Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There's dialogue... and then there's repartee

Once in a while I'll come across a book where the dialogue really stands out; where the conversation takes on a unique art form of its own. I love the term "repartee" - conversation characterized by quick, witty comments or replies.  Pride and Prejudice is a great example. Here are Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy parrying each other:
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome." 
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody." 
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them.” 

Another book dripping with fantastic dialogue is Jane Eyre. Mr Rochester would totally intimidate me, and I think Jane is intimidated, too, but surprises herself with her own strength:
"You are afraid of me, because I talk like a Sphynx." 
"Your language is enigmatical, sir: but though I am bewildered, I am certainly not afraid." 
"You are afraid; your self-love dreads a blunder." 
"In that sense I do feel apprehensive - I have no wish to talk nonsense."

Some more recent examples of excellent repartee are in the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, Soulless by Gail Carriger, and Stolen Songbird, by Danielle Jensen, which has some great lines between Cecile and Tristan:
"Mark my words, the boy was of a vile sort." 
"Then you are two of a kind," I snapped. 
"Ha ha," Tristan snorted. "How dreadfully clever. And speaking of clever, is this to be your bid for escape?" He contemplated my clothing. "In a dressing gown and bare feet? Now tell me, if I go put on nightclothes and slippers, might I join you, or is this a solo adventure?"
Interestingly, my favorite love stories do not have much repartee; it's the characters actions that seem to really shine (or maybe I tend to fall in love with the quieter, humbler characters that don't have sharp, witty comebacks). But though it may not stir my heart as much, witty dialogue makes my brain exceedingly happy.

A few more words about Stolen Songbird, which just came out earlier in April.

I found this to be an entertaining high fantasy that reminded me in parts of The Blue Sword (girl gets kidnapped and transplanted into a mysterious and magical place), The Silver Chair (a spooky underground kingdom), Beauty and the Beast and Twilight (the twisty and dangerous romantic factor). No vampires here, though: this story is about a human girl kidnapped by trolls  and forced to marry the troll prince to end a curse upon their kingdom. These aren't your standard fairy tale trolls under the bridge type. These are cunning, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, and dangerous both in strength and subtlety.

I've listed a strange combination of comp titles, but those are the stories that sprang to mind for comparison. Except for the main character, Cecile: she's not like any of the characters in the books I've listed. I'm trying to think of a similar character, but I can't, and that's a compliment. Cecile is put into a helpless position, yet somehow she manages to not be helpless, ("it was a game of cat and mouse to them. But I was no mouse.")  The other characters are excellent too and the setting is dark and lovely at the same time... I got some Phantom of the Opera-ish vibes reading this one. But the story's biggest strength is its dialogue: like steel hooks and crystal spikes and burning sparks.

Do you have any favorite examples of great dialogues / repartee?  


  1. I'm a huge fan of dialogue/repartee, too. Lynne Ewing's books have had some great ones, as well as Archie Comics (especially for stories written by Frank Doyle)!

    And ooh, Stolen Songbird sounds so intriguing. Will have to remember to keep an eye out for it!

  2. No repartee is coming to mind. I think it's because I'm a big picture person, and when I finish a book, I can't separate the parts; they're a whole. But now that you've brought this about, I'm sure I'll start looking at dialog pieces more closely.

  3. Pride and Prejudice is full of excellent repartee. I love clever dialogue.

    In movies, Romancing the Stone and Leia/Hano Solo are good examples. I'm blanking on book ones.

  4. Both from Cassandra Claire and Dean Koontz get me with their witty banter. Also the first Zellie Wells book had some of that. I think it translates into the prose as well if the characters have a truly authentic voice. Oh, and Paranormalcy--let's not forget that one. Holy cow, I fell in love with that book for it's clever dialog finely crafted character. Awesome.

  5. Dialogue can certainly move a story forward. I can't think of any examples, but I know I've been impressed many times before.

  6. Pride and Prejudice is such a good example. I've also recently read (and watched) its cousin, North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell). It also has two opposite-attract characters. I think that seems to be the key. Dialogue is so much interesting when the characters are distinct and memorable--and at odds in some way.
    For a kidlit example, I've recently enjoyed the novels of Siobhan Parkinson--especially Blue Like Friday, with a spunky main character who can outtalk anyone.

  7. Oh, Theresa's mention of Han Solo and Princess Leia is spot on. That kind of dialogue definitely hooks me. I like to care about characters, that's the main thing for me, in a plot that intrigues me.

  8. Okay - how's this for Karma. I'm watching P & P (The Colin Firth version of course) as I'm blogging. I think Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones has some great lines.



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