Friday, 1 October 2021

So you want to write a crime novel: Part 10: Dialogue

 Dialogue is a tricky thing for writers to get right. It has to read well, which dialogue in real life does not, but it has to sound authentic. In a crime novel, it has to be even tighter, give information to the reader as well as the other character(s) but also phrased to bamboozle the reader when seeding red herrings and clues.

In real life, the following dialogue would be like this:

'Hi, Mary.'

'Oh. Hi.' (uncomfortable pause)

'Long time no see. I was hoping to run into you.'

Yeah...well...been a bit busy, you know.' 

'Everything okay?'

'Not really. Mum's dying.'

'Oh, I had no idea... Is there anything I can do?'

'No. I'd better go, sorry. I forgot to buy the kids' cereal. See you. Bye.'

We learn that the unnamed first person hasn't seen Mary for some time and that Mary's mum is dying. In a conversation like this, you might put in some reactions but you would have to tighten it up and make it much shorter while giving the reader the flavour of the relationship between the two women.

'Hi Mary.'

'Oh, Liz, hi.'

'Long time no see. You look a bit harassed. Everything okay? I wanted to ask if you still make that tea to help people sleep. I could do with some. Work is crazy.'

'Mum's gone into the hospice and they've said she's close to the end.'

Liz put her hand on Mary's arm. 'Oh, love, I didn't know.'

Mary held up the box of corn flakes. 'It's affected everything. I even forgot to buy the kids' breakfast. Must go.'

Mary pushed past Liz, who turned to watch the woman scurry away. Mary's lips pursed.

In a real life situation, the second dialogue wouldn't be that "together", especially as Mary's attention appears to be solely on her mother. We also get information that Mary's mum is dying in a hospice but that she and Liz know each other but are acquaintances rather than friends. Otherwise, Liz would know about Mary's mum. And the seeded clue/red herring about the special tea that Mary makes adds tension to the dialogue.

If you want to read more about how to handle dialogue, click here

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