Dashing, energetic dialogue is one of the best arrows in our fiction writing quiver. It gives characters snap and personality and also helps make each of them unique. Right now, I’m working hard to bring more dialogue to the pages of my YA novel to really bring it alive. So when a friend suggested that I take a look at a particular romance novel because the author did a great job of delivering lots of information via dialogue, I borrowed a copy from the library post haste.
Shakespeare, it isn’t. But the Highland Groom by Hannah Howell definitely has a generous dose of Scottish-flavored brogue heavy on the “Kens” and “Dinnaes” (“I understand” and “I don’t know”). But I can see why my friend recommended it.
Hannah uses dialogue in several distinct and effective ways. First, she uses it to create a sense of time and place that carries the reader back to a bygone era. Second, she uses it to reveal what her characters are thinking and feeling directly rather than via a distancing omniscient observer, which makes their behaviors and actions very immediate and accessible. And finally, she uses dialogue to convey personality. The heroine, for instance, has a lot of “snap, crackle, and pop” in her speech, which instantly communicates to the reader that she is a feisty woman who’s not to be trifled with. One of her companions, on the other hand, is a shy and fearful woman, which is also conveyed effectively through both her speech patterns and pacing.
I once heard an author who said that when she’s in revision mode, she takes several passes at her draft. In one, she focuses on fine-tuning evocations of her story’s setting; in another pass, she isolates all her character descriptions and enriches them; and in yet another pass at a manuscript draft, she focuses solely on dialogue, making sure it’s rich and spicy. This sounds like a great approach to me and I think I’ll give it a go. Write on.