I recently read Sabriel by Garth Nix. It was a fun epic fantasy, and I picked up a few tricks that might come in useful for the old writer’s toolbox.
Spoiler warning: The first tip is not a spoiler, the second tip is a slight spoiler, and the third tip reveals a lot.
1. Interruptions are a great way to add life to dialogue.
Here’s a scene where Sabriel goes to her father’s house and encounters an enchanted servant (a “sending”) intent on giving her a bath.
Sabriel shrieked, but, again before she could do anything else, the sending had put back the basin, turned the wheel for more hot water, and was soaping her down, paying particular attention to her head, as if it wanted to get soap in Sabriel’s eyes, or suspected an infestation of nits . . . .
“How do I stop it?” she spluttered to Moggot, as still more water cascaded over her head …
“You can’t,” replied Mogget, who seemed quite amused by the spectacle. “This one’s particularly recalcitrant.”
“What do you… ow! .. . stop that! What do you mean, this one?”
I love the way that last line of dialogue conjures up an image of the scenario.
2. Transition between points of view by giving two versions of the same event.
At one point, Sabriel rescues a man who had been transformed into a statue. We're in her point of view when she breaks the spell. The next chapter retells the transformation from the man’s point of view as he comes out of his enchanted state. It’s a smooth transition into this new character’s head that doesn’t lose the reader. If you want more ideas on transitioning between points of view, check out this post.
3. Use of sayings/proverbs for emotional impact.
Sabriel introduces a proverb at the beginning: “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” Near the end of the book, a character makes a decision to sacrifice his life. When the others object, the character justifies the choice by saying “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” The saying lends strength to the dialogue at that crucial moment.
Have you used any of these tricks in your writing before?