If there’s one thing I love, it’s dialogue. I’m not entirely sure why that is… Perhaps because I can sense the emotion more strongly when the characters speak rather than when the narrator does the talking? It’s kind of like the difference between going to someone’s website and reading “I love chocolate ice cream” versus going to the same site and reading “she loves chocolate ice cream”. One feels more connected to me, while the other one sound more descriptive.
Or maybe I’m just all wrong on that altogether? Could be.
At any rate, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that I use a lot of dialogue in my writing. And the following sample shows this.
This scene takes place shortly after eight-year-old Celyna goes to live with Xiuhcoatl in his large estate in Elendri. Szandor, as Xiuhcoatl’s most trusted servant, is tasked with overseeing her adjustment to life in the manor. It’s also the first time Celyna encounters the use of magic.
“Yes, yes” Xiuhcoatl’s voice seemed annoyed. “I want to know what you think about how she’s doing emotionally. Do you think that she will adjust to life here?”
Before Szandor could answer, a high pitched screaming filled the room from the hallway. He looked around the room and then looked back over at Xiuhcoatl.
“Go see what that is,” Xiuhcoatl looked just as confused as Szandor was by the screaming, a sight that Szandor was not used to seeing.
Szandor nodded his head and walked out of the office and into the hallway. The screaming was even louder there, and because of the echoes that were reverberating through every inch of the halls, Szandor found it difficult to find the source.
Several of the guards were pacing the hallways, some holding their ears trying to ignore the screams. Then Szandor reached Celyna’s door. Standing next to its lock was another of the manor’s guards, plugging his ears with his fingers and clenching his eyes shut.
“What’s going on?” he had to yell to the guard to be sure that he was heard.
“I don’t know,” the guard shook his head as he answered. “She just started screaming all of a sudden.”
Szandor pushed the guard aside and pulled out his keys to unlock the door. Upon opening it, he saw Celyna sitting crouched in the corner of the room, holding her knees to her chest, and crying. Szandor turned back to the guard as if to ask him for further explanation, but the guard just shrugged his shoulders and slowly shook his head in confusion.
Szandor stepped further into Celyna’s small room and looked down at her. He briefly wondered how long it would take for her voice to betray her, leaving her unable to scream. Her face still showed signs of exposure to the elements from her days’ traveling. And now her sunburned face was starting to turn an even brighter shade of red. Her breathing was uneven and heavy, and she was coughing between cries. He took in a deep breath, hoping that he would be able to find the answer that would soothe her so he could continue with his work.
He knelt down onto the corner of her straw mat and studied Celyna for a minute. She watched him intently as he did this, but her cries did not waver.
“I…want…my…papa,” Celyna slowly forced herself to explain in between cries. Saying the words out loud to someone else sparked a new round of cries and screams, this time higher in pitch and volume than any cries Szandor could ever remember hearing before.
“Your father isn’t here,” Szandor winced in pain at the pitch of the screams as he looked at Celyna.
Hearing this response startled Celyna, enough to make her stop screaming for a moment and stare emotionlessly at Szandor. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot, and her breathing was still heavy and sporadic. Her bottom lip was quivering uncontrollably as she sucked it in and out between her breaths.
Then, without warning, she lunged at Szandor, nearly knocking him over. She wrapped her arms around his neck and latched on tightly—gripping her elbows. Each time he tried to pry her off him, she just tightened her grip and whimpered.
Szandor was at a loss about what to do in this situation. He’d been warned about allowing himself to get too close to her before. But his experience told him that this was more than likely a bad dream. One that hadn’t had time to really haunt her yet because this was the first night since Kaennon that she would have had good rest. In truth, that was only part of the problem. For the first time since the woods, Celyna had been able to fall asleep naturally and not out of pure exhaustion. She did have a nightmare, but directly following that nightmare was the disorientation of waking up in new, dark surroundings and remembering that her father was no longer around her to help keep her safe. The crying had taken over at that point, and she lost control of her emotions.
And now, Szandor was right in front of her. Although she understood that Xiuhcoatl had bought her as a slave, and that this was a bad thing for her, Szandor had been the first person with a friendly face that she’d seen since Kaennon that did not, in some way, try to hurt her. She had no idea if this was pure coincidence or if this was something that would change in the future, but for now she needed to believe that he was there to help and support her. And she expressed this by latching onto him, even though she knew it was inappropriate.
Szandor stayed st
ill for a few minutes, allowing Celyna to hold on until her cries softened to small whimpers.
“Are you hungry?” Szandor asked quietly. Celyna’s whimpers grew weaker as she nodded her head. Finally, he could feel her grasp loosen, then he tried one last time to pull her off his shoulders. She came away easily this time, standing in front of him and trying to rub the tears from her eyes with her fists.
He stood up, grabbed her hand, and started to lead her through the hallways again and into the kitchen. Celyna followed quietly, every once in a while taking in a sharp breath. Inside the kitchen, Szandor motioned for Celyna to take a seat at the same small table. He then waved his hand quickly through the air.
Celyna’s mouth dropped and she held her breath as she watched a small bowl of grapes slide from the shelf and follow the motions of Szandor’s hands. Szandor was smiling as he guided the grapes to a small dance in the air, and Celyna began to giggle slightly, almost forgetting the reason she was sitting in the kitchen in the idle of the night. The grapes landed gently on the table in front of Celyna. She carefully studied the bowl before reaching out to grab a piece of the fruit from its vine and popping it into her mouth.
“So,” Szandor spoke softly as he sat down in another chair near to Celyna, “would you like to tell me exactly why you felt the need to wake up the entire household in the middle of the night by screaming?”
He leaned forward in his seat to hand Celyna a napkin just as she popped another grape into her mouth.
Celyna grabbed the napkin and wiped her mouth, then she looked apologetically at Szandor and shook her head slowly from side to side.
Szandor leaned back in his seat and began to tap his fingers lightly on the table. He nodded his head slowly and then stood up and reached for the bowl of grapes.
“Well then,” he explained as he wrapped his fingers around the edge of the bowl, “I suppose you can go back to bed.”
She reached out with both hands and grabbed onto the bowl to push it back down onto the table.
“I’ll tell,” she said quietly, with pieces of grapes still lingering in her mouth. “I promise.” Upon hearing this, Szandor smirked and reclaimed his seat at the table.
“I had a bad dream,” Celyna finally revealed. The contentment that Celyna felt over the grapes slowly faded from her face and she stared at the table.
“What kind of dream could possibly have caused all that?” Szandor asked her. He knew that having bad dreams was part of being a kid. As a young boy, he’d had several bad dreams that chased him into his own mother’s arms. And before her death, his daughter had more than a few bad dreams that sent her crying into his bedroom seeking comfort. Yet he could not recall such bad dreams having caused the sheer panic and high pitched screams that were emanating from Celyna’s room just a few minutes ago.
Celyna looked back up at Szandor. Her dark, wide eyes were beginning to well up again, and he could see her bottom lips starting to tremble.
“No,” Szandor shook his head slowly and reached out to hold her hand, hoping to stop the coming wave of cries before they could start. “If you start screaming like that again, I will silence you, I promise.”
Szandor was already mentally preparing himself to cast the spell that would suppress Celyna’s screams should she try to release them again. While he didn’t want to scare or hurt her, he was not sure he could bear to endure those high pitches again. And he was nervous of what Xiuhcoatl might do if he started to doubt Szandor’s ability to control this young girl.
Celyna clenched her eyes tightly and took in a deep breath, determined that she would be able to tell her story without crying. When she was finally confident that she could hold off the tears, she released her breath in a long, slow flow and then opened her eyes and looked back up at Szandor.
“There was a skeleton,” Celyna spoke slowly and quietly, as if speaking in her normal tone and volume would hinder her ability to fight off the urge to cry. “And he was chasing me, and then I fell.”
“A skeleton?” Szandor raised his eyebrows with interest at her story. This certainly explained why her screams seemed so much more panicked than those of other sufferers from nightmares. He wasn’t even sure that Senedra knew what a skeleton was at eight years old. Szandor tried to think of a way to make a skeleton seem less scary; after all, if she was to become a wizard as Xiuhcoatl hoped, she would surely see many more in her lifetime. It simply wouldn’t do for her to be terrified of them now.
“What did he want?” Szandor asked quietly.
Celyna looked confused by his question. She hadn’t even thought about whether or not the skeleton wanted anything. The only thing she knew was that he was chasing her. She knew that if she had told her father about this nightmare, he would have asked something different. He would have asked something more like are you alright? He would have been concerned for her, not for the skeleton.
This thought was not very comforting, since it was just one more way of reminding Celyna of all the bad things that had happened to her of late. Then she shook her head and reached for another grape.
“Perhaps you should have asked him?” Szandor suggested as he folded his arms neatly over his chest and leaned back into his seat.
“Ask him what?” Celyna’s voice sounded warbled with the grape in her mouth.
“What he wanted,” Szandor was hoping that this conversation would point out to Celyna that not everything is as scary as they might first appear.
She pondered over his statements for a moment, slowly popping more grapes into her mouth as she stared at the table in front of her. Then she looked back up at Szandor inquisitively and wiped some of the juice from her chin.
“But…he didn’t want anything,” she reasoned, “he just watched me fall, and he kept coming.”
“What happened when you fell?”
“Nothing, I just woke up. And then I called for my papa, but then I remembered that I wasn’t at home anymore and so that papa wasn’t here, and then I got scared ‘cause I thought that if the skeleton came now then papa couldn’t save me ‘cause papa doesn’t know where I am.”
Szandor listened to her ramblings intently, trying to think of some way to comfort her. It was obvious to him that she and her father had been very close, and he was starting to wonder if she would ever really be okay without him.
“I think, perhaps,” Szandor carefully chose his words, “perhaps, maybe next time, if this skeleton comes again… maybe ask him to catch you. And maybe if you fall again he will.” He hoped that this was enough to empower her to begin controlling her dreams when they turned sour—or at least for her to think that she could.
If Celyna had any emotional reaction to this suggestion, she didn’t show it. She continued to slowly pop grapes into her mouth, one by one, and chew them. Szandor sat quietly and waited for her until she finished the last grape. Then he stood up and reached his arm out toward her. She followed his lead and grabbed his hand as she reluctantly stood up to follow him.
Slowly, the two made their way back through the hallways. Szandor knew that it was only a couple of hours before sunrise, and Xiuhcoatl would expect him to be awake and ready to work without question or complaint. He could already feel the fatigue setting in as he led Celyna back to her small room and gently ushered her inside. Szandor hoped that this excursion would not prove to be a daily ritual. While Xiuhcoatl never seemed to require any sleep, Szandor most definitely did.
“Wait!” Celyna yelled, interrupting Szandor’s thoughts and snapping him back into the moment.
“What is it?” Szandor questioned her sudden need.
“Could…um…could you leave the door open?” Celyna asked meekly.
“Oh, girl, you—“ Szandor started to explain.
“Please?” Celyna opened her eyes wide as she asked, and her bottom lip was starting to quiver. “I’m scared of the dark.”
Szandor remembered his daughter doing that in the past. He’d always thought that Senedra had faked the quivering lip to gain more sympathy, but now he was wondering if, perhaps, it was just a natural talent of all little girls.
Szandor looked around the small room and then looked down at the shaky Celyna.
“Scared of the dark?” he asked, “What can possibly hide in the dark here? There’s no way anything but you can even fit into this room?”
“So,” Celyna retorted. “What does that matter? The dark can fit.” Her breathing was beginning to grow heavy again, warning Szandor that he needed to think of an answer quickly.
“But, you’re strong, right?” Szandor knelt down so that he was closer to Celyna’s height as he asked her this question. She nodded hesitantly, and then he continued, “Well, strong people don’t live in fear of anything. Strong people only sense the fear in others.”
Celyna looked up at him and blinked her eyes slightly. She studied Szandor for a minute, looking him up and down until Szandor started to feel a little uncomfortable. Then she tilted her head over to the side and her face curled with confusion and brilliance all at once.
“So, then…can’t you just sense my fear of the dark?” Celyna whispered.
Szandor forced a smile and stepped back into the room. He began chanting in whispers and waved his right arm up toward the ceiling. Celyna
watched in wonderment as tiny lights began to drop from the ceiling and dance in the air. They reminded her of the soapy bubbles that used to form while she was washing dishes back at her home.
It seemed to be enough to ease her worries. Celyna smiled and slipped back down into her mattress and watched the lights dance about.
“Good night,” Szandor whispered as he stepped back out of the room and slowly closed the door.
Okay, if you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter (not that I’m all that fast on Twitter, mind you. I tweet with the speed of a giant turtle stuck upside down in molasses) you probably came across my tweets …