having to chop up your spelling.

    Robert B. Parker was a master of dialogue. He just passed away two months ago. His novels make for good tutorials on how to write inner city, country, and professional dialogue.

    Spenser is a well-read, self-taught detective. Hawk, his best friend, is a hitman from the black inner city. Susan, the love of his life, is a Harvard educated psychologist.

    EARLY AUTUMN is a good novel to read for his dialogue in different social strata. In it, Spenser rescues a boy from emotionally abusive parents and teaches him what is necessary to enter the early autumn of adulthood.

    Your posts always are thought-provoking. Thanks, Roland

  3. Well, just wow. Not only is your dialogue spectacular, but your narration is wonderful as well. I love the horse flies buzzing around the poor dead cows. And Ginny is just too crazy!!! Great work here.

  4. cArLa: Well thank you! This scene happens much later in the story. I've been picking out pieces I am working on or want to use as a example of a concern I may have.

    Ginny (and a few other Mercy Corners citizens, including the Sheriff) have been visited by "Ghosts" recently. Unfortunatly for Ginny, she was already off her nut before this started, soooooo...its worse for her. Thanx!

    Roland: Now this is why I share (comments are kinda nice too *blush*) bits of my work. I want and oh so need critique, resources and learning tools to improve my writing. A nudge and means for a better direstion. I will check out the above recomendations. Thank you Roland and thanks for stoping by.

    Piedmont Writer: Wow, regarding your praise. Thank you! I hope to edit it better, later on. And I am starting to like Ginny too. Crazy folks is not that long of a stretch for me. ;-D

  5. I thought your dialogue sounded really natural, and that it flowed really well. The whole thing was intense and vivid and I felt so sorry for the cows! Great job. Thank you, too, for stopping by and leaving such kind words, I appreciate them greatly...

  6. Not a problem WC. And thank you so much for reading and reviewing my bit. I hope all is a bit more well for you :-D.



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