Reading like a writer: Dialogue between men

One thing I’ve learned in my very, very short time as a reviewer, is that it’s much easier to figure out why a story doesn’t work than why it does. Of course, this only holds true with reading other people’s work. I’m often blind as a bat when it comes to my own.

So I thought it’d be good to start looking at some of my favorite writers, novels, and scenes to try to dissect why they rock my world.

I’m going to start off with the way some writers use dialogue to reveal male characters’ relationships with each other. I’ll give you two scenes, each from a different book. The scenes are primarily made up of dialogue but have a bit of supporting action. When you read each scene, think about:

1) whether you get a sense of the relationship between these two men (not just father/son, etc, but adjectives – tense, close, etc)

2) what experiences in their pasts may have caused their relationship to be this way (even if you haven’t read the book, can you guess what they may have been like?)

3) what purpose(s) this dialogue might be serving.

Leave your ideas in the comments below. We’ll see if we can figure out how the author did that. I’ll put up post in a couple days with some thoughts on why these excerpts work so well. [By the way, anything in brackets is from me, not from the novel. Got it?]

You can also put a scene you like in the comments below. Just try not to make it too long (no full scenes, and make sure you credit the author).

Ready? Go!

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Jack was waiting in the bedroom when he came out. The house was quiet. Riley and Puffy had presumably been tucked in for the night. Jack tilted his head toward the hall. “I want to talk to you. Downstairs.” Without waiting for a response, he left.

Dean threw off his towel and tugged a pair of jeans over his damp legs. It was way past time to have this out.

He found Jack in the empty living room, his fingers stuffed in his back pockets. “I heard her screaming,” he said, gazing out the window. “It looked bad.”

“Hell, I’m just glad you finally got around to remembering you left her alone. Good job, Jack.”

“I know when I f*ck up.” Jack turned, his hands dropping to his sides. “I’m feeling my way with her, and sometimes I get it wrong–like tonight. When that happens, I do my best to fix it.”

“Admirable. Very admirable. I’m humbled.”

“You never did anything wrong in your life?”

“Hell, yes. I threw seventeen interceptions last season.”

“You know what I mean.”

Dean hooded his thumb in the waistband of his jeans. “Well, I’ve got a bad habit of picking up speeding tickets, and I can be a sarcastic son of a bitch, but I haven’t left any old girlfriends pregnant, if that’s what you’re driving at. No bastard kids running around. I’m embarrassed to say it, Jack, but I don’t seem to be in your league.” Jack flinched, but Dean wanted to annihilate him, and he needed more. “Just to make sure you understand . . . The only reason I’m letting you stay here is because of Riley. You’re nothing but a sperm donor to me, pal, so keep out of my way.”

Jack wouldn’t back off. “No problem. I’m good at that.” He moved closer. “I’m only going to say this once. You got a raw deal, and I’m sorrier about that than you could ever imagine. When April told me she was pregnant, I ran as fast and as far as I could. If it had been up to me, you’d never have been born, so factor that in next time you let her know how much you hate her.”

Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner

There were two ways to calm an upset woman but Brady doubted Jessica would allow him to do either. So instead of going out onto the portch after supper as he usually did, he grabbed Jack by the scruff of his neck and steered him down the hall to his office. He used his brother’s head to open the door, shoved him through, then slammed the door shut behind them.

“You little sonofabitch!”

Jack grimaced and rubbed his forehead. “You bent my hat.”

“I’ll bend your ass around a stump and call the dogs if you ever do that again!”

Jack squinted at him as though trying to focus. “What’s that mean, exactly?”

“It means I’m mad, you stupid bastard.”

“No. That thing about the stump. Why would the dogs–”

“Shut up.”

[***later that same scene***]

“When are you going to marry her? Assuming she’ll have you?”

“When this thing with Sancho is over.”

Jack laughed. “That could be forever. Your tongue is hanging out as it is.”

“That’s not my tongue.”

Which only made Jack laugh harder. “Just do it. Before she leaves you standing in the dust with your cock in your hand.”

“Hell, I’d need two hands for that.”

“I’m just saying you better make your move before it’s too late.”

“Oh? How’s this, then?” Brady drove a foot hard against Jack’s propped boots and sent him toppling backward. His brother and the chair hit the floor with a rewarding thud that made the glass doors of the bookcases rattle.

He peered around the side of the desk to see if Jack was hurt and was disappointed to see he wasn’t. As he settled back, a baby’s indignant cry echoed through the hall. “Now look what you’ve done.”

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