Friday, September 22, 2017

Writing Romance: Dialog

To say that manga dialog has to be pithy is to understate the matter--no rambling discourses here!

The challenge with pithy writing is that it still needs to convey something. Creative Writing 101: writing dialog that mirrors actual speech is incredibly dull (if hilarious).
  "So what--hey, do you want to go--I thought we could go to a movie--"
  "Wha? Yeah, wait--have you seen my keys?"
  "Where did you put them last?"
  "So I came home last night--and--what movie do you want to see?"
  "Try looking by the fridge. Uh, yeah, you know that movie with what's-his-name--that actor from Law & Order?"
  "Like--which one?--I know I had them when I came in--ohmygosh, this is totally gross--did you leave this here?"
  "Stop freaking out--yeah, look, I'll throw it out--I dunno know--well, um, that guy who played one of the detectives--"
  "Oh, please--ya know, I think I left them by the television set--"
  "Give me that! Yuck!"
And so on.

It reminds me of the Youtube video in "The Head in the Abutment" (Bones 11.19) in which the two guys in the boat discuss for nearly 20 minutes whether or not the thing they are looking at is a dead body.

Or the clip from Rope in which the guest (Mrs Atwater) describes movies she likes:
"He was thrilling with Bergman in--What was it called? 'Something of the something.' You know, it was sort of, you know. It was just plain 'Something' I'm sure. I adored it."
More than pithy, manga dialog has to capture plot, character, theme, and meaning. And it has to do it in a way that is clear yet, when necessary, ambiguous. (I remark in an earlier post that I prefer Broccoli's translation of Until the Full Moon to KC's translation, precisely due to the extra ambiguity.) 

Especially good dialog also captures the age and attitude of a group of characters, like the hilarious dialog in Hana-Kimi, which gives us teenagers at their most quintessential--yet without all the "I dunno know"s that would make it too close to reality.

Along the same lines, writing that relies too heavily on expletives can end up falling flat. Creative Writing 101 again: if the characters naturally talk "low brow" (like every writer's perception of yakuza), then the expletives become useful signifiers of place and personality. But if the expletives are being used as substitutes for non-creative writing ("I want to convey how upset the character is! Uh--uh--I know, I'll throw in the 'F' word!"), it becomes fairly obvious fairly quickly that the writer (or translator) is being lazy.


Nora Charles: Who is she?
Nick Charles: Oh, darling, I was hoping I wouldn't
have to  answer that.
Nora Charles: Come on.
Nick Charles: Well, Dorothy is really my daughter.
You see, it was spring in Venice; I was so young; I didn't
know what I was doing. We're like that on my father's side.
Nora Charles: By the way, how is your father's side?
Nick Charles: Oh, it's much better, thanks. And yours?
With romances, the extra trick is to avoid too much Oh, my darling, touch me one more time whilst I am basking in the radiant heat of your love blather. The other trick is to avoid dialog that tells people stuff (something nineteenth century writers were inordinately fond of): I was born of loving yet poor parents in a little town near Leeds . . .

The best romance dialog is quick repartee a la The Thin Man series. Generally speaking, I find contemporary romance writers are singularly adept at this, starting with the magnificent Jane Austen, of course, and continuing through Georgette Heyer to the current day.

Rule 3 for Romance Writers:  Clever is better than ponderous.

One suggested exercise is to take a manga, English or Japanese doesn't matter, copy a few pages, white out the extant dialog and force yourself to write passable dialog that communicates intent within the balloons.
I played with "genuine," "full," and
"mature," settling on "ripened."

I did this with Way to Heaven by Yamimaru Enjin. I quite like the manga overall--it is a Time Travel Loop meets Grappling With Death yaoi. However, I found the introduction of the alien (from outer space) character to be . . .  rather like the alien sequence in Life of Brian: bizarrely out of sync (and not on purpose as in the movie). Why would an alien be involved with these men? Why would the time travel issues even matter to an alien? It isn't as if the alien component is even paid off so . . .

I replaced the alien with an ambiguous, well-meaning yet rather irritated angel a la Castiel (only this angel is female). I didn't have to change her appearance obviously, just her dialog (retaining the information about fluids which comes up later). Which meant, I had to convey an entire motive/backstory in little bubbles.

I may or may not have succeeded but the practice was worth the practice.