Can a murder investigation keep these opposites from attracting?
Cara Rogers wants a fresh start after a slew of bad luck in Washington DC. Moving to Virginia to help her aunt run La Maison de Chien, a doggie spa, is just the peace of mind she needs. No stress. Just her aunt, the dogs, and wide-open country.
But when she finds Aunt Marian floating in the doggie swimming pool, the rest she so desperately needs flies out the window. The only witness to the death is Rex, an apricot maltipoo, and while he may not be able to talk, he’s communicating the only way he knows how—one paw at a time. And Rex’s clues lead to murder.Can Cara keep the doggie spa afloat, convince Middleburg homicide detective Cole Sampson that Aunt Marian’s death was no accident, and keep Rex from the killer’s clutches before they all end up as dead as dogs?
Dialogue is a mainstay of fiction and particularly in romance, dialogue is essential so that the main characters can convey their developing interest in each other. In this blog post, we talk about some of the mechanics of writing dialogue in fiction, illustrating our points with quotes from MALTIPOOS ARE MURDER.
Tip #1: Write spare dialogue.
Spare dialogue reads more quickly, boils down the essence of what a character is trying to say, and tends to be more original and snappy than long passages of dialogue. Here is an example between veterinarian Cara Rogers, the main character, and her developing love interest, Detective Cole Sampson:
“You’re coming with me.”
I stared up at him, my mouth hanging open. “Excuse me?”
“We’re going together. You’ll have to come in my car though. If I get a call, I have to be able to take off.”
“I can’t ride around with you the whole afternoon. Remember, I have a new job.”
“Just to talk to this Ms. Collins.”
“To make sure I’m not stepping on your toes?”
“To keep an eye on you.”
Note the short lines here – some a few words in length – and the fact that dialogue tags, such as “he said,” and “she said” are left out to avoid unnecessary words and over-explaining for the reader.
Tip #2: Avoid telephone dialogue and use face-to-face interaction as it is more dramatic.
This was further emphasized In MALTIPOOS ARE MURDER because, as a romance, we needed to have Cara and Cole onstage together for a majority of the book. Therefore, we removed any phone conversations, even if it would be more convenient in real-life just to pick up the phone and call. Cole was constantly dropping by the doggie day spa La Maison de Chien on some excuse or another because he couldn’t stay away from Cara. 🙂
Tip #3: Vary the setting of the dialogue
In MALTIPOOS ARE MURDER, the setting of La Maison de Chien was inherently interesting, so we got Cara out of her office where we had originally put a lot of scenes. We had her instead moving throughout La Maison, showcasing the cute details like the dogs themselves and their “pet parents,” the way the spa was decorated, the doggie swimming lessons, the “houses” where each dog stayed, the spending money system, and the way collars were assigned to “boarders.”
Tip #4. Write small actions and gestures that reveal character and action rather than only relying on dialogue tags.
Here is an example when Cara has just met Cole:
“What do you want to give me?”
I jumped at the sound of Detective Sampson’s deep voice right behind me. Turning, I pulled at the hem of my smock in a futile attempt to make it longer. “Her handbag. The wallet is missing.”
A related tip is to weave in interior monologue – the character’s thoughts and reactions – into an exchange of dialogue. This example comes later in the book when their attraction is building:
He hesitated. “Look, can you please just call me Cole? The only ones who call me Detective Sampson are the criminals.”
My mouth twitched. I’d been wondering when we’d get around to dropping the formalities. It was long overdue, in my opinion…especially considering my persistent fantasies about him. “Sure. But only if you call me Cara.”
He smiled. “Deal. So. Are you, uh, ready?”
I almost said, “Never more ready in my life,” but thankfully I jolted back to reality just in time. Down, girl.
Tip #5: Add tension to dialogue by avoiding a predictable pattern.
Dialogue shouldn’t be too predictable – a straightforward back and forth of answer and question — otherwise it lacks conflict and surprise. Instead, people can switch topics and answer questions other than the ones they were asked. This keeps reader interest high. Here is an example when Cara is about to tell her mother about her aunt’s death:
I joined her on the sofa and patted Percy, who stood at my feet. I needed the strength for what would come next. I took her hand in mine. “Mom, I have something to tell you.”
“Until I saw your face and that getup you were wearing, I thought you came home to have lunch with me.”
“I have some sad news.”
She pulled her hand from mine. “I know what you’re about to say. I’ve already heard, but it was sweet of you to come home to be with me at a time like this.”
“You have?” How could she have heard? Middleburg was a small town, but still. And why wasn’t she more emotional? She and my great aunt had been so close.
“Prince Phillip is back in hospital.” Of course, she left out the “the,” liking to sprinkle her speech with little Britishisms.
“Huh?” Percy cocked his head at my questioning tone.
In answer, she repeated what she had learned from the palace press release about his prognosis. That’s all you can do with a royal-watcher like my mother.
Another example is when Cara meets with her lawyer and conspiracy theorist, “wiry as a whippet,” Michael Pritchett:
“The assassin, or assassins, can be found in this very photograph.”
I scanned the faces in the crowd. “I don’t see Lee Harvey Oswald.”
“Ah.” He held up his index finger. “But he didn’t kill the President.”
“Hmm.” I returned to my chair, hoping this would check any elaboration of his conspiracy theory.
“Did you meet Splash?” he asked. On the way back to his desk, he had stopped to give the dog a pat on the head.
“Wasn’t Splash the name of Teddy Kennedy’s dog?”
Okay, moving right along. “How much has J.D. told you about my case?”
“A good bit. And he forwarded your financial records. I think you had left those with your mother? You know he’s quite smitten with her.”
“Oh, yes.” I should have said something about the feeling being mutual, but this, too, was off topic. “May I ask you something? Exactly what type law do you practice?”
“At this stage in my life? Any kind I damn well want to. Let’s just say, I enjoy wearing a white hat.”
Hopefully, these snippets of dialogue have piqued your interest in MALTIPOOS ARE MURDER. We also hope that you have learned a bit more about what happens “behind the scenes” to make dialogue dramatic and enjoyable to read.
About the Author
Jacqueline Corcoran and Lane Stone have teamed up to write about some of their favorite topics – dogs, mysteries, and Middleburg, Virginia, which is known as the nation’s horse and hunt capital. MALTIPOOS ARE MURDER is the first in their doggie day spa romantic suspense series.
Jacqueline Corcoran lives in Arlington, Virginia with her rescue animals, husband, and two children. She holds a Ph.D. in social work and is on faculty at the Virginia Commonwealth University. She has published numerous professional academic articles and fourteen books in her field. Her mysteries include Maiming of the Shrew (Cozy Cat Press), A Month of Sundays (Whimsical Publications), Backlit (Etopia Press), and Memoir of Death (Etopia Press). See her website at http://www.jacquelinecorcoran.com/
Lane Stone and her husband, Larry Korb, divide their time between Sugar Hill, Georgia and Alexandria, Virginia. She’s the author of the Tiara Investigations Mystery series. When not writing, she’s usually playing golf. Her volunteer work includes raising money for women political candidates and conducting home visits for A Forever Home, a dog foster organization. She is on the Political Science Advisory Board for Georgia State University, and she serves on Sugar Hill’s 75th Anniversary Planning Committee. www.LaneStoneBooks.com