A Dialogue with Eva Seyler
Eva Seyler is the author of four historical novels or novellas. Here, we discuss how she weaves emotion and reaction into her books, while maintaining a simple style.
“Writing for effect”, in my books, is all about the characters.
I’m notorious for writing gratuitous snogfests that (often) don’t make it into the finished projects (for example, there’s an extremely un-kid-friendly RageSex scene that did not make it into The Summer I Found Home because it’s designed to be appropriate for kids).
The scenes that do make the cut have to meet a few criteria: they need to signify something about the characters’ development, and they need to be focused on emotions rather than mere physicality. The goal is for what I don’t say, what is left to be read between the lines, to be as punchy as what I do say.
His voice caught as he wove his fingers into my hair and searched my eyes. “I am abominably drunk but I will show you things…”
He bent close, his mouth exploring my throat and shoulders and breasts. His restless, certain fingertips called forth blissful whimpers from deep within me. Clothing shed, skin on skin, fingers of one of his hands interlacing with mine while the other hand like a magician’s called forth sense and life I hadn’t known existed. His mouth on mine, tasting of brandy and cigarettes and heaven, layer upon layer of feeling, sinking—drowning, but never dying, curiously alive, singing strings within. He was intense and he was focused and he knew what he was doing.
My sense here is that the narrator is inexperienced, if not virginal: ‘sense and life I hadn’t known existed’. Perhaps she’s taking a risky step here? And that the man is experienced, and both cultured and perhaps a little disreputable: – ‘abominably drunk’ – not the language of an uneducated man; the brandy also suggests this. How far off am I?
Right on every count. She’s been married before, but the husband was, shall we say, unimaginative at best—and it is a risk because this man is her best friend’s husband. (This snippet is from Ripples, the companion novella to The War in Our Hearts.)
Louise and George’s banter in The Summer I Found Home and its sequels has segued into an experiment: trying a brand-new (for me) style of dialogue that is intended to evoke the frenetic energy of 1930s-40s screwball comedy. I’m trying to perfect this for a WIP that’s third down the release pipeline: basically, using as few dialogue tags as possible, but still making it clear who’s speaking.
Just one example of many from the WIP in question:
“I mean, friendship is wonderful. Everything is more fun with a friend. But imagine having, say, me for a friend, Miss Shipton.”
“I wasn’t aware we were friends. Anyway, I’m home now, you needn’t linger—”
“We could be. Friends, that is. Not home. We could be that too. I mean. Together.”
“Are you this eloquent and seductive with all your lady friends?”
“Oh no. Much more with them.”
“You flatter me.”
“You hoover all the panache right out of me.”
“As I said.”
“Will you stop leaning in that impertinent way?”
He was too close, his forehead nearly touching hers. “What kind of person do you want to marry, Miss Shipton?”
The short and sometimes interrupted sentences are very effective here, and it’s easy to follow who’s speaking by the inclusion of ‘Miss Shipton’ and/or ‘lady friends’. And then at the end the tone changes to more serious, simply by the dialogue becoming slower and a full sentence, and, the inclusion of an action tag prior to the dialogue. Was that your intent?
I’m not sure I thought it out that thoroughly, but it’s true!
Another strong aspect of my style is staying sharply on point. I don’t write flowery descriptions of scenery or events. I’m not against such things, by any means—it’s just not something that comes naturally. This Great Wilderness, at over 90,000 words, is incredibly long for me. Usually my books (including my two earliest, experimental novels) run considerably shorter. The Summer I Found Home is only around 62,000 words.
I attribute this to focusing on character development and the specific events that drive that development.
As with my snogfests and sex scenes, setting descriptions must enhance character development. Here’s an example from This Great Wilderness that encapsulates the scenery in a few short paragraphs, and the description is directly related to the state of Leni’s mind.
The scenery is stark and incredible. There is the brown, desert-like landscape going one direction, like what the American West always looked like in the cowboy pictures we sometimes sneaked out to see when I was little.
But face the other direction, and it is saw-toothed mountains, and snow, and ice, and vast lake.
Two worlds. The desert is my life with Mauritz. The mountains are my life now. Both of them are terrifying to me, and the solitude is immense.
I’m sure this has a formal definition in writing (it’s not quite pathetic fallacy), but I couldn’t find one – the landscape reflecting the emotions of the narrator. It’s one I use a lot myself. I particularly like the starkness and simplicity of the contrast here between the desert and the mountains, and the threatening aspect of the mountains: ‘saw-toothed’ and cold. But the lake – water is usually a symbol of life and renewal – modifies that. Was that your intent, to suggest to the reader that there is hope for Leni In this new environment?
I had not thought of the water aspect! At least not consciously, but that’s an absolutely legit interpretation, and it’s true that the wilderness does bring her back to life.