The art of writing dialog is a tough skill to learn. We learn all the basics. We punctuate properly. We avoid excessive dialog tags. We avoid modifying our dialog tags with adverbs. We read it aloud to make sure it flows right. And we never make our characters give long speeches unless they have a damned good reason.
But still, we get told our dialog is stilted.
Joining us today as Featured Writer is Lisa Shearin, a master of witty dialog. She is the author of Magic Lost, Trouble Found, Armed and Magical and The Trouble with Demons. Her books have consistently been available on the shelves of bookstores everywhere since she was first published, and her books are notable for their laugh-out-loud dialog. It's a real treat to have here here today. She provided two excerpts from The Trouble with Demons to give us some discussion fodder. I had a really hard time choosing between them, but here it is:
Piaras wasn’t having a good day; yesterday had started off the same way and by last night, it had slid downhill into a cesspool. Today was showing all the signs doing the exact same thing.
There was no easy way to ask what I needed to ask. Sure, I could just come right out and say it; it was a simple enough question, but the words just refused to come out.
“You and Katelyn like each other, right?” Yeah, I know, it was the cowardly way in, but at least it was a related topic.
Now the kid was completely confused. “Yes, we do.”
“Yes, a lot. Why do you ask?”
“The two of you haven’t . . . done anything about really liking each other, have you?”
Now he was confused and concerned. “Not yet. I . . . that is, we want to . . . we think . . . but . . .”
“Before I came to class, the archmagus and I had breakfast together.”
I pressed my lips together so wouldn’t snicker. Oh, I knew what was coming. Uncle Ryn had done the same for me. Any boy—or a couple of years later, any man—who wanted to see me socially had to go through The Talk. One of my hopeful suitors said going through The Talk was like being forced to walk through fire, except without the fun parts. You tried to get through it as quickly as possible and told yourself the pain would be over soon. To the best of my knowledge, Uncle Ryn had never actually laid hands on one of my suitors, but he’d always made it plain and clear what behavior he expected, and what actions would be taken if he was “disappointed” that the boy/man’s behavior fell short of those expectations. Needless to say, I didn’t date all that much.
Piaras was looking at me. “What?”
I swallowed a snort. “Nothing. Go on.”
Piaras glanced at the door; it was closed, but he lowered his voice anyway. “Archmagus Valerian said he would know if Katelyn and I . . . you know. Raine, I’d like to live long enough to graduate, or at least graduate in this form. He can’t really turn me into a squid, can he?”
“Is that what he told you?”
“And a couple of other things.”
“He can’t do it, at least not the squid part.”
Piaras let out a relieved breath. “That’s good.” His look turned suspicious. “Why are you asking about me and Kat?”
I really didn’t want to come out and say this. “I need to find the Scythe of Nen. And by the way, you weren’t too far off the mark. It is a dagger.”
“What’s it look like?”
I told him what my dad had told me.
“Something that small won’t be easy to find,” Piaras noted.
“No, it’s won’t. And apparently a certain type of person is helpful for finding this kind of thing.”
Piaras’s eyes narrowed. I had a sinking feeling he’d figured out where I was going with this.
“What type of person?” he asked.
I winced. “Uh . . . a virgin type of person.”
His lips narrowed into a thin line to match his eyes. “And when you found out you needed a virgin, you immediately thought of me.”
“What, so you had to wait two seconds?”
“More like five actually. Don’t feel bad about it.”
“You think I’m the only virgin on this island! How’s that supposed to make me feel?”
I grinned hopefully. “Special?”
Piaras gave me a look. You know the one.
I threw my arms up. “Okay, I’m sure there are other virgins on this island, but I don’t have time to find them. I was pretty sure you were qualified—”
Piaras glowered. “As a virgin.”
I held up a hand. “No, no.” I was just getting myself in deeper. “I knew you were qualified in other ways to help. Level headed, good in a fight, that kind of qualified.”
Piaras arched an eyebrow. “Nice try.”
I hung my head and sighed. “Kid, just help me out here, will you?”
Silence. I looked up. Piaras was grinning.
“What do you need me to do?” he asked.
I told him.
“One question,” he said when I’d finished.
“This virgin thing, does thinking about it count? Just because I haven’t done it doesn’t mean I don’t think about it.” He lowered his voice again. “A lot.”
As usual, please keep your excerpts to 300 words or fewer, and please put your excerpts and your critiques in separate posts.
And let's have some fun!