Dialog is so important in erotic fiction, and often overlooked by those starting out in the genre – I’m guilty of this, too. Here’s some of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’…
I’ve just posted a new free erotic story to this site, called Two Anonymous Souls. Take a look if you haven’t already, it’s just over 5,000 words.
As a story, I wanted to work on including more dialog between characters in a love scene, as it’s really such a good way to breathe life into them. But I also wanted to explore a scene in which dialog plays a major part in the erotic events themselves.
In this case, I decided on a couple who have deep-seated issues with their own sex lives that they want desperately to resolve – in this case, before The Big Day. And they both know that for each of them, this chance anonymous encounter during their respective bachelor/bachelorette party is a key opportunity for them to resolve their issues.
But of course, they can only resolve them if they open up, and talk about their hang-ups.
I wanted to avoid too much exposition, always a good thing for a writer, although I’m not sure whether I went as far as I could have with the thought of using the dialogue to tell much of the background to the story.
It’s an interesting exercise, I think, and one that I’m sure I’ll come back to in future stories. Tell the story mainly through dialog. The key proviso is, though, you can’t just have huge long soliloquies from the characters laying out all their backgrounds and problems, like they’re on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company or something.
Dialog has to be snappy, short and sweet. Especially when you’re actually in a love scene, when the characters aren’t going to pause their activities to make huge long speeches.
This means that even though you might want to embed some important information in there (in my exercise, that’s dropping in some hints about background, and laying out each of their key problems), you have to be quite selective.
In a way, it’s like writing lines in a screenplay – you have to include the maximum information in the bare minimum number of words.
The sounds of speech
Just a few words on the actual writing of dialog – there’s lots of advice around the web about writing good dialog, but I thought I’d add a few pennies from my perspective.
Of course, dialog needs to be natural-sounding and free-flowing. It’s good if people tell you that you have a natural ear for dialog, that’s a good sign. Try reading your dialog out loud to yourself, and see if that sounds natural.
People usually speak using shortened forms of words like ‘cannot’ and ‘do not’, so it often sounds more natural to use ‘can’t and ‘don’t’. Although, it does depend on your characters’ own accents, backgrounds and character of course, and one could write a book on that, no doubt.
But, dialog on the page doesn’t need to be exactly the way we might speak in real conversation – you can leave out all the stumbling and “uh…” noises that speakers use to delay conversation while they think up what to say next.
Another thing – be careful when writing accents. Trying to transcribe dialog exactly for certain accents can be terribly jarring to read, make your characters take on the wrong characteristics for their characters (stupid or stuffy or brutish perhaps). A lot of writers just mention their characters have an accent, then write dialog in standard English. Not all, however, but be careful.
As with all things, the important thing for writers in improving their dialog is to read more, and also to study conversation when you can remember to do so. In fiction, go read some Elmore Leonard novels (especially “Out of Sight” for really good romantic interplay) for some really smooth, natural and snappy dialog.
Watching movies is also good for improving your ear for dialog (good movies, at any rate), in my belief. There’s numerous examples out there, depending on your taste, so I won’t list them here.
Here’s another tip I picked up from an old edition of the Mystery Writers Handbook (a good source of advice even for non-mystery writers), which rings true and can add a nice layering to your dialog: When two characters are talking to each other, their minds aren’t only on the subject they are trying to talk to each other about.
This was an essay from Greg McDonald, the creator of the investigative reporter Fletch, and cited by movie director Kevin Smith as influential in his own crackling on-screen dialogue.
When two people talk to each other, assume that at various points in their conversation, they’ll be distracted by what they’re doing, and also perhaps by other thoughts or concerns that have been on their minds lately.
In adding layers to your dialog, there’s also a fantastic avenue for you to breathe added complexity to your characters, and also feed in a little information on background and plot. For those writing mysteries, it’s also a good opportunity to lay out some red herrings, summarize past investigative findings to reinforce the plot in the readers’ minds, and so on.
Here’s an excerpt from the Greg McDonald essay, and you’ll see instantly what I mean:
She said: “Dialogue.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Dialogue is action.”
“I don’t get that. It’s just people talking. People talking isn’t action.”
“Depends on who’s talking. Where are the plates?”
“Cabinet over the sink. Most people talk in circles.”
“No, most people talk to a point. They just go in circles getting there. If, basically, people didn’t talk to a point, civilization would never have made any progress.”
“And you believe civilization progresses. That’s the difference between a teacher of history and a teacher of creative writing.”
“I suppose you want tea?”
Read the whole essay (told brilliantly in purely dialog between two fictional characters) to get the whole lesson from the master himself, if you can get hold of it.
What the piece ultimately stresses is that in writing dialog, without even any descriptions around it, you can include action, description, character and story elements.
I think this is important. In fiction, although we have the luxury of being able to include a load of paragraphs with juicy descriptions and detailed backstories, that part of it is rarely what draws the reader’s attention, and can so easily slow down the pace of reading.
Dialog keeps readers interested in the characters, makes it easy for the eye to skip along the page and so keeps the pace vibrant.
So better to make full use of the dialog in your stories – that’s my view, at any rate.