My all time favourite in any novel or a short story are dialogues. I must admit I find it challenging to write a good dialogue without all the characters sounding like I do. But I am up for a challenge, and most probably because it is a challenge I simply love exercising writing dialogues. This might be one of the reasons why the descriptions in my books are very brief and most of the stories in them are revealed through dialogues.
The question then was how to find an individual voice for each character. I was excited when I found the following idea in the book “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The fastest Was to Improve Any Manuscript” by James Scott Bell on pages 40-41:
“One of my favorite exercises when planning a novel is the Voice Journal. This is a free-form document, stream of consciousness, in the character’s own voice.
How do I know what the character’s voice sounds like? I prompt them with questions and then let them talk. I do this fast, without thinking about it much. What I’m waiting for is the moment when the character starts talking to me in a voice I did not plan.
And it always happens. That’s the fun part, when the character starts to take on life for me.”
As I was contemplating about this idea and thinking what I could ask my characters about, the protagonist of my second book, which I am currently writing, started talking to me in my mind. The ideas just started pouring out.
But before sharing with you what we talked about let me introduce this character shortly to you. Hannah (by the way she thinks her name is Victoria) grew up in Moldova and like me she studied physics of semiconductors. She is about to travel to Germany connected to her work. The day before her appointment at German Embassy for getting a visa for her travel, she finds out from her father that she doesn’t need a visa, because besides being a Moldovan citizen, she is also a citizen of the United States. Because she was born there. And because her late mother was American. As you can imagine, from that moment, her life is literally upside down. This is the tentative title of the sequel I am starting with her. “A Life Upside Down”. And the sub-title of the first book is “A Spy’s Daughter”.
So, here is our dialogue as I recorded it after it materialized in my head. My thoughts and comments are in brackets.
Hannah = H: “She likes ironing. You must be kidding me!”
Vica (me) = V: “Pardon?”
H: “I read you blog post about ironing.” (/various-kinds-of-greed/)
V: “You did?”
H: “Well, through your head obviously.” (rolling imagined eyes)
V: “Ah, yes, sure.” (nod and shrug)
H (ignoring the irony in my voice): “So, explain it to me, how can you like ironing?”
V: “Well, it’s soothing; you can see how something crinkly becomes smooth and even; you see the result immediately. And …”
H (waving impatiently): “I know the physics of it. But how can it be soothing?”
V: “It can calm the wild thoughts, slow them down and bring you to the current moment of …”
H: “Oh no, not this awareness thing again!”
V: “Why not?”
H: “The only thing I am aware of, right now, is that my life is a mess. An extreme mess!” A pause. “As. You. Know.” (Accusing look shot in my direction)
V (not going to give up the cheerful state): “But it’s exciting isn’t it?”
V: “Your life!” (proud of the idea and sure of a praise coming)
H: “It is” (there, my praise, I smile.) “Not in the way I would have wished, but it is, exciting.” (well maybe not a praise I expected, but it’s still good, right?) “Much too exciting for my taste!” (maybe not a compliment at all. But whatever. I like it. Trying to focus back to what she is saying and she is talking a lot. Am I like that?) “So, what I don’t understand is how those mundane things can help in crisis.”
V: “There might be no cri…”
H: “Now, Cora, the character from your writer friend’s, Menna, latest book. What was the name of it? “The Dress Shop of Dreams?” (I nod) “So, she, that is Cora, I am not sure about Menna, knows how I feel. Cora hated shower and all the other things of daily routine. As she rightly said, I’ll interpret, of course, these mundane things come in the way of those that really matter.”
V (infected by her impatience): “But all that matters is in front of you! Right here, right now!”
H: “Really? Well, maybe, for you humans, but for us fictionals, the story must go on! No reader would read a book if there would be only surroundings and no action.”
V: “Um, you might be right there.”
H: “Of course, I’m right! I am always right! The problem is that I still kind of depend on you, or at least on you putting the words on paper and keyboard as they should be.”
V: “And how should that be?”
H: “Fabulous. There must be a fabulous, the perfect, and mind you, a happy, a very happy ending! Promise.” (I hesitate) “Do. You. Promise?”
V: “Well …”
V: “Um, this is going to be a sequel… and there will always be twists and most probably also at the end of each book.”
H: “And what would that be?”
V (after a pause of being lost shortly, found the wit back again): “I don’t want to spoil it for you.”
H: “Ha-ha. Very funny.” (Measured me and waited for me to say something. But I am not going to. This is definitely a trap.) “Well, then, just simply do your best. OK?”
V (with a wide grin): “Promise.”
Picture: Me, on a dune in Sahara. In the beginning of 1980s. I am not sure whether I will send Hannah to Sahara or not. She is going to Germany. This is as far as I can see for her right now. But at least some of the vividness from those times will definitely go into Hannah’s childhood memories about the places she’s been to. And I will definitely use the over-dimensional sunglasses somewhere.