Writing Snappy Dialogue
And today’s guest columnist adds a very important component: Listen. Listen. Listen.
Listen in as Janice Seagraves shares about how to write snappy dialogue.
The best snappy dialogue that comes to my mind is from the movies of the 30’s and 40’s, think Kathryn Hepburn, and Cary Grant. These are the two actors who I think of as the King and Queen of snappy dialogue.
Cary Grant example:
Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall): I tipped the steward five dollars to seat you here if you should come in.
Cary Grant (Roger Thornhill): Is that a proposition?
Eva Marie Saint (Eve): I never discuss love on an empty stomach.
Cary Grant (Roger): You’ve already eaten!
Eva Marie Saint (Eve): But you haven’t.
Snappy dialogue isn’t clunky, it flows. There a teasing quality to it and you can’t help a grin when it goes just right.
Kathryn Hepburn’s example:
Howard Hughes: [doesn’t hear what Kate says] Excuse me?
Katharine Hepburn: Well, if you’re deaf, you must own up to it. Get a hearing aid, or see my father. He’s an urologist, but it’s all tied up inside the body, don’t you find?
Howard Hughes: Mmm.
Katharine Hepburn: Me, I keep healthy. I take 7 showers a day to keep clean, also because I’m so vulgarly referred to as “outdoors-y.” Well, I’m not “outdoors-y,” I’m athletic. I sweat! There it is, now we both know the sordid truth: I sweat, and you’re deaf. Aren’t we a fine pair of misfits?
I think some of my best scenes in my book, Windswept Shores, where the dialogue just flows are the ones where the hero teases the heroine.
Windswept Shores’ example:
“If I had me a net, I could catch some of those fishies for dinner.” Seth paddled water while he gazed into the pool.
“Don’t you have a net on the boat?”
“We usually use fishing poles.”
“No, I mean to net the fish after you reel them in.” She swam over to him.
“I don’t reckon you know the difference between fresh and salt water fishing, mate.”
“Okay, what’s the difference?” She splashed water just in front of him.
His smile twisted to the side. “When you fish in the sea, they’re a mite bigger.”
“Okay, smarty pants, how do you get the fish into the boat?”
“You use a big stick with a hook to pull them in.”
“Oh, I think I did see that somewhere.”
“Probably, you accidentally lit on it when ya flipped through the channels on the box.”
The best way to learn snappy dialogue is to listen to it. Watch those wonderful films of the 30’s and 40’s, or anything that has snappy banter. If you’re lucky enough to know people who pick and tease in the same manner, then listen to their conversations. And it might just make you smile.
It’s all in the ear. And it can be learned.
Windswept Shores’ example (it’s not all one sided, Megan gets her turn):
Walking back to the Dinki-Di, Seth complained with a glance at her bikini, “Why did you put your cossie back on?”
“I’m not comfortable naked,” she explained. “What if someone showed up while I’m undressed?”
He gazed around, then back down at her. “Megz, no one is here.”
“No, but you showed up not once, but twice, didn’t you?”
“Um, yeah,” Seth muttered with a slight frown.
“Can’t argue with that, can you?” She grinned. I love winning an argument.
Janice Seagraves bio: When not writing late into the night, Janice takes care of her hubby of thirty-one years and a just grown daughter. They are owned by an overly affectionate cat and two birds. One a handicapped dove and the other a pigeon who is in love with her husband (not kidding).
Janice Seagraves’s website: http://janiceseagraves.org/
Her main blog: http://ladyjanice.blogspot.com/
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/janice.seagraves
And twitter: http://twitter.com/janiceseagraves
How do you pick up good dialogue for your stories? I love eavesdropping in cafes.