Since I picked the Jennifer Crusie re-release for the Smart Bitch Book Club this week, I’ve been thinking about why I like her books so much. Even when I don’t love the plot, I love reading the characters, like with Maybe This Time. And for me, it’s the dialogue.
Good dialogue rocks. When characters both talk like real people, and talk like REALLY SMART people, AND (I know, it’s a lot to ask) talk like really smart real people who are trying not to reveal too much, I am a happy, happy romance reader. Crusie is very good at the dialogue that says real things, reveals other things, doesn’t show too much, and makes me laugh.
It’s so irritating when dialogue becomes plot points, filled with “As you know,” exposition and awkward sentence constructions that no one with a tongue would actually say. I love listening to people talk in real life, even though I know eavesdropping is the rudest thing ever, not because I’m nosy (though I am) and I want to hear what they’re talking about, but because I want to hear how they’re saying it. I often find myself skimming paragraphs and paragraphs of description, looking for the dialogue – and when I read books that were printed in the UK and don’t have double-quotation marks for dialogue, I get confused until my brain remembers to look for the single-quote.
In short, I love dialogue. Love it a LOT. There’s a couple new books with sparky dialogue I’ve enjoyed. Wanna hear about them? Well, even if you don’t, I’m going to keep talking. (Heh.)
HelenKay Dimon writes lovely snapping dialogue. When I met her at RWA in Dallas I was told she writes dialogue like Spencer and Tracy movies. While I don’t hear gravelly Katharine Hepburn and a New England accent when I read her characters, I do hear smart people – real people – talking. For example, in her latest book, “Impulsive,” her protagonists have an awkward conversation after a seriously incendiary hookup at a wedding the night before. I liked this scene because the conversation is real—and awkward.
He held out his hand. “Eric Kimura.”
She stared at his long fingers before sliding her palm inside his. “Oh.”
The corner of his mouth kicked up. “But you knew that, right?”
“Pretty much.” The feel of that smooth skin against hers brought a rush of heat to her cheeks. She looked down at their joined hands, wondering at what point long ruined to “too long” and she had to let go. “I watch the news now and then.”
“Ah, yes. Not always the most flattering place to pick up information about me, but not a surprise.” He frowned as if the notoriety didn’t sit all that well with him. “So, do you have a name?”
“I figured you knew it since you tracked me here and all.”
“I have my sources but the exact name was tougher.”
Yeah, he had something all right. “Katie Long.”
“I’m surprised you went through the trouble to find me.”
His head tilted to the side. The wide-eyed look made him look younger, less imposing, if only for a few seconds. “Why?”
This qualified as the strangest morning-after type conversation she’d ever had. “I guess this is the part where I say I’ve never done that at a wedding before.”
He nodded. “For the record, me either.”
“And where I insist I’m not the kind of woman who engages in thirty-minute sex romps with strangers.”…
“I’m not judging.”
Of course he was. Hell, she was…. “Maybe just a little judging?”
“Any name I call you would apply to me.”
“You weren’t alone in that room.”
She tried very hard not to conjure up a visual image of his hands up her skirt. “Oh, I know.”
“I admit, that sort of thing isn’t a weekly occurrence for me.”
She laughed. The contrast between the serious way his brows came together and the humor in his tone did her in. He might be good at sex, but he wasn’t all that comfortable with the way they’d met.
That made two of them.
(Please note: I’m transcribing here, so any typos are my own).
I liked Dimon’s book for the dialogue – I wanted to listen to Eric and Katie talk some more as I started each new chapter. Even when plot points irked me, I wanted to listen to them both for awhile longer. I mean, as I was typing that excerpt, I wanted to keep reading. Their chemistry is in the dialogue – and that is so completely delicious.
In historical fiction, I’ve really enjoyed Sarah MacLean’s dialogue, too. Her books are what I think of as “Friendly Historicals.” Somehow, calling a book “light” has become insulting, and I don’t mean it that way at all. Friendly Historicals won’t cause you emotional weeping or leave you with that achey-bittersweet-ouch feeling, which sometimes I crave, I admit, but that doesn’t mean that “Friendly Historicals” are emotionally vacant either. They’re friendly in the best possible meaning. They have heart, but they don’t want to rip yours out, either.
An example of the dialogue that gives me the smiles:
“We are here at the invitation of Lady Isabel.”
The boy had reached the foot of the steps, and he paused. “Weren’t you supposed to come tomorrow?”
Ignoring the insolent behavior – when had he ever been questioned by a servant?- Nick replied, “We are here now.”
“You won’t find her inside.”
“Is she not at home?”
The boy leaned back on his heels, considering his words. “She is at home… but not inside.”
Nick began to feel his temper fray. “Boy, I am not interested in playing games. Is your lady in? Or not?”
The servant smiled then, a wide grin that seemed entirely unservantlike. “She is not in. She is out. On top of, more like.” The boy pointed up. “She is on the roof.”
“She is on the roof.” Surely Nick had misunderstood.
“Just so,” the groom said. “Shall I call her?”
The question was so bizarre that it took Nick several seconds to process its meaning.
Not so Rock. Unable to contain his own wide smile, the Turk said, “Yes, please. We should very much like you to call her.”
The boy stepped back to the opposite edge of the drive, cupped his hands around his mouth, and called, “Lady Isabel! You have visitors!”
Far above, a head poked over the edge of the house. It seemed Lady Isabel, was, indeed on the roof. Dear God. The woman had a death wish.
“You were not supposed to arrive until tomorrow.” The words carried down to him. “I am not receiving.”
Heh. That scene made me giggle. The juxtaposition of manners and the roof, and the unintimidated servants cracked me up and induced me to keep reading.
Even when the whole of a book seems uneven, an imperfect story with good dialogue that creates memorable characters can go a long way toward leaving me with a mellow, happy impression of a book. For some people, the balance of plot and character is what makes a book awesome for them. For me, it’s more the balance of plot and dialogue that reveals the characters. I want to listen to them talking through the story.
So what new authors and new books have you discovered with dialogue you enjoy? Do you love dialogue as much as I do, and find yourself skipping to it, even when you don’t mean to? Please tell me I’m not alone in that one! Share share!