“Other People’s Conversations”

by Amber Leigh Williams

You know that scene in Becoming Jane in which Anne Hathaway stops everyone in the middle of a conversation to jot down a snippet of cynical dialogue? Austen fans remember it as a particularly snooty line of Lady Catherine de Bourg’s in Pride and Prejudice. Every author who watched this movie laughed and said, “I’ve so done that!”

It doesn’t matter where I am: eavesdropping in line at the post office, listening to the couple behind me while shelving books at my day job, catching up with family, getting the local dirt at the beauty shop…. Dialogue comes so easily to me because down here in the South, people like to talk about anything and everything—and oh so colorfully! It’s like a smorgasbord of dialogue possibilities! When writing my first western romance BLACKEST HEART, I referred to the more folksy snippets I’d filed away for such an occasion. For example, my father was raised in the country and he has so many wonderful rural southern sayings. While talking about my dance-happy grandparents, he said, “Those two have got more moves than a can of worms.” I got such a kick out of the phrase, when the heroine from BLACKEST HEART was sitting in a honky-tonk, I pasted it in to describe a young two-steppin’ couple. My grandmother has a funny habit of saying “Shut up!” in place of “No way!” And heavy on the “u.” It gets a laugh every time, especially this Christmas while inspecting her first digital camera. My uncle said, “And you can download the pictures directly into your digital photo frame.” She laughed and said, “Yeah right.” “No, no. I’m serious.” Her jaw drop and she blurted, “ShUt up!” We’re still laughing over it. And, yep, I can’t wait to find the perfect place to use it in my next WIP!

I loved writing BLACKEST HEART and its two sequels, BLUEST HEART (January 6), and BET IT ON MY HEART (Spring 2010) because the dialogue was so natural. The banter between the brothers, Keefe and Casey, sounded much like my brothers-in-law. By the time I took this device further in my paranormal series, it sounded downright authentic even though the scenery had flip-flopped to a more urban environment.

There’s tons of advice on writing dialogue out there. But the best way to make it sound authentic is to listen to the people around you. If you’re writing western, tune into John Wayne. If you’re writing urban, watch the Encourage crew from Queens. My personal favorite? British. This is exactly what my James Bond DVD collection is for. Dialogue doesn’t have to be a tricky thing. For me, it’s my favorite part of character development!

Amber Leigh Williams is a multi-published romance author, a member of Romance Writers of America, PRO Liaison and former Secretary of her local RWA chapter, and monthly contributor to Romance Writers United’s “Write Right” newsletter. Her western romance, BLACKEST HEART, is the 2009 1st Place More Than Magic Novella and her historical romance FOREVER AMORE is a top-rated LASR “Best Book.” She lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband and three labs. Visit her on the web at www.amberleighwilliams.com. She loves hearing from readers at amber@amberleighwilliams.com!

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3 Responses to “Other People’s Conversations”

  1. Amber Leigh Williams says:

    Pat – Thanks for stopping by! And my grandmother definitely has the tendency to crop up in my work. She's a hoot!

    Kat – Thank you so much for the compliment! You can't know what that mean to me 🙂

  2. Kat says:

    Sorry I haven't been posting more Lisa. I got slammed with a ton of work this week. Excellent post Amber. I just read my first of your books and it was sensational.

  3. Pat McDermott says:

    Entertaining post, Amber, especially the part about your grandmother. Making dialogue sound natural is a challenge for any author. Sounds like you have a great sense of what works. Best of luck with your writing. We'll be looking for that "ShUt up!"

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