Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Moving the Story With Dialogue

This post first ran on Monday, June 22, 2009


…That day she dined early, at six, and talked to William as he stood behind her chair, bidding him close the door to visitors in future.

“You see, William,” she said, “I came to Navron to avoid people, to be alone. My mood is to play the hermit, while I am here.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I made a mistake about this afternoon. It shall not occur again. You shall enjoy your solitude, and make good your escape.”

“Escape?” she said.

“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I have rather gathered that is why you are here. You are a fugitive from your London self, and Navron is your sanctuary.”

She was silent a minute, astonished, a little dismayed, and then: “You have uncanny intuition, William,” she said, “where does it come from?”

“My late master talked to me long and often, my lady,” he said; “many of my ideas and much of my philosophy are borrowed from him. I have made a practice of observing people, even as he does. And I rather think that he would term your ladyship’s arrival here as an escape.”

“And why did you leave your master, William?”

“His life is such, at the moment, my lady, that my services are of little use to him. We decided I would do better elsewhere.”

“And so you came to Navron?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And lived alone and hunted moths?”

“Your ladyship is correct.”

“So that Navron is also, possibly, an escape for you as well?”

“Possibly, my lady.”

“And your late master, what does he do with himself?”

“He travels, my lady.”

“He makes voyages from place to place?”

“Exactly, my lady.”

“Then he also, William, is a fugitive. People who travel are always fugitives.”

“My master has often made the same observation, my lady. In fact, I may say his life is one continual escape.”

“How pleasant for him,” said Dona, peeling her fruit; “the rest of us can only run away from time to time, and however much we pretend to be free, we know it is only for a little while – our hands and our feet are tied.”

“Just so, my lady.”

“I would like to meet your master, William.”

“I think you would have much in common, my lady.”

“Perhaps one day he will pass this way, on his travels?”

“Perhaps, my lady.”

“In fact, I will withdraw my command about visitors, William. Should your late master ever call, I will not feign illness or madness or any other disease, I will receive him.”

“Very good, my lady.”

One of my favorite bits of dialogue and a marvelous set-up for the rest of the story! From it, think about these questions:

What kind of relationship between the two speakers?
When does the story take place?
Who is William?
Who is Dona?
What can you discern about the female character’s place in society?
What can you extrapolate reading between the lines?
Do you recognize the novel this is taken from and the author?

Leave us answers or a comment.

Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil and is having far too much fun this summer reading her favorite old novels.


  1. Wish I did recognize the book - it sounds like a great story. This excerpt got my attention! I hope you plan to give us the answer.

  2. Don't recognize the author or book. The setting could be something from 17th century England or a thousand years into the future.

    Straight From Hel

  3. Hehe. Bet you do recognize it when I tell you tonight!


  4. I know I'm going to be kicking myself, but I don't recognize it either! Awesome set-up for the story, though.

  5. It's a terrific story--Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek. And Dani, you've made a wonderful selection, which beautifully illustrates your teaching here. Du Maurier is a master of dialogue. Great questions! And please notice the short, almost staccato speeches and absence of speech tags (he/she said etc) in the middle section--really picks up the pace, at a moment of emotional intensity. Superb pacing. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  6. Yep..knew I'd be kicking myself! Should have guessed the author, at least!

  7. You have a knack for drawing me in. Stop it. Don't you know I have bad writing to do and no time for good advice?

  8. Dani you've done an excellent job of showing how dialogue can be used to reveal a lot of information. Great!

  9. I'm not up to date on English stories. Tried to cheat, went to Google, tuped a few phraes, and only came up with the Blood-Red-Pencil site.

    I've found dialogue is easy to write. What I find difficult is how to state it. You can't write, He said, "...." Then she said, "....." Then he said, "....."
    Then she said, "....."

    Dialogue is a great opportunity to write what important and trivial things going on in the background. For example:

    “How pleasant for him,” said Dona, peeling her fruit; “the rest of us can only run away from time to time ...

    She was silent a minute, astonished, a little dismayed, and then: “You have uncanny intuition, William .....

  10. Wonderful example of how to move a story along and impart a lot of information without doing an "information dump" Of course this comes from a writer who mastered the craft like few others.

    It really helps us to hone our craft by reading more than just the latest commercial fiction.

  11. Dialog is always great. I've learned recently how well it can replace thoughts too. I have a tendency to do block thoughts...and I have been replacing them with dialog whenever I can in my current rewrite.

  12. Hey, that's Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek ... and I didn't cheat by looking at Susanalbert's post ... honest, I didn't .. I swear I didn't.

  13. Best part about this post is the comments - hope we get some more! I do love this bit of exchange between Du Maurier's beautifully drawn characters.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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