Writing Dialog and Experiencing My Characters’ Emotions

Photo by Marina Martindale

One of my cousins, who used to be an actress, once told me how she would feel her characters’ emotions as she portrayed them. She said that performing emotionally charged scenes left her feeling drained.

The same is true for me as a novel writer. With nearly every character I create, I experience their emotions as I write my scenes. Writing the dialog is usually the catalyst that drives those emotions.

I’m working on my next novel, The Letter. In one of the early chapters Stephanie and Danny, the leading characters, spend the Labor Day weekend at a bed a breakfast in Estes Park, Colorado. Writing the scene of them relaxing in their room and discussing their day hike in the woods was a pleasant experience. Danny, who’s also a photographer, has taken photos, and he’s showing them to Stephanie. After I finished the scene I felt calm and peaceful, as I too love photography, and one of my own life’s pleasures is to go out in the backcountry and take photos.

Unfortunately, not all is well with Danny and Stephanie. Danny is being hounded by Martha, a woman from his past, and I’ve been building up to a major confrontation between the two of them for sometime. This past week, I finally wrote the chapter where their conflict reaches its crescendo. I expected this scene to be fun to write. Martha really has been a pain in the butt. She most certainly has it coming, and I wanted Danny to feel vindicated. However, as I wrote the dialog I started feeling emotions I didn’t expect to feel.

Danny wants no further contact from Martha, but an obsessed Martha refuses to let him go. As the scene plays out, Danny becomes more and more frustrated with her unending state of denial, and as he struggles to get through to her he becomes more verbally harsh. I started feeling anxious as I wrote the dialog. Harsh words, even when justified, can hurt like a fist, and some of the verbiage I used brought back memories of arguments I had with of some of the jerks I dated in the past. By the time I finished I felt like I’d been sucker punched by both of them.

It was at this point that I’d planned to write Martha out of the story and have another antagonist take over, but now I think I’ll keep her around a little longer. Martha has a real knack for pissing people off, and talent like her’s really shouldn’t go to waste. While the new antagonist will be the main focus for the remainder of the story, Martha will spend some time going after those who she thinks turned Danny against her.

The Letter should be available by the spring of 2018.

MM

 

Swearing About My Dialoge

FwordOne of the more interesting challenges I face as an author is writing believable dialog, especially when the conflict has intensified and the characters are feeling the pressure. Those are the times when an, “oh my goodness gracious me,” just won’t cut it. But then again, I don’t want to take it too far the other way and risk offending you, my readers, as I’m aware that some of you have certain limits as to what language is and isn’t appropriate.

When necessary, my characters will say an occasional, “damn,” or “hell,” and oftentimes that’s enough to make the point. Sometimes a character, usually a villain, may call a woman a, “bitch,” or even a, “whore,” but since he or she is the bad guy, the character is meant to be offensive. I want you to hate my villains. They’re not meant to be nice people.

There may also be occasions when a character may exclaim, “son of a bitch.” This might happen if they’re suddenly shocked or surprised by something. It can also happen when they’re referring to a male villain who’s done something outrageous. Again, my villains aren’t meant to be nice. They’re supposed to make other characters angry, and dialog is the most effective way for them to express their anger. It’s also the kind of language we hear in real life when someone is angry.

There are, however, places where I draw the line. First and foremost is using the Lord’s name as a curse word. While I may not overtly religious, I still believe in God, so to me, it’s disrespectful. That’s why you’ll never hear any of my characters, not even the villains, saying the, “G-damn,” word, or using the names, “Jesus,” or “Christ,” as curse words.

The other word I won’t use is the “f-bomb,” as some readers simply find it too offensive. This can be tricky, as there are some situations when even a, “what the hell,” may not be enough. That’s when I’ll have another character interrupt just in time. That way the word is implied, but not actually said.

I realize there are some folks out there who may even find the word, “damn,” offensive, but as an author, I know I can’t be all things to all readers. I’ll also be the first to admit that my novels aren’t for everyone. So if you’re looking for a good, sensual romance, with believable characters who speak the way that real people talk, but without being potty mouths, you’ve come to the right place.

MM

But Would a Guy Really Say That?

tag graphicI was reading a forum thread discussing the differences between men and women, and how they’re more than just physical. A woman’s psyche is very different than a man’s. It got me thinking about a challenge I face as a romance writer–writing a male character’s dialog. I’m always having to stop and ask myself, would a guy really say that?

Back in the 90s I read, Men Are from Mars Women Are from Venus, and while I can’t recall all the details from the book, I remember it talked extensively about how men are more analytical, and women are more emotional. This doesn’t mean one sex is superior to the other. It simply means that we think differently, so I’ve modeled my male characters accordingly. The female characters will talk openly about their relationships, while the men are more prone to retreat to their man caves. Jeremy, from The Reunion, and The Journey is particularly known to do this. The challenge for me is when I have to have a male character discuss his relationship. I am, after all, writing romance. The main focus of the story is interpersonal relationships, and do men really talk about things like this?

One way I’ve handled it by having a male character confide in a female character. In The Deception, Steve, a supporting character, talks to his fiancee about his concerns over Alex’s relationship with Carrie.

* * *

“Is something wrong, Steve?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What is it?”

“Alex and Carrie. C’mon, you saw it. They’ve become much too emotionally attached to one another.”

“They go way back,” she reminded him.

“No, there’s more to it than that. He’s fallen for her. Hard. Really, really hard.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“In itself, no. They’re two of my favorite people and under normal circumstances I’d be happy for both of them, but their situation isn’t normal. He’s representing her in a civil case and he’s losing his objectivity.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “A few days ago I walked into Alex’s office. He’d just happened to have gotten off the phone with our old buddy, Scott Andrews. Apparently Scott had made some crack about his prior involvement with Carrie and Alex went into a screaming rage. I’ve never known him to ever do anything like that before. It was like listening to a jealous lover. That’s what has me worried.”

“How so?”

“Alex has always been unflappable. That’s why he has such a good track record. He stays calm and collected, just like a lion stalking its prey, while he waits patiently for the other side to make a mistake, and then he goes for the kill. He’s always been able to do that because he never allows himself to become emotionally wrapped up. But now he’s crossed that line, and even though it appears to be an open and shut case, this time he could, very easily, be the one who makes a mistake. If that happens, he could lose, and this is the one case, Allie, the one case that he can’t afford to lose.”

“Damn,” she said. “You can’t let that happen, Steve. It could destroy both of them.”

“I know that, so I’m going to have to keep close watch on him and I’m going try to persuade him to bring Reggie on board.”

* * *

Steve, being a guy, of course has a solution to the problem. Later, after things have gone “too far,” he and Alex have a serious talk.

* * *

Steve looked up when he heard the sound of someone tapping at his door.

“Hey, Alex. What’s up?”

“I need to talk to you about something.”

“Of course. Come on in.”

Alex stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and pulled up a chair. He let out a sigh as he sat down.

“Are you all right, Alex? You look pretty serious.”

“I’m afraid your boy wonder has turned himself into boy blunder.”

Steve looked closer at Alex’s face. “You’ve slept with her, haven’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well now, that explains the happy glow.”

“Oh very funny.” There was a hint of sarcasm in Alex’s voice.

“Well, buddy, I can’t say I’m surprised. I saw this coming the day we all drove up to Flagstaff for her mother’s funeral. So, you know what happens next, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do. I’ll have to recuse myself from her case.”

“It’s for the best for everyone involved, Alex. Even if you hadn’t taken it to that level, I’ve been concerned about your objectivity ever since the day you flipped out after speaking to Scott Andrews on the phone. That’s not like you. You never lose your cool. If something like that had happened in a courtroom—”

“It’ll never see the inside of a courtroom, Steve. Louise doesn’t have a case. She never did.”

“I know she doesn’t. Hopefully you’re right and it’ll never make it to court. However, our immediate concern is the here and now, which means we need to talk to Reggie.”

Before Alex could respond, Steve picked up his phone and dialed Reggie’s extension. As soon as she answered Steve asked her to come to his office. A minute later they heard a knock at the door. Steve opened it and she stepped inside, bringing a folder with her.

* * *

This time, since the conversation is between two men, I let them get to the point, as quickly as possible, and they then discuss a solution. Had this scene been between two female characters more time would have been spent discussing their feelings.

I don’t know if this is how men really talk to one another behind closed doors or not. But if what I’m told by male friends, and by the John Gray book, is true, then I’m probably close. So far I’ve not heard any complaints from male readers.

MM