May is short story month.
Admit it, you've had that moment where the perfectly snappy thing to say to someone who had you at a disadvantage occurs to you - hours later. You replay the moment in your head, but deliver the remark with perfect timing and just the right hint of acidic malice.
Just me? Never mind, then.
It's a fine line in dialog between having a character who has a plausible voice and having the tale continue. Do people speak in fiction the way people speak in the real world? Not usually - and thankfully so.
"Like, you know how they like - remember that thing at the movies? - like that?"
"Yeah, totally. Losers!"
I overheard that on the bus. Both girls immediately fell into apoplectic laughter. No one else had the slightest idea what the hell they were talking about, and wanted them to shut up. I remember sitting in classes in university and counting "ums" and "ahs" in the column of my notes. I had one prof who said three "ahs" to every "um." He was unusual. He'd also be murder to read. As would the two girls on the bus.
But that's what they sound like. Does a character have to sound like someone real?
If you've ever picked up a copy of any of the Timothy James Beck novels, then you've read what I consider to be one of the finest examples of dialog done well. They - for the one or two of you who are reading this who didn't know Timothy James Beck is actually four authors, now you do - give each character a unique voice, unique speaking patterns, and verbal tics or reflexes that carry throughout the tale without being too obvious. Unattributed dialog is never confusing. Witty characters are damned witty, but not every character has the perfect bon mot. Martin is different from Daniel is different from Adam is different from Blaine - and that shows in their language.
It speaks to the work the authors put into these characters that there are such wonderful words in their mouths. They might not sound like someone you'd hear on the street, but they sound consistent to themselves and you'd never notice the lack of an "um" or a "like."
When it comes to a short story, again that lack of space rears its head. How do you give a character's voice its own "sound" when you've got the story to tell in the meanwhile?
Mark G. Harris does it deftly with "Love Taps" in FOOL FOR LOVE. Sully's manner of speech and his narrative voice is beautiful in its reality. The two characters spin around each other with sensational snippits of dialog that just flow. Their voices were counterpoints, and even their nicknames for each other burst with originality without sounding forced. It's fabulous.
Similarly, in "As Sweet By Any Other Name" in BEST GAY ROMANCE 2009, Harris gives us Ralph to tell a tale, but it's his interplay with his friend Yolanda and a stranger in a treehouse that just crackles with fabulous - and dare I say doughty - dialog. Every conversation rolls along like waves, and the wit included is as high as the aforementioned tree. Beautiful.
When dialog makes me smile, I know I'm enjoying myself. I absolutely grin when I read Timothy James Beck, and Mark G. Harris.