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Authentic Dialogue in Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

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As mentioned in previous posts, the WWAT crew just finished Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. In our group post, I spoke about how impressed I was with Ms. Ruby’s use of dialogue. There are quite a few great articles out there about writing authentic dialogue and formatting it appropriately, so for the sake of this post, I’ll just summarize some things. As writers we have several tricks when it comes to how characters speak to one another.

  1. Dialogue tags: This is of course when you denote the speaker by saying: he said/she said. ie. “Dialogue tags do the job,” he said.
  2. Action or Descriptive tags: This method makes use of a character’s actions before or after what is said. This method can be very powerful, giving the reader the added benefit of expression and movement. ie. He scratched his chin and glared. “So you like action tags, huh?”

Again, I won’t get into when to use each one. The important thing is this–as a reader, our primary interest is knowing who is doing the talking. I want to highlight how Ms. Ruby does this–and let you judge the result.

In the beginning of the novel, we have a scene between Finn, the main character and the aptly named Rude boys–a band of bully brothers:

   One of the Rude boys turned around. “Hey, look. It’s Moonface. Trying to sneak up on us again.”
“Whatcha doing, Moonface?”
“Mooning at the moon?”
Mean as yellow jackets, dumb as dirt. He sighed, the sharp exhale like the hiss of the plants all around.
“Who you laughing at?”
And easy, too. “I’m not laughing.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Okay, I’m laughing.”
“Not at us,” said one.
“Not if you’re smart,” said another.
“Haven’t you heard?” Finn said.  “I’m not so smart.”

Remember how I said the most important thing when writing dialogue is noting who is speaking? Well,  so much for that. In this scene, there is one character we know, and a group we don’t. Her focus here is the interaction and not getting bogged down in nameless, unimportant characters. We still get the idea that Finn is outnumbered, and she uses an economy of words to do it.

Here’s another–this time between two important characters, Finn and his best friend Miguel:

   “I don’t have an act,” said Finn.
“You know what Amber Hass told me?” Miguel said.
“No, what?”
“That you looked like that actor.”
“Which actor?”
“Who cares, dude! Amber Hass says you look like an actor, you go find Amber Hass.”
“Amber Hass chews on her own hair.”
“Speaking of chewing, what’s with the goat?”
“He started following me a while ago.”
“He’s wrecking your game. Doesn’t he belong to somebody?”
Finn didn’t have an act, he didn’t have a game. “Probably.”
“Meh!”

Did you get lost? In our group, we talked about how we found passages similar to this a bit confusing as any time a reader isn’t sure who’s speaking the tendency is to backtrack to re-read. This one may not be the best example, but it points out how Ms. Ruby works hard to pace the story–like a well told joke, she manufactures extra humor by not wasting words. (By the way, the last “Meh!” is the goat.)

If you’ve read Bone Gap tell us what you think–or tell us what books you’ve read with dialogue that did the job.

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