Sunday, April 22, 2012
Fusion Food and Dialog
Son: This cumin lamb sounds good. Tell me about it.
Waitress: Well. It is lamb. With cumin.
Son: So how exactly is it prepared?
Waitress: You take the lamb... and put some cumin on it.
Waitress: And then you cook it.
That would make a terrific scene in a funny movie, wouldn 't it?
But I'm trying to prove a point here. I want to show what real life dialog is like. We don't speak in long, expressive sentences. One of the mistakes that new writers make (and some old writers too) is making the dialog unrealistically eloquent. In the real world we break apart sentences, interrupt, stop to think. Of course we can't make speech exactly true to life... or it would be full of fillers like "like" and "y-know", but it should give the impression of real life.
Another pointer that this dialog illustrates is: make sure we know who is talking. Too often, especially in opening chapters, we have characters chatting away madly and we really don't know who we are listening to. (or should that be to whom we are listening?)
In this dialog the waitress has a distinctive voice and also an Indian accent, but I can only hint at that by the way she breaks up her sentences, but you get a good impression of her from these few lines of speech. So close your eyes. Have someone read dialog out loud and see if you get a feel for each person speaking. Also notice from that small speech how conversation flows back and forth, like a tennis match. One person does not hold the stage for long speeches.
I set my mysteries in the past and dialog is a great tool to take us back to a place and time. My characters really do express themselves in long, eloquent sentences. People in those days had more time and much bigger vocabularies. I base Molly Murphy's speech on that of my great aunts who read extensively and didn't hesitate to use big words in their every day speech (they were, after all, from a generation who gave us words like Perambulator for a baby buggy and Omnibus for that big red thing.) Also they considered words like damn and hell swearing. A man would apologize if he used such words in a lady's presence.
I don't know how we got from Asian fusion to Edwardian novels If anyone has tried good Chinese/Indian fusion, do let me know.
But a last word of warning... if a restaurant is called anything like Chopsticks and Chapattis, run away as fast as you can.