6/23/10

A Study of Rangers (Part 1)

This past weekend was a whirlwind of Crown Duel, Court Duel, and Ranger's Apprentice: The Kings of Clonmel. Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel duo was magnificent, as always, although she throws in that twist of fantasy that I still haven't found the use of. I feel like the story would be better without it.

But I'm not here to talk about her books, however marvelous they are. I want to talk of the Ranger's Apprentice series. If you've read the books, especially those later in the series, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say they're full of laugh-out-loud (no, really - I was audibly cracking up last night) banter and dialogue that, however modern and realistic, fits in perfectly with Flanagan's medieval world. Things like,
"     'Oh, it's a case of they think I'll think they'll do a, so they'll do B because I wouldn't think they'd think of that but then because I might think I know what they're thinking they'll do A after all because I wouldn't think they'd think that way,' Will said.
     Halt looked at him for a long moment in silence. 'You know, I'm almost tempted to ask you to repeat that.'
     Will grinned. 'I'm not sure I could.'"
I used to write dialogue like this. Pages of it, honestly. I could write conversations that had no bearing on the story but that were very real. Very much what real people would be saying in those situations. I wish I could find some samples of that for you, and I know I have some in my files, moments where characters kept dialoguing with humor and wit until I realized that they'd strayed too far from the topic at hand. However, I'm not sure where they are, and they'll take too long to find.

The reason they're so hard to find is because the majority of them are in little Word docs that are entitled something like, "_____ Deleted Scenes," which is where I put stuff for story _____ that won't be in the MS. At some point, I convinced myself that dialogue that didn't further plot wasn't worth the space it took.

Granted, there was some logical reasoning behind this. I was getting carried away with dialogue and ending up pages later wondering how on earth I was going to get back to the subject at hand. I tried to make sure all dialogue actually furthered the plot. And it has been a good exercise, a good pursuit to temper my tendency to keep dialoguing forever.

Yet, John Flanagan makes me laugh. I'm cracking up in parts of The Kings of Clonmel (and all the others, too) that usually have very little to do with the plot. Yeah, they're taking place during some tense situations - they're not independent of plot - but they're not really furthering it. They're just there, with little asides and banters that don't stop.

Only just now do I realize that dialogue has another purpose: character development. That's what I love about the Ranger's Apprentice. The stories are adventurous and cunning, the angst real, but my favorite part of the books are the characters. I feel like they're real. Even if you'd asked me this before I came to the character development realization, I would have given you this answer. Will Treaty, Halt, Horace - they're so real and funny and honest.

I told myself that my dialogue was useless if it didn't further plot. But it wasn't useless. It was furthering the characters, endearing me to them and them to each other. It was what made the world they lived in real instead of just words on the page. Even if they were talking modern sarcasm in a medieval world, it made them real to the reader.

Now I go to revitalize the dialogue I put away from me! I'm a little excited, a little scared of what I might find. I'll have to brush up on my self-control if I'm going to allow this. But it's going to be fun, and it's a piece of my voice that I was missing. Looking forward to it!

(I had some more authorly takes on the Ranger's Apprentice, but this post got long. Look for more tomorrow...)

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