Gloria Alden's latest publication is nonfiction. Boys Will Be Boys: The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys. Edited by Cher'ley Grogg was recently released and available on Amazon. Gloria wrote three essays and two poems in her chapter included in the book.
Congratulations to four of WWK’s bloggers whose books were released in the last two months. Look for Jim Jackson’s second Seamus McCree novel, Cabin Fever; Linda Rodriguez's new Skeet Bannion mystery, Every Hidden Fear; KM Rockwood's new Jesse Damon novel, Brothers in Crime; and Gloria Alden's third Catherine Jewell Mystery, Ladies of the Garden Club. All of the novels are available at bookstores in print and ebook.
Paula Gail Benson's short story "Confidence in the Family" is featured in the Mystery Times Ten 2013 anthology, which can be bought at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Times-2013-Linda-Browning/dp/0984203583/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1387240857&sr=8-2
Friday, August 13, 2010
Battling Backstory, Part II
Last Friday here at WWK, I began a pretend story to illustrate different ways to address backstory in the first chapters of a novel. The first post focused on narrative; this week is dialogue; next week will be internal dialogue.
Part 2 - Backstory through dialogue.
Learning information through characters conversing is usually more interesting than reading it in a chunk of narrative. Why usually? Because sometimes writers make the mistake of having characters speak in chunks of narrative. When characters do this, they become Talking Heads.
Talking Heads are characters who are actually talking to the reader, sharing information that gives the story logic. But isn’t that what all dialogue is meant to do? Yes. The difference between talking characters and Talking Heads is that the Heads say things that people in real life would never say to one another.
Below are two examples of backstory given in dialogue. The first has a bad case of Talking Headitis. As a learning exercise, and to reinforce my love of office supplies, mark what you think sounds unnatural with a highlighter.
Here’s a hint: Does Mark need to inform Jane that they have been partners for 10 years? No. Jane knows this, so he is really informing the reader, but in reality, would he say this? No. That makes him a Talking Head. That should get a highlight. Now you try:
“Sarge is going to ream us out,” Det. Jane McCoy grumbled. “Both of us, even though you showed up at a crime scene dressed like it was a dinner matinee. People wonder how you can afford those suits on a detective’s salary. I always knew that, one day, your vanity would get us in trouble.”
Det. Mark Hatfield stared at her over his coffee cup. “You always knew that? In the ten years we’ve been partners, you’ve never mentioned it before. You’ve mentioned how I always drive, and I always choose the lunch spots and I always take the lead in interviews.”
“That’s because you always mention your one year of seniority on me,” Jane said.
“And you always mention how you’re from the nice side of MyFavoriteTown, and I grew up on the shady part. I know everybody in town. That helps us clear cases,” Mark said. “ What else do people wonder about me?”
Jane leaned forward over the desk they shared. “For starters, you and that dispatcher over in the next precinct. And how, every time we get a female witness, you have to put your big comforting arms around her so she can cry in them.”
Mark set down his coffee cup. “What are you saying? Do my clothes and my one year of seniority and my attractiveness to women offend you so much you want a new partner?’
Jane leaned back. “Of course not, Mark. You know we are a good team. We clear our cases. You might overdress and make me eat hot dogs so you can visit your haberdashery on our lunch break, but I’ve seen you run down a much younger suspect because you keep in such good shape. You are punctual and your reports are always spot on. You tell good jokes and you keep the car neat. People gossip about your personal choices, but if I can put up with you, it’s not their business.”
The Sarge’s door opened. “McCoy! Hatfield! Get in here!”
“Show time,” Mark said. He straightened his tie. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. You’re a good cop, too, Jane. So is your little brother. That’s why I’m willing to put up a round at Two-Bits for him and his beat cop friends.”
“I appreciate that,” Jane said. “I just wish you’d let me drive once in a while, and didn’t check yourself out in the rear view mirror so often. Most of all, I wish I didn’t have to pretend in front of your wife that I don’t know anything about that dispatcher.”
Now, in example two, we have a third character. See how he interjects the information about their 10 years together. Is this more natural?
“Sarge is going to ream us out,” Detective Mark Hatfield said.
“Us?” His partner, Jane McCoy, slammed down her coffee cup. “I’m not the one who lost evidence because I showed up at a crime scene dressed like it was a Broadway play. I knew your vanity would get us into trouble one day.”
“When have I ever gotten you into trouble?” Mark said. “Name one time my so-called vanity kept me from answering a back-up call or be late or let a perp get away because I couldn’t run him down.”
“I never said you weren’t a good cop,” Jane said. “You are. You even tell a good joke. But it would be nice if you let me drive or choose lunch or lead an interview once.”
“That’s not vanity, that’s seniority.”
“One year,” Jane grumbled. “One lousy year you got on me.”
"Yeah, and don't you forget it."
The Sarge’s door opened. “McCoy! Hatfield! Get in here!”
Five seconds later, Sarge said, “I read your incident report, Hatfield. All squared away, per usual. Except for why you dropped that flashlight.”
Mark said, “Sir,” at the same time Jane said, “Sarge.”
The sergeant chuckled. “You know, I pegged you two for a lousy team. Miss Nice Side of MyFavoriteTown and the homeboy who knows every lowlife in town but dresses like a million bucks? I bet you drive her nuts checking yourself out in the rear view. But you clear your cases, your car is spotless and I even hear you stand rounds at Two-Bits.” He looked at them. “How long you been partners?”
“Ten years,” Mark said.
Sarge said, “Well, I guess one bit of questionable judgment in ten years is not too terrible, Hatfield. One that’s on paper anyway.” He waved at the door. “Get out of here.”
Back at the desk, Mark said. “What the hell did he mean, questionable judgment?”
“I don’t know, maybe he’s heard stuff.”
“Stuff? What stuff?”
“Stuff like how can you afford those suits on your salary? How come you spend so much time at the next precinct with that dispatcher?”
“Who’s saying that?" Mark demanded. "Your little brother?”
“No. Everybody except my little brother.”
A third party can do the job in dialogue of asking questions that the primary characters would not ask, because they know the answers. Try it.
Next week, we get away from Talking Heads and get into heads with Backstory through Internal Dialogue.