Dialogue – how real is too real by Helen Fields – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Helen Fields to the blog. Helen is the author of Perfect Remains and Perfect Prey. Her latest novel to feature detectives Luc Callanach and Ava Turner, Perfect Death, was published by Avon on 25 January 2018.

Today Helen is talking about finding the right balance with dialogue.

Dialogue – How real is too real?

The answer to how realistic and accurate dialogue should be in a novel, certainly in a crime novel, is both incredibly simple and incredibly complex.

Can you write in every stumble, um and ah, every cough or false start? No, of course not. How boring would that be, not to mention a killer of pace? But then (isn’t there always a but?) you have to give a nod in the direction of realism. Perhaps in literary fiction your characters can wax lyrical for pages, contemplating life in words exceeding five syllables, but that’s not reflective of the way we talk to one another at work, or in a restaurant or at home. Certainly not in a police station. People interrupt one another, lose track of what they were saying and pause to drink coffee half way through a story. What you really can’t do is have your characters speak in perfectly constructed, powerful, direct clauses all the time. What happens then is that the dialogue takes on something of a 1950s thriller feel. Now I like a good old movie as much as the next person (probably more than most – there’s a reason why DCI Ava Turner has such an obsession with black and white films) but dialogue has evolved dramatically at the cinema, and it has to in books.

I would have to plead guilty to massively overdoing this in my first draft. I lose count of the amount of dialogue sentences I start with “Well, if I could just…” Yes, I have to go through and delete the word “well” more times than I can quantify. The reason that happens is because my characters speak out loud in my head. If that sounds pretentious, I don’t care. Frankly, if your characters don’t talk to you in words you can actually hear, they might not be ready to take up space in a book. The problem with it is that you tend to write down exactly what you hear them say. I lose time listening to DCI Ava Turner laugh when something funny happens. I hear Luc Callanach’s french accent. I have to edit out a lot of DS Lively’s expletives because otherwise we wouldn’t get through much plot in the scenes where he appears.

So writing dialogue is a balance. Get it wrong and you create stereotypes instead of believable people. Clip it too dramatically and you lose the flow and irritate readers. But get it right, and the men and women in your books are suddenly flesh and blood. Through their words, you can see their faces and hold their hands. If one character can make another laugh, you can just bet your readers are laughing along with them. Dialogue can carry plot. It can reveal intimacies. It can make you weep. It is the most joyous part of writing for me, and the element I agonise over most. Have a re-read of your favourite scene from a crime novel. I guarantee you the dialogue will be absolutely top notch. Without good dialogue, those are just words on a page that might as well be blank.

About the book

There’s no easy way to die

Unknown to DI Luc Callanach and the newly promoted DCI Ava Turner, a serial killer has Edinburgh firmly in his grip. The killer is taking his victims in the coldest, most calculating way possible engineering slow and painful deaths by poison, with his victims entirely unaware of the drugs flooding their bloodstream until it’s too late.

But how do you catch a killer who hides in the shadows? A killer whose pleasure comes from watching pain from afar? Faced with their most difficult case yet, Callanach and Turner soon realise they face a seemingly impossible task

About the author

Helen Fields’ first love was drama and music. From a very young age she spent all her free time acting and singing until law captured her attention as a career path. She studied law at the University of East Anglia, then went on to the Inns of Court School of Law in London.

Beyond writing, she has a passion for theatre and cinema, often boring friends and family with lengthy reviews and critiques. Taking her cue from her children, she has recently taken up karate and indoor sky diving. Helen and her husband now live in Hampshire with their three children and two dogs.

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