The woman sat up straight in the restaurant booth, head pressed against the cushioned back. As her companion approached, she lifted a pointer finger to her lips, and gestured for her friend to sit. On the table a notepad covered with scribbles rested beneath her palm, the pen in her hand busily writing notes. “Juicy conversation behind us. Great for a scene in my book.”
Writing dialogue is tricky and takes practice to make it real. All of us would like to pen words like the ones spoken by Jane in Jane Eyre when she confronts Rochester:“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?”*
Consider Elizabeth Bennett when she refuses Mr. Darcy’s proposal of marriage in Pride and Prejudice: “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”*
Books abound on how to create meaningful discussion in a novel. But getting it right may require field research. The conversation of a group of ladies wearing purple jackets and red hats will not sound the same as a mob of teens dressed in black. Men don’t talk like women—I heard that “amen”. The speech patterns in a historical novel won’t work in a contemporary tale.
I know one writer who spends mornings at coffee shops studying customers while she sits at her laptop, considering how they might talk as meaningful characters in her book. Another friend listens in elevators. Long rides to the top floor can yield rich vernacular. Public restrooms are also great places to eavesdrop. Women before a mirror can be quite chatty while they re-apply their makeup or coif their hair.
The next time you lunch with a writer friend and she lists a little too far to the right over her latté, take it in stride. She’s merely researching the next memorable line for her best-seller. Applaud her efforts to get it right. She might even include you in the credits!
*Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte
*Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen