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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery - Dialog

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

 TODAY'S POST: I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery – Dialog


Dialogue serves several purposes, but each purpose is designed to one end: to advance the story.

 Aside from specific topics of conversation, there’s nothing about writing dialog for the gay or m/m mystery intrinsically different from writing any other kind of mystery or suspense dialog. Or writing dialog for general fiction, for that matter.

Since there’s no shortage of excellent general writing advice, I thought I’d focus today on a particular brand of dialog known as pillow talk. Pillow talk is, of course, the dialog that occurs between your protagonists during lovemaking.  Pillow talk gives you a chance to offer insight into the characters and their complicated relationship – so it has to be both  meaningful and sexy.

Discussing crime and murder is generally not an ideal topic for pillow talk – unless you are trying to make a point about your characters and their relationship. Two guys in law enforcement who have sex on a regular basis but kid themselves that they are not in a relationship, might discuss their case rather than anything intimate or personal, but in the ordinary way your reader is going to be hoping for more in these scenes.

When human beings have sex with someone they love, they’re vulnerable. Which means it’s a great time to insert romantic and heart-felt dialogue. I’m not planning to discuss sex until later in the series, but it seems like the right moment to observe that every sex scene should have a point — beyond the obvious one. It should signal some change, some development in the romantic relationship between our two protags. This is why the dialog in these pivotal scenes is so crucial.

Now there are some readers who are content with a few moans and groans and “Oooohs,” but I think they’re the minority. And I’m guessing they are not mystery readers. Mystery readers, by definition, like mysteries. They like puzzles, riddles, enigmas...they like to deduce and deduct and work things out. And that extends to the emotional content of the story as well as the primary crime plot.

Your characters will — should — say things when they’re in bed together that they wouldn’t say anywhere else. They’ll reveal things about themselves through dialogue and action in those particular scenes that could only happen in those particular scenes. Bedroom dialogue isn’t interchangeable with other dialogue. It is sexier — earthy and emotional and naked — but it still needs to be coherent.

I think the test of solid bedroom dialog is whether your story still makes make sense if you remove that particular conversation. It shouldn’t be easy to strip it out because, again, that dialogue is often going to be a turning point. At the very least it should be an emotional turning point. Certainly even if you took all the physical action out, the dialogue should still make sense. Mostly.

You don’t need a ton of bedroom dialog, let me hasten to add. Think quality over quantity.

And after you’ve written the dialog between your characters, ask yourself the following questions: Does the dialogue still make sense (for the most part) without the physical action: meaning, are these two characters actually communicating with each other? Even without knowing the backstory or the characters, is this dialogue interchangeable? Will the reader concur that she/he is watching a turning
point in this relationship — learning something about the characters and their feelings for each other? Could this dialog happen at another time in the story?

Dialogue in your sex scenes? Dialog is what brings your characters to life. Without dialog they are simply descriptions of rippling muscles and piercing gazes and great hair. Dialog is what makes your sex scenes hot and personal and memorable. Yes, you do need pillow talk, and yes, you need to take as much time and trouble with it as you do with the rest of your dialogue.

 Questions? Thoughts? Opinions?


A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist


 FUTURE POSTS will cover:  

Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.

We welcome everyone's constructive comments!


Clare London said...

Excellent post, Josh :). I especially appreciated the point that dialogue in a sex scene should be part of the overall flow of the plot. For me, pillow talk is a wonderful way to showcase the characters in an intimate situation. And it can be much more sexy than the bodily movements LOL.

jennysmum2000 said...

Nice post Josh, its something I've been thinking about lately. I've read alot this last couple of weeks, mainly freebies of varying quality.
Pillow talk is only relevant or useful if it is real. So often it feels wooden or just too cheesy to be said outside of bad porn. Then it just throws me out of the story.

Josh and Clare you both write wonderful pillow talk, sadly not everyone does.

Avery Flynn said...

Loved this, especially the part about readers wanting to discover even in the midst of pillow talk.

Kastil Eavenshade said...

Pillow talk I love. Dirty talk, not so much. I absolutely agree that your walls come crashing down when making love to the person who owns your heart. Magic.

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks, Clare. I agree entirely!

Josh Lanyon said...

That's very kind of you, Jan. Sadly I must agree that what passes for pillow talk is often so bad silence might be better!

Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you very much, Avery!

Josh Lanyon said...

True! Dirty talk doesn't tell us anything about the characters beyond the fact that they're horny. It's a wasted opportunity.

Thanks for your comment, Kastil!

DHM said...

Kastil's comment is very interesting. Sure there is pillow talk and dirty talk but to me gritty pillow talk can be dirty AND revealing at the same time. I'm not talking pornography. I think there is sexually intense dialogue that can reveal a lot of what one character wants from another without going and staying hardcore throughout a scene. If done well, dirty talk can reveal a character's mindset and foreshadow future conflict (in or out of the bedroom.) Just my humble opinion, but there's a lot to be said for dirty talk. No pun intended. :-) Thanks for another great post, Josh.

J Wachowski said...

Hey Josh, great post.

I totally love the idea that if you take that section of dialogue out, something should be missing from the story. Good test.

Not sure I agree that it's only people who are in love who are vulnerable when they're getting it on. I think vulnerability is always there. Even the person who is seemingly disconnected from the act, is seeking connection. Or perhaps acting unconsciously on the need to connect.

Do you have examples of author's you think do the pillow talk thing well? (I can think of people who do the exposition well but can't isolate for dialogue in my head. Guess we know where my memory goes when reading sex scenes...the pictures. )

Josh Lanyon said...

True, DHM. If the conversation evolves past simple instructions and requests then it can be revealing and advance the plot. Like all dialog, that requires thought and skill.

Josh Lanyon said...

True, J. But I didn't say only people in love are vulnerable during sex. ;-)

I don't agree that vulnerability is *always* there, though. Sometimes it's just about proving something, sometimes it's just about the physical act -- sex feels good, let's face it -- sometimes it's just about being too drunk/stoned/tired to consider what you're doing.

I think LB Gregg is someone who does a good job with pillow talk. Clare London comes to mind. Nicole Kimberling. There are plenty of writers who do it well, but I admit they don't instantly spring to mind. :-) As you say, the conversation is not the thing we actively take notice of.

Daniel said...

I'm obviously late, so no one will probably read this. Anyway, I wanted to say that I love your articles.
I once wanted to be a writer too, but I was told I was not good enough and to stop deluding myself. I still love reading about writing though!

I totally agree that we're vulnerable when we have sex with someone we love. I never felt particularly vulnerable when I had a one-night-stand.
Afterwards I always wanted to excuse myself as soon as possible and go home and sleep *g*. But after sex with my SO I sometimes have this need to... talk. And I mean, talking about serious things, which I usually try to avoid. I don't know why, but it opens me up somehow. Maybe because I feel so relaxed and safe, that I have the strength to face reality. I know, it's weird. So I think too many authors waste the opportunity to deliver meaningful scene in order to deliver pointless porn. And most of those scenes are so similar to each other, that I got bored. And yes, I think every scene and dialogue should have purpose. It's fiction after all, not real life.
I'm not sure if it could be called pillow talk, but I really like this scene from All She Wrote, when Kit and J.X. talk before having sex. It's real, but not boring. I can remember this after all this time, so it means it was done right.

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