Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Under the Influence, Part III

More idealized dialogue that influenced me came from Paula Volsky, who wrote the absolutely amazing Illusion, one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read. (And one of the best covers Michael Whelan ever painted.) Volsky's characters are extremely intelligent, and occasionally utter speeches in the middle of a conversation with another character. And while this isn't particularly "natural" either, it's a little less hip and sarcastic, meaning it's more likely to find itself a place in my narratives. Here's an example from late in the MO, where Amelia is confronted by one of her enemies:
"...I thought you might enjoy the company of a man--it’s been so long. Nearly seven years, isn’t it?”

Somehow Amy kept her rage at bay. She may or may not have been strong enough to battle Lady Varlindeyn, but she didn’t possess the knowledge to do it. Some day, though.

“It has been a while,” she conceded after a few moments. “Unfortunately my memory of those nights is unclear. Perhaps if you found three or four men with no Lore talents--or rather I should say, if they found you--whom I’m sure would be more than happy to pin you to the ground and rape you like an animal, that might help me remember. Not to mention the entertainment value it would provide,” she added. “Though of course I meant, entertaining for me. And as for joining you in bed, I would sooner be raped again.”

Brianna’s face was flushed with anger. “That can be arranged,” she hissed.

Amy shook her head. “No, actually, it can’t. I’m not to be harmed or hindered in any way, remember? And please don’t bore me with warnings about provoking you, because I’m sure whatever Galadaine has in store for me is nothing compared to what he’ll do to the person who kills me before his plans come to fruition.

“So with that in mind, let me say this: I have never in all my life met a more loathsome, despicable, ignorant thing as you. I would sooner get into bed with a rotting corpse. Just the thought of touching you makes me want to vomit, and I suspect those men you’ll have tonight will want to bathe the moment they get away from you. You are a sickening freak, and I’ll consider myself blessed by God if I’m there the day your malevolence catches up with you. Did you understand all that? I wish to be sure, because I know someone with your limited mental capacities may have trouble understanding words of more than one syllable. Shall I repeat myself?”
I love loquaciousness, don't you?

And finally -- God, this is getting long -- my modern teenage characters got their wit and their snark from Ellen Emerson White, who I think is brilliant at writing narrative and dialogue that captures the shyness, the uncertainty, the hesitancy of being a teenager. Teens aren't loquacious, and they don't utter well-planned speeches at the drop of a hat. They say "um" a lot, repeat themselves occasionally, and aren't always sure what to say next. This is a scene from the New Thing where Samantha first meets Alex:
“Hey, hi,” someone behind her said.

Because she wasn’t the nervous type, Sam decided on the spur of the moment not to jump out of her skin. Being all calm and cool, she turned and watched the Orioles hat walking across the street with a guy under it. One of the movers, probably. He was wearing cargo pants and a faded Georgetown t-shirt, and a little teensy part of her brain noticed that he looked pretty nice under it.

“Um, yeah?” Miss Welcome Wagon. She took a quick step back, even though she was already in her own yard and the guy was stopping out in the street, hands in his pants pockets.

“Hi,” he said again. “I’m Alex.”

Jesus, what was this? Was the moving guy hitting on her? What, did he have a crip fetish or something? “Um, Samantha,” she said, too nervous to know what else to do.

He took his cap off and smiled. “Hello, Samantha.” He had gray eyes and a nice head of curly dark blond hair, and Sam felt a very annoying flutter down in her belly. Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad getting hit on by the moving guy. Assuming he wasn’t about to ask for directions or offer to give to the March of Dimes or something.

“Um, so, you’re almost done?”

He nodded. “Yeah, just about.”

“Did they, uh, have a lot? Stuff, I mean? Boxes?”

“Oh, um, I don’t know. Not so much. It’s like twice as big as our old house. There’s lots more closets and stuff, but we’ll probably spend all week unpacking.”

And Sam realized then that she was talking to the son, not the moving guy. She felt her face heating up, and hopefully he’d spare her the mortification of having of reveal what a moron she was. Very observant. Of course he was like her own age.

“Yeah,” she said. “It takes forever. Um, so, it was nice to meet you. But, uh--”

“Hey, did you break your wrist or something?”

Yeah, great. So much for that. “Um, yeah. Sort of,” she said, holding the brace tightly against her belly. Which might possibly draw attention to the general area of where she wasn’t wearing a bra, so she dropped it down by her side again, which hurt, so she swung it a little bit behind her -- which probably didn’t make her look very good either. Hiding something? Ashamed? Moi?

Her little spaz attack had probably given him plenty of time to notice the cane and her knee brace -- and heck, the scar next to her eye too, if he was interested enough -- but when she glanced up he was only looking around the neighborhood. So either he hadn’t noticed, which was unlikely, or he wasn’t a starer, which was nice. She was extremely sick of that.

“I like it here,” he was saying. “I didn’t think I was going to, but it’s nice.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s nice.” And if her deformities didn’t drive him away, her sparkling conversational skills surely would.

“Any other kids here? High school, I mean? I’m starting on Monday. My folks have the week off”--he nodded back at the house--“but not me.”

“Uh--” For a second her mind was quite blank. God, he was going to think she was retarded too. “Uh, yeah. A couple. Like, three or four, I mean. The bus stop’s down there, at the corner.” Her parents’ house was the third up the street. It was an easy walk now; it might not be when it began to snow. She didn’t know what she was going to do about that. Her parents had mentioned a van that came for disabled kids, but just the thought of that was so humiliating Sam had refused outright.

“Listen, uh-- The game’s starting. And I always watch it with my dad.” Ooh, liar. Extra pathetic.

“Oh, yeah. Sure. And, you know, it’s not like I should be back there helping or anything.”

Sam took a few steps back towards the house, holding her cane behind her. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too, Samantha. See you Monday.”
That's what I mean by natural dialogue: something that could have been transcribed from an actual conversation. It just works for me, even while I strive to make the narrative as elegant as possible, given the subject and the protagonist.

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