But in the meantime I'm juggling two books: I have finished the first draft of the next Georgie Book, called ON HER MAJESTY'S FRIGHTFULLY SECRET SERVICE, I've started on the final polish, and I'm just starting to write the next Molly book, called THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST. This is a much more somber affair so I'm having to juggle the two a little and switch moods between jolly and depressing!
I've been reading a lot of books lately and one thing that strikes me about beginning writers is that they don't know how to handle dialog.(or is it dialogue? I spend my time writing half in British English and half in American English, hence perpetually confused!)
When people start to talk we have one line of speech after another, like staccato bullets. In real life people don't speak like that. They speak in broken sentences, they gesture, their body language matches their mood, outside things happen like planes flying over, dogs rushing in. AND we need to be reminded where we are. If the dialog scene takes place on a train station we need to hear an announcement or toot of a train whistle to remind us.
I've been told that my dialog is one of the things readers enjoy most about my books, so I thought I'd share a scene in which we have action, dialog, character and setting all playing a part: This is from the Georgie book I am working on. We are in Stresa, Italy, on Lake Maggiori:
As I approached the villa I spotted a group of people, sitting on a terrace beneath an arbor of wisteria. I felt suddenly shy and awkward. Why had I not asked the driver to take me to the villa? I must look pathetic, staggering up the drive carrying my own suitcase and dressed in my unfashionable tweed suit. And what if the letter still hadn’t arrived and here I was with my suitcase? Had the queen actually suggested that I join the house party, or merely that I should be welcomed for a drink if I showed up? Why on earth hadn’t I left the suitcase at Belinda’s house and pretended I had just dropped by to pay my respects? Then, when they suggested I should stay I could have acted as if I was surprised and they would have sent someone to pick up my belongings. But now I was committed. I couldn’t retreat without being noticed. It was only a matter of time before one of them looked up and…
I was startled by a great scream. “Georgie!”
I was even more startled to see that the scream came from my mother. She had risen to her feet and was running toward me, her arms open. “Georgie, my darling!” she exclaimed in that voice that had filled London theaters. “What a lovely, lovely surprise. I had no idea you were coming to join us. Why didn’t somebody tell me?”
She flung her arms around me , something she was not in the habit of doing. Then she turned back to the others. “Which of you arranged to bring my daughter to me? Was it you, Max, who suggested it? You knew I was pining for her, didn’t you?”
I had prudently put down the suitcase before she attacked me. Now she took my hand and dragged me forward. “Everybody, this is my darling child, Georgie, whom I haven’t seen for ages and ages. And I had no idea she was coming to join us. ” She gazed at me adoringly. “And now you’re here. It seems like a miracle.”
I noticed she had failed to mention that she had bumped into a few days ago and at that time there had been no talk of inviting me to join her. Nor had she seemed overjoyed to see me. As I smiled back at her I wondered what she was up to.
Several other members of the party had also risen to their feet as she led me up steps to the arbor. Among them I recognized Miss Cami-Knickers herself. She looked older, perfectly groomed, incredibly chic as she stepped down from the terrace and approached me.
“Georgiana. How delightful to see you again after all this time. I was so pleased to receive a note from the queen herself suggesting that you join our party.”
I shook the hand that was offered. “I do hope this has not inconvenienced you in any way, Camilla,” I said. “When I told her majesty that I’d be staying nearby I really had no idea she’d invite me to be part of your house party. But she was insistent that I pay my respects to my cousin, the Prince of Wales.”
“But not at all,” Camilla laughed. I remembered she had always had a horsy sort of laugh. Her horsy looks had definitely been improved with impeccable grooming and expensive clothes but the laugh was unchanged. “Actually we’re horribly short on women at the party, so you are a godsend at evening up the numbers. Come and meet my husband and the other guests.”
I followed her up to the terrace where several men were now standing to greet me. One of them I recognized immediately as Paolo, Belinda’s former love. I saw from his face that he also remembered me but I also saw the warning sign flash in his eyes. “Pretend you don’t know me,” could not have been more clear if he had shouted the words.
“My husband Paolo, Count of Marola and Martini,” she said proudly.
“My dear Lady Georgiana, you are most welcome, especially since my wife tells me you and she were old friends from your school days.” He took my hand and kissed it.
“How do you do, Count,” I said, inclining my head formally. “But please let us dispense with formality. Why don’t you call me Georgie?”
‘Georgie. How charming.” He smiled. I had forgotten how incredibly handsome he was. I could see why Belinda had been quite smitten at the time.
Camilla took my arm and moved me on. “And of course you already know Herr von Strohheim?”
My mother’s beau Max clicked his heels and said, “Georgie. I am pleased to see you again,” in his stilted, staccato English. At least it was better than when he first met my mother and spoke only occasional monosyllables.
“Max, how are you?” I said, shaking his hand. He too looked handsome in a blonde and Germanic way and I was reminded of my encounter on the train with….
“And this is Count Rudolf von Rosskopf,” Camilla said, and I found myself face to face with my would-be seducer.
He too took my hand and drew it to his lips. “We meet again, Lady Georgiana,” he said. “What a delightful surprise. And I had no idea that we would run into each other again so soon. It must be fate, drawing us together.” He looked rather pleased with himself and his eyes flirted with me.
“Behave yourself, Rudi,” my mother snapped. “This is my young daughter, you know.”
“Not too young,” Rudi said. “Ripe and ready for adventure, I think.”
RHYS: I rather fear that seduction will be the least of Georgie's worries as the story progresses!
So do share: what do you look for in good dialog?