On Dialogue with Terrance Aldon Shaw
It’s something that’s particularly important to me as a writer, reader, editor, and narrator. When I received Terrance Aldon Shaw‘s submission, Making Hay, I was quickly enthralled by his seemingly effortless use of dialogue and wanted his story to be a part of the, For The Men And The Women Who Love Them project. In addition to his rich scenery, and of course, Making Hay’s splendid plot, Terrance’s characters felt…real. They stood before me as living beings because they conversed. The natural, realistic aspect of dialogue is what makes, Making Hay feel truly genuine to me. There is no clunkiness, nothing is muddy, there aren’t any unnecessary utterances of breath, anywhere. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is to witness dialogue that enriches a story. I believe that Terrance’s advice; LISTEN, really ought to be listened to. Dialogue isn’t easy, I know. But, we can all get better at writing it. If we spent a little less time worrying about silly periphery things, and instead, considered what our characters wanted/needed to say, our dialogue skills would automatically become better. Lately, I’ve noticed that too much dialogue is sadly being forced. It comes off as nonsensical, juvenile (yikes!), even uncharacteristic of the character. To be honest, shit shouldn’t be what’s coming out of our character’s mouths. If we honestly want to tell a good story–if we genuinely want our story to impact readers, we’ve got to be mindful of our characters and let them speak, thoughtfully. I commend Author Terrance Aldon Shaw for his lovely, heedful writing hand.
by Terrance Aldon Shaw
I love writing dialogue; it’s my favorite part of storytelling. Because I hear dialogue in my head the way composers hear music in their imaginations, conversation has always been one of the easiest paths into the world of story for me. But that doesn’t mean dialogue is always the easiest thing to write: often, the most natural-sounding dialogue is the end-product of a long, intense process of revising, editing, polishing, refining, and, most of all, listening.
If I were to offer a set of guidelines for writing good dialogue, the first four would be: (1) Listen. (2) Listen. (3) Listen. (4) Listen.
First: Listen for, and learn to appreciate the music of speech, its melodies and its rhythms, those tiny, almost imperceptible variations of inflection, pitch, tempo. You can always tell when somebody has a tin ear for dialogue; it falls flat, stilted, lifeless, artificial, like a robot singing a single note perpetually off-key. Good, pitch-perfect dialogue has a vibrancy about it—a sense of style, euphony, and flow.
Second: Listen not only to what’s being said, but, more importantly, to how it’s being said. It’s no longer fashionable simply to tack an adverb onto a dialogue attribution “he said sarcastically”; a writer needs to convey mood and emotion in the dialogue itself: “Oh really?” he said, “I never would’ve guessed.” (I’m not against the occasional adverb if context calls for it.) In the end, dialogue isn’t about dumping freight-loads of plot information in the reader’s lap; it’s about gradually, subtly revealing unique individual characters.
Third: Listen for things that are out of the ordinary, the idiosyncrasies and quirks of conversation: the way people sometimes talk past each other, the way they interrupt or overrun each other’s words. The way they’re not always talking about the same things at the same time. The way they never tell you everything all at once—the way they often never speak in complete sentences. Listen, especially, to the significant silences between words—the pauses: it’s this space between the characters’ words where deeper meanings often emerge.
by Terrance Aldon Shaw
Her brothers called me Blindy because of the patch over where my left eye used to be. Little berserkers were always pestering me, following me around the farm like month-old puppies chasing their own tails, watching without lending a hand, leaning on the fence-rail as I cleaned out the hog pens or tinkered with one piece of machinery or another.
“Blindy’s sweet on Gunni!” The oldest made kissing noises, and the other two joined in on the chorus, trying to get a rise out of me.
“Your sister’s one mighty fine filly,” I allowed. “Don’t know how she ended up being related to you homely little mouth-breathers.”
“Told ya he was sweet on ‘er!”
“Yeah! When’s the weddin’ gonna be, Blindy?”
“Who needs a wedding?” I pitched a shovelful of muck in their direction just to keep them on their toes. “Besides, a good little worker like Gunni could do herself a lot better’n some old one-eyed rambler.”
“So how’d you lose that eye anyway?” the youngest brother piped up.
“What else?” I said. “Got into a fight over a woman.”
“Bull! That’s not what you told us last time!”
“Oh? And what did I tell you?”
“Said a crow come and ate it right out o’ your head—”
“‘Nother time you told us you lost it in a dice game—”
“Other fellow cheated,” I said, half under my breath.
“—time ‘fore that you said it got shot out in the war—”
“Naw! I swear fellas, this time, I’m tellin’ ya true. It was in a knock-down drag-out over the finest pair o’ jugs anybody ever saw.” Except maybe for your sister’s, I thought.
“Oh boy! For real, Blindy?”
“Would I go pullin’ your legs now, fellas?”
“Were they nice big ‘uns?”
“Sure were! Like this—” I moved my hands apart to show them. “Good two or three mouthfuls apiece, all sweet and firm like juicy apples in the fall.”
“Ho boy!” They imagined it the way young whelps always will. I was doing some imagining of my own.
“So, d’you win the fight, Blindy?” the middle one wanted to know. “D’you get the girl?”
“Yeah,” the eldest wondered, “you get to suck on them tits?”
“What do you think?” I laughed at their foolishness as I turned back to my work.
“Was it worth it?” the youngest one asked.
“Oh ja.” I was serious for a moment. “One good eye’s a small price to pay for knowin’ better. Talkin’ ‘bout that, ain’t you monkeys got chores to finish?”
* * *
Gunni’s pa had a still hidden in the middle of the ash grove out back behind the house. “Sure would like me a taste,” I’d tease her when we were working together, detasseling corn, milking the cows, or putting up bales in the haymow.
“I ain’t supposed to talk about that.” Gunni’d blush, and I’d give her a wink with my one good eye—like maybe I wasn’t just talking about the moonshine. It got to be a friendly sort of joke between the two of us—our own little secret on top of the one she was keeping for the old man.
Every day about noon, Gunni would walk down the lane past my shack to the mailbox beside the road. She’d bring me my mail on her way back to the house. A few auction fliers, a parts catalog or two, some magazines in plain brown wrappers—I could tell she was curious about those.
“F. Jon Geldnir—that your name?” she’d asked me that first time.
“People in these parts can’t say my real name right,” I told her. “Fjölnir’s a tad much to get the tongue around. Just thought I’d make it easy on folks.”
“Where you from—I mean, originally—Jon?”
“Long ways away from here, honey, that’s for sure.”
“Where? Like Chicago? Where the music comes from at night?”
“Ever been there?”
“Oh, gods, no!” Gunni got a faraway look in her lovely blue eyes—dreamy and sad all at the same time. “Hardly ever been off the farm. Even then, never much further than the county seat.”
“You ought to venture out and see the world,” I told her. “The world would surely appreciate the sight of your pretty little seat.”
“Now you’re bein’ silly, F. Jon Geldnir.” She pretended to be outraged as if I’d sullied her virtue or called the family honor into question. But that day and from then on, Gunni always gave me a nod and a sly hint of a smile from over her shoulder as she started back up the lane.
I never got tired of watching her walk away. I may only have one good eye, but I know what I like. And Gunni had it all, like a beautiful Viking princess in one of the old stories. She was well-formed, tall and graceful, not fat by any stretch of the imagination, nor what most would consider lean or skinny, but just enough of something in-between to make the mouth water. From the fetchingly decisive set of her jaw to those strong, gorgeously arcing shoulders and everything below, all the way to the prettiest, most pertly-girlish pair of feet I’d ever laid that one good eye upon.
I’d admired her strength right from the beginning, her subtly muscled limbs grown taut and capable from years of good hard work. She could’ve arm wrestled any city boy twice her size and taken him—easy. But I liked her soft, girly side, too, the way she always went bare-legged on the hottest days, her fine long gams, tanned every inch of the way before disappearing into a pair of short cut-off jeans, shamelessly revealing the shape of that roundly scrumptious rump.
And her hair! Such a sight to behold, falling down her back in a long braid like a golden windrow. At night I’d dream of how it would look if she ever let it loose, spreading out all fine and free. Oh! The visions I had of plunging my cock into that sweet maelstrom, wrapping those soft strands around my girth like dripping honey on a stick.
I’d wanted the farmer’s daughter from the moment I saw her, furtively taking her in from head to toe as I nodded in greeting. Since then, the thought of her had kept me awake on many a night. The vision of her naked body all spread out beneath me, jiggling, bouncing, and squirming in time to my amorous tune. Her coos and sighs and whimpers, and all the other sounds of rising delight before the full-throated howls and hollers of release. I like a mortal woman who’s not afraid to make some noise—if only to praise my name ever so often. Even a god needs a bit of encouragement from time to time.
#ComingSoon to #Audible!