If She Can Think It, She Can Say It:
Dialogue in Romance

Virginia Kantra

Dialogue is more than words within quotation marks. In romance, the dialogue serves three purposes:
to reveal character,
to create and sustain conflict,
and to develop intimacy.

Sure, we can write pages of internal monologue explaining our characters' feelings, thoughts and motivations in an attempt to explain their actions and engage our readers' emotions. But if we do, we risk not only slowing the pace but also creating self-absorbed characters. Admit it: when the bullets are flying or the scary ex-husband shows up at the door, we're not drawn to people-fictional or otherwise-who spend a lot of time considering "But how does that make me feel?"

My motto is: If your character can think it, she can say it.
It's better if she says it to the hero.
Best of all if they fight about it.

Why? By putting your characters' thoughts in their mouths (instead of their heads), you are creating larger-than-life protagonists who aren't afraid to speak their minds. When they speak those thoughts to each other, you have the opportunity to develop both conflict and intimacy.

In real life, we have time to date, and long silences and shared habits and gradual disclosure may develop trust. But in fiction, all that silent sharing between your romantic couple may only lead to reader boredom.

Let's look at an example of how dialogue can be used to enhance romance.

In HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT, the heroine, Bailey, is a suspect in the murder of her boss's wife. Since the hero is the detective in charge of the case, opportunities for romantic interaction are, uh, limited in the first several chapters. So I have to use every scene where they are together to maximum effect.
Set up: Bailey comes to the police department to sign her statement.

FIRST DRAFT

Bailey fought a shiver as she ducked past the detective and blamed the air conditioning. He wasn't escorting her to jail.

Yet.

He indicated another open doorway. "My office."

A big nothing scene, right? With one little internal comment to add a touch of humor and characterization. But look what happens in the

FINAL DRAFT

Bailey walked through the door he held open for her, careful not to brush against his outstretched arm. But as she scooted past, she couldn't help noticing his jacket hung open in the heat, revealing a white, wilted shirt and broad, muscled chest. He smelled of warm wool, clean cotton, and adult male.

She shivered.

"Nervous?" he asked in his deep twang.

"Cold," she lied. "It's the air conditioning. I mean, it's not like you're escorting me down death row."

"Not yet, anyway," he agreed blandly.

She gaped at him.

Humor gleamed in his dark eyes, but his expression never wavered. “My office,” he said, nodding down the hall.

See how much more effective that is, not only in terms of revealing character, but in terms of furthering the romance arc? Our characters (who may only know each other for weeks or days before developing a for-a-lifetime bond) need dialogue to get to know each other quickly. The reader needs it, too. Needs their verbal interaction to believe in their eventual happily-ever-after, and needs it to experience and enjoy the growth of intimacy second-hand.

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