Thursday, January 30, 2014

Breaking up is hard on the keys

(Image: stock.xchng/milan6)

I don't think using real conversations I've had to help spruce up my dialogue is a bad thing. I do it all the time. I'm not talking about taking whole conversations and changing the names. Occasionally using a phrase or sentence someone actually said can help make your fake conversations feel more real.

In my current case, it's also helping me tap into the emotions I'm trying to evoke in a particular scene. Today, it's a break-up between two characters who were in a romantic relationship.

Now, this scene had always been part of the plot of the novel - it's one of the motivating factors for one character's actions in the rest of the novel. Jacob Kent gets dumped by his girlfriend, Rachel, and in his sorrow makes a fateful decision. But I've littered it with bits and pieces from a couple of real breakups I've been through, and at least for me personally, I think it helps sell the emotions of the characters.

They say "write what you know," and in this sense, I think that phrase is true.

Here's part of the scene in question: (Keep in mind, it's still a first draft)

“Hey,” said the voice on the other end. Kent’s voice. 
“Hey,” she said. 
“You wanted to talk.” 
“I did,” she said. “You can probably guess…” 
“Well, no good conversation ever started with, ‘soooo we need to talk,’” he replied. “Historically.” 
She chuckled. “That’s accurate.” 
Then she let out a long sigh. She could feel the tears coming. She could hear his breath catch on the other end of the line. 
“You’re dumping me,” he said. It wasn’t a question. 
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “It’s just…” 
“Just what?” 
“You’re not... here.” 
“You did call me on the phone.” 
She closed her eyes, hard, trying to seal in the tears. “You’re wonderful, Jacob, really, I want you know to know that,” she said, voice cracking. “But… You’re so distant. You can’t ever tell me anything. It’s been nearly a year, and for all I feel, for all the good times we’ve had, I feel like I’ll never really know you.” 
He said nothing. 
“I’ve tried for months to get you to open up to me,” she said. 
“You know my work is classified.” 
“I’m not talking about your work,” she said. “I know what you do. I know where you go for days at a time. But I want to know what you think. What you feel. And I can’t keep going like this. I can’t keep dating you and feeling more and more like it’s just work.” 
“Do you love me?” he asked. 
She blinked. The tears streamed down her face. “Yes.” 
“Then why does it matter?” 
“Because it’s not enough. Not for me. Not anymore.” 
He said nothing. She sobbed. 
“Please don’t do this,” he said quietly. 
She wept. “I don’t want to,” she said between racking sobs. “I don’t! But you can’t promise me you’ll change, can you?” 
He said nothing. 
“I didn’t think so,” she said. She pressed the phone against her hot cheek, running her other hand through her hair. She gripped a handful of it and squeezed, feeling the tug on her scalp. But it was impossible to distract the tears. They kept coming. 
For a long time, neither of them said anything. 
But then he said, “I don’t want to hang up the phone.”

In writing fiction, even fiction as fantastic as something involving magic or aliens or mythical creatures, the concept of verisimilitude is key. If the reader can't get involved in the story, if some part of it doesn't ring true or real to them, they may give up.

I can't say that I often aim for deep philosophical truth in my writing, or even real emotional resonance in many cases, but I do want the reader to be engaged. That means that for all the fantastical, ridiculous things that are happening, it has to seem like it could really happen to these characters, and that the characters respond to these events in the manner that they should.

And one way to do that, as I said, is to draw upon my own memories and emotions. If it's real to me, the chances are someone out there can relate to it and it will feel more real to them.

So what if it happens to involve zombie Franken-dinosaur assassins?

Current Soundtrack:
"Dark Void" by Bear McCreary