New Books, Good Dialogue

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.)

Book CoverHelenKay 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.”

“The caterer.”

“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.”

“Very logical.”

“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.

Book CoverIn 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!

 

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  1. 1
    RachieG says:

    I love witty dialogue too. While not a new author to me, don’t you think Susan Elizabeth Phillips just writes the best dialogue too? I can laugh and laugh at some of the predicaments…and I think she write heartbreak well too. It’s what real people would say, not just what people “think” they would say.

    I’m ready the Sarah MacLean book right now and I loved that scene! Have you noticed when Rock is embarrassed, he’s looking around awkwardly? Can’t you just imagine it? GREAT post today! :)

  2. 2
    MelB says:

    I love great dialogue as well. Amanda Quick has some really snappy dialogue as well as JD Robb.

  3. 3
    becca says:

    and this is what keeps me from inflicting my writing on the world: I have an absolutely tin ear (tin pen?) for dialog. I adore well-written dialog, but I just can’t do it myself. Everyone comes out sounding like me.

    would55: I would write 55 novels, if I could only write dialog well.

  4. 4
    Nadia says:

    I’ll add Julia Quinn to this list.  She’s got skillz.

    Kresley Cole.  Yes, paranormal and realistic don’t go hand-in-hand per se, but I love the smart-assery of her characters and the give-and-take.

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    I find myself skipping to the dialogue all the time, because I also want the verbal banter to continue. I want to know RIGHT THEN what someone had to say to the previous comment. I then back track, read the descriptions and than the dialogue that I had skipped to again. :D

    happened82—I wish every great book had a chance for me to skip to the dialogue 82 times.

  6. 6
    Trudy says:

    Eloisa James’ dialogue is exquisite, as it Jayne Ann Krentz. I recently read a couple of books that were delightful – Patricia Rice’s The Wicked Wyckerly; Elizabeth Boyle’s Mad About the Duke; Cathy Maxwell’s The Marriage Ring; and Julie Ann Long’s Like No Other Lover. Like No Other Lover contains excellent, emotional AND hysterically funny dialogue between the h/h.  Like No Other Lover is exceptional because most of the story takes place at a country house party so there’s a lot of drawing room banter. And it’s the heroine who has the reputation. Mad About the Duke and The Marriage Ring both have heroes that go beyond their comfort zones and are better people for it. I also very much enjoyed Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break and look forward to her new one.

  7. 7
    Sharon says:

    SEP writes wonderful dialogue!  I’m looking forward to her new release.

    An author I’ve discovered recently, Laura Griffin, writes great dialogue, too, although she’s romantic suspense. 

    Loretta Chase, in her historicals, writes intelligent, grown-up dialogue.

  8. 8
    ghn says:

    Good dialogue can certainly lift up an otherwise rather blah book but it can’t “make” a book on its own.
    Otoh crappy dialogue can certainly make a book fly like a lead balloon.
    Favorite author, who I am certainly willing to recommend to others is Lois McMaster Bujold, whose new book Cryoburn has just hit the stores.
    Her books have everything, but since we here discuss dialogue, I just LOVELOVELOVE how her characters will always surprise you, and especially when you follow the dialogues, you suddenly ask yourself, how the heck did we end up here from X???
    Speak28 – very apropos!

  9. 9
    Donna says:

    Oh, I agree about Kresley Cole & Jennifer Crusie! And also not a new, but always love the way her characters sound: Nora Roberts. Gail Carriger, it might not always be deep, but oh, how she makes me smile!

  10. 10

    Jenny Crusie has definitely got the dialogue goin’ on!  I would add (just off the top of my head…) Hester Browne, Lisa Lutz, and Lauren Willig.

  11. 11
    Karenmc says:

    What Trudy said about Like No Other Lover. Funny, laugh-out-loud conversations in a book that is also bittersweet and emotional (and then there are the dogs, goosing people with doggie doggedness).

    Loretta Chase characters, especially the ones who don’t censor themselves, are terrific to “listen to”.

    I need to pick up the new Sarah MacLean book. I enjoyed her debut a lot.

  12. 12
    AmberG says:

    Oh, I love good dialogue. Nothing gives me that excited SQUEE feeling in the pit of my stomach like a good back and forth. When I was quite a bit younger, and reading everything I could get my hands on that had words on it, I once read a book that was nothing BUT dialogue. It was never an issue, you always knew exactly where they were and what they were doing, without them even having to tell you, just by the timing of everything. They spoke like real boys, the kind I went to school with (only slightly older, as the book was set in WWII), and I loved how their voices became so distinct so quickly that I had no problem figuring out who was talking at the start of a chapter, unless it was a new character.

    When I think back, one of the first romance-like novels I ever read and loved (something about a magic teapot) was like reading a book of dialogue too, since it was written in a way that two girls were writing to each other, so even descriptions had a dialogue-like quality.

  13. 13
    Charlotte says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s tempted to skip to the dialogue when it’s really good! I used to have such a problem with that…

    @AmberG – Sorcery and Cecelia! Just re-read that a few months ago. The narration/dialogue was amazing, right? My younger sister and I used to read it to each other aloud, back and forth.

  14. 14
    Stefanie says:

    Yes to SEP, Julia Quinn, and Nora Roberts.  Their dialogue is amazing and so natural to read.  Its the main reason why I read them, because their books are very character driven and if the characters don’t ‘speak’ to you, then why read them?

    When I read Lord of Scoundrels the first time, the dialogue just absolutely sparkled.  I knew the book was gonna be amazing from the first scene Jessica and Dane sparred in the Antique store

  15. 15
    Barb says:

    The banter in the best Georgette Heyer books is just awesome.  She is still my favorite for Regency era books.  And here’s the umpteenth vote for JAK and la Nora for snappy (never sappy) modern dialog. When Nora’s girlfriend characters start dishin’ I am in reader heaven.
    Glad this post isn’t about authors with no ability for dialog—hooboy!  Bad dialog is a wall-banger for me—and the number of books that have hit the walls?—legion!!

    spamword: natural49—I am a natural 49, even though the calendar begs to differ!

  16. 16
    Kaetrin says:

    I agree with the suggestions of SEP, Nora Roberts/JD Robb and I’d add Suzanne Brockmann to the list of excellent dialogue writers.

  17. 17
    AmberG says:

    @Charlotte: Yes! I love that book. I must have re-read the library copy of it a hundred times when I was in high school. I keep meaning to see if I can’t get myself a copy of it.

  18. 18
    Mary G says:

    Good dialogue, oh yes, like mental foreplay in a romance.
    Done so well by Julie James, Jill Shalvis, Rachel Gibson, Robin Wells, HelenKay Dimon & I’m sure I left out some really good authors. Sounds like I should read more historicals.

  19. 19
    orangehands says:

    I love dialogue, and I’m in complete agreement: Crusie does it so damn well. I loved it immediately, but I was in her awe after reading the end scene of Faking It; it has several people talking and it is extremely easy to follow along and hear who is saying what. Amazing skills.

    Sadly, dialogue is the hardest for me. I’m working on it.

  20. 20
    orangehands says:

    And thanks for the books. I’m curious about them both now (and I don’t tend to read historicals.)

  21. 21
    mercredigirl says:

    Is that a romance novel with two Asian protagonists? Who are witty and do not descend into, I don’t know, the squicky icky of the last post (pearl necklaces *cough*)?

    I am going to hunt that book down, je te le jure !

  22. 22
    Tabs says:

    I finished listening to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ “Match Me If You Can” on audio-book the other day and while the significant parts of that story that involve eye-rolling melodrama nearly did me in, the often amazing dialogue had me laughing out loud in my car.  And occasionally yelling “You go, Annabelle!”  (I’m not a quiet reader, I quite often talk back to books)

    SEP does great dialogue.

  23. 23
    Kate-E says:

    Julia Quinn.

    Have I mentioned Julia Quinn? Seriously I read one of her books, go on a Julia Quinn binge and end up depressed because I will never be able to write dialogue like her. Then I shake myself off and try… that’s how good her dialogue is.

    Her books may seem frothy to some readers, but as I was trying to explain to a non romance reading friend, her characters are like all the best romantic comedy duos before romantic comedies became what they are. They actually like each other!

    They always remind me of when I met DH, I just felt sharper around him, and to ths day (almost a decade on) we zing back and forth in the most enjoyable way. To me that is truly romantic, that we have the best, funniest, most effervescent conversations with each other.

    SEP is also great, and I just read Heyer’s Venetia and Devil’s Cub – and I see why they (blurb writers?) call Julia Quinn “the new Heyer”.

    Apologies for the long, rambling post.

  24. 24

    mercredigirl – Impulsive has an Asian hero.  He’s a first-generation American, only son of Japanese parents.  The heroine is not Asian.  And no pearl necklaces.  I promise.  Thank you for being interested in the book!

    Sarah, thanks for the mention.  It was a nice surprise to open that google alert.

  25. 25
    mercredigirl says:

    @HelenKay Dimon:

    Oh, I see—I assumed Long was a Chinese name *grin* It’s really rare to see coloured protagonists, in any case, so I’m fascinated ^^; (And rather OT, so forgive me.)

  26. 26
    Cathy B says:

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips, definitely, she gives me the giggles. Lois McMaster Bujold because I always find myself reading with my eyes getting wider and wider, wondering just what the HELL Miles is going to say next. (I just re-read Cetaganda this week and gave myself fits).
    And another favourite, YOU HAVE NOT WRITTEN ENOUGH BOOKS author, Tanya Huff, especially the Keeper series and most especially every word out of the mouth of Austin the cat.
    And yes, I know it’s a cat, but – the way she writes him, it makes me look at my own cat and just anticipate what Jericho would say if he could talk – something equally snide and related to bacon no doubt.
    Every editor who’s ever seen my work tells me it’s too dialogue-heavy. I point out that real-life is dialogue heavy and talking is generally how we find out what other people are thinking.

  27. 27
    Miranda says:

    I just finished Lauren Willig’s Mischief of the Mistletoe and the dialog between Turnip (who’s completely adorable) and Arabella is wonderful and hilarious. All the dialog is good, actually, and I’m hoping that Lauren gives Sally Fitzhugh her own book at some point.

    made39: Mischief made me laugh at least 39 times.

  28. 28
    Rose says:

    I’ve actually lost interest in Crusie’s books because the dialog seems very similar across her novels, even if the characters are different. There’s just something repetitive in the way she writes her characters and their interactions. I also think they read older than they’re supposed to be. But I’ll still love Welcome to Temptation forever.

    SEP writes fantastic dialog, as does Loretta Chase. Julia Quinn is wonderful, though I doubt it’s very period-authentic. I also liked a lot of the dialog in Diana Gabaldon’s books.

  29. 29
    MichelleKCanada says:

    Love Love Loved Sarah MacLean books! Her first book “Nine Rules…” was one of the best books I read in 2010. I was so eager to read “Ten Ways…” and I also loved that story. I adored the conversations in that book so I loved that you chose this book to discuss. Excellent!

  30. 30
    distracted says:

    If you love smart and snappy dialogue, you MUST read Diana’s Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl series.  Total of four books with some of the best dialogue I have ever read, so much that I want to be those characters.

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