Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen.
When I first began reading Dust by Arthur Slade, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel. To me, the writing was cold and hypnotic, and it unfolded the way that darker, more severe, stories about serial killers and children do. Nevertheless, this is most assuredly a young adult dark fantasy.
Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen. Unaware of the danger, the local farmers and the town’s banker fall under his spell and buy into his scheme to save them from the drought. Good luck with that.
As we follow an eleven-year-old boy named Robert, who is desperately searching for his younger brother, Matthew, we come to learn that not only has Matthew disappeared but many other children have as well. And the grownups don’t seem to notice—or care. When we come to know Robert, we can see why he believes it is up to him to find his brother.
One of my favorite things about this novel is the world-building. It takes place in Horshoe, a small town in Saskatchewan during a terrible drought. In the US, the drought occurred in the early 1930s and led to the Dust Bowl. Farmers are barely able to grow any crops due to a lack of rain. It’s always hot, and there’s dust everywhere—grit that blows into peoples’ homes, clings to their clothes, and invades their food. It’s this kind of detail that makes Dust such a compelling read.
I’ve read a lot over the years—not as much as some of those insane speed readers who seem to devour a book a day, but a lot. In fiction, my tastes vary between pulp and literary. And I have to say, a lot of literary writers write dialogue that is wooden and boring. I mean, I know this stuff is supposed to be highbrow and all, but honestly! Sometimes, I want to reach in between the pages and strangle the writer with his typewriter ribbon while screaming, “Nobody talks like that in real life!”
If you are, like me, a modern writer, and you suspect your characters’ speech is less than scintillating, then I have a tip for you: watch more movies and television—especially TV. And I’m not talking about network sitcoms. There’s nothing worse than trying to pass off bad writing by adding a laugh track. ‘Schitt’s Creek’ is a Canadian show I had the pleasure of watching on Amazon Prime recently. At least two of the stars—Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara—you will recognize from their work in many of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries like ‘Best in Show’ and ‘A Mighty Wind.’ This outing, if you check the credits, seems to have required the entire Levy clan. Nevertheless…
It’s Not What You Say Let me start by saying that the show is hilarious. Not so much the situation, though. Essentially, this production is a reimagining of the old fish-out-of-water series ‘Green Acres.’ You know, cultured, affluent people finding themselves in the middle of Armpit, USA. What’s funny is the dialogue, which is very well written and real. And it’s different from what you’d find in a David Mamet script (think ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’) where words are more weapons than communication, or in an Aaron Sorkin show (think ‘The Newsroom’) where everyone is super-smart and acts accordingly. (Both are outstanding, BTW.)
In ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ the way people speak is authentic. I mean, I’ve heard people in the street who carry on like this. I’m not going to go into the plot; you can watch the show for yourself. I want to focus on the dialogue. Now, I’ve identified four qualities I think writers will find useful:
Everyone is passive-aggressive.
People speak past each other.
Characters lie their ass off.
There’s a boatload of upspeak.
I Love You—I Hate You Practically every time someone attempts to give a compliment, what comes out is laced with venom. But in a nice way! Here’s an example. Johnny, Moira, and their son, David, arrive at the Mayor’s house for dinner—a meal none of them are not looking forward to sharing with their hosts Roland and Jocelyn.
You have a really lovely home. It’s really, um,
Thank you. I get a lot of my ideas from magazines.
Don’t be modest. This is one hundred percent you
and only you.
In lesser hands, this scene would have been written broadly, with someone making a tasteless wisecrack about an ugly table lamp. (Cue laugh track.) In this scene, however, everyone knows what’s being said, and no one is fooled. But each character still manages to maintain a razor-thin veneer of social grace. Think about adding this layer of subtlety to one or more of your characters and see what happens to your scenes.
Hello? Is Anyone Listening? There’s a wonderful exchange when the motel manager, Stevie, lets David know she’s going to a “sketchy” bar later. David immediately invites himself, but it’s clear she’s not comfortable with that.
We’re going to be each other’s wing people tonight.
Um… Now, how diverse is the clientele at this local
I would say, very diverse.
Do you remember what life was like before dating
apps? Both excited and terrified for tonight.
I don’t think I ever said you could come.
Okay, so what time, though? Um… And is there a
dress code? ’Cause I want to come prepared.
For me, this scene illustrates so well that each character is determined to further their own agenda. So, even though these two are having a conversation, they are actually talking past each other toward the outcome they desire. Stevie doesn’t want David to go, and he wants to.
I Can See Why You Would Think That Lying is a staple in television comedy, but these guys do it with elegance and grace. So much of it is used to cover something up, but sometimes, it’s to shield the other person from reality because, well, it’s just too much trouble being honest. In this exchange, David has reluctantly decided to find a job, and he’s asking for Stevie’s help:
Do you have any other skills or areas of expertise?
Uh, I’ve been told I have really good taste?
Uh, well, that’s good. Um, let’s see… Oh! Bag boy at
the grocery store.
I don’t know what that is.
You put groceries in bags so that people can carry
their groceries out of the grocery store.
Okay. And how much do you think that would pay?
Mm… I’m gonna say minimum wage.
Which is what, forty, forty-five something an hour?
This Is a Statement of Fact? I’m not really sure where upspeak (or uptalk) came from. I want to say it all started with the movie ‘Valley Girl.’ But today, everyone does it—even me, sometimes. And if you don’t have at least one or two characters speaking that way in your book, you’re probably not trying hard enough to get some variety in your dialogue.
In ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ David and his sister, Alexis, do it a lot. In fact, most of the townies don’t speak that way, so there’s a nice contrast. I won’t provide any dialogue examples here because there are too many. But here’s a clip to get you started:
Wrapping Up So, there you have it. For me, a big part of writing great dialogue is introducing variety. A good test is to switch the names of characters speaking and see if the scene still makes sense. If it does, you’ve got a problem. Getting back to literary fiction, as far as I’m concerned, many characters are interchangeable regarding speech. Some great authors have an incredible ear, though. Whether or not you like Charles Dickens, the man knew how to make each of his characters shine through dialogue. (I’m thinking in particular of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House.)
As writers, we spend so much time figuring out the plot and writing about a character’s inner life. But don’t forget, when someone reads your book, they are saying the words aloud in their head. And when they get to the dialogue, they hear your character’s voice. Make sure they can distinguish one person from another. Now, enjoy the trailer from Season 1, available for free at Amazon Prime.
In honor of my new book release, The Devil’s Liege, I thought that since it contains some oddness about vampires starving to death and being locked away, writing a review about Kevin Smith’s new movie, ‘Tusk,’ would be a great idea.
Firstly, the film is billed as a horror/comedy. It is not. I would consider it “Theatre of the Bizarre” or something to that effect. Were there some funny parts? Sure. But, the weirdness and the connection to horror really pulled it away from the comedic factor. I would put it in the same category as ‘May’ or ‘House of 1000 Corpses.’
If you haven’t read anything about the film, it is about a guy who cohosts a podcast about the weird crap people do. He intends to go to Canada to interview one of these oddities only to find that the guy has died. So, he visits a bar and discovers a note in the bathroom offering free room and board if willing to listen to a lifetime of stories. Too bad, this dude is a serial killer with a bizarre fetish.
Besides the fact that what happens is medically impossible the way it is presented, the film is entertaining to watch. Because I would watch it again, but probably not purchase a copy for my library, I would give it 3.5 stars.
Being a vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be- in fact, it kind of sucks.
After surviving his duel with Lilith, Mathias thought that he could relax. That is until he discovers that, Nossy, the new king, has been kidnapped.
When the investigating vampires seem to have no clue how to rescue Nosferatu, Mathias must step in. Everything is peachy until Mathias is named the next new king in order to stop the man behind Nossy’s kidnapping from taking over the throne.
Suddenly, his life is not his own again, and Mathias must make a choice: risk his life to find his friend, or sit back and watch disaster unfold.
About the Author
Named one of the Examiner’s 2014 Women in Horror: 93 Horror Authors You Need to Read Right Now, Danielle DeVor has been spinning the spider webs, or rather, the keyboard for more frights and oddities. She spent her early years fantasizing about vampires and watching ‘Salem’s Lot’ way too many times. When not writing and reading about weird things, you will find her hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, enjoying a mocha Frappuccino. Visit her at danielledevor.wordpress.com.