Sunday, June 13, 2010

DIALOGUE: One Crazy Summer (Post #2 of 6)

Dear Meg and Allyson,

I started One Crazy Summer knowing that the setting and time period—1968 in Oakland, California—would certainly make for a unique read, full of interesting historical details about the Black Panthers and Huey Newton. I had no idea it would also be so funny! The relationship between the three sisters is full of warmth and humor.

Take this passage of dialogue between the three sisters and their mother. Delphine, the narrator, and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern have just traveled to the house of their estranged mother, Cecile.

I spoke first: “We’re hungry.”
As usual, my sisters’ voices followed on top of mine.
Vonetta: “What’s for supper?”
Then Fern: “Hungry. Hungry.” She rubbed her belly.

The girls go around this subject a few times with Cecile in the same pattern, Delphine with a broad statement of fact, followed by supporting details from Vonetta and then Fern. At last, Cecile asks for the money their father had sent with them.

I crossed my arms. There was no way she was getting our money. “That money’s for Disneyland,” I told her.
“To go on all the rides.”
“And meet Tinker Bell.”
This was the first time we heard Cecile laugh, and she laughed like the crazy mother she was turning out to be. “Is Tinker Bell going to feed you?”  (pp. 30-31)

This structure of dialogue takes place throughout the book: Delphine approaches their mother with a request or need, and Vonetta and Fern back her up. Williams-Garcia goes out of her way to highlight this pattern of speaking. In a moment of narration, Delphine reflects,
When my sisters and I speak, one right after the other, it’s like a song we sing, a game we play. We never need to pass signals. We just fire off rat-a-tat-tat. Delphine. Vonetta. Fern. (p. 77)
The girls riff off each other, so it’s important that Williams-Garcia establishes a clear pattern.

While the dialogue is interesting, funny, and witty, it also develops character. We can see the unity among sisters in the way the younger girls build on their older sister’s statements. The girls want the same things. They support each other. Here, they want Cecile to get them a television.

She said, “No one needs a television set.”
“We do,” I said.
“To catch our shows,” Vonetta said.
“Yeah,” Fern said. “To catch our cartoons.”

This is a rare case where Williams-Garcia includes dialogue tags for the girls. Many times, dialogue spins down the page without tags. In this next example, Vonetta and Fern gang up on Delphine:

“See, Delphine, you can’t tell us what to do,” Vonetta said.
“Surely can’t.”
“’Cause we’re going to the Center, and we’re going to the rally.”
“Surely are.”
“And we’re going to sing our song.”
“And do our dance.”
“And you can’t be in with us.”

Notice how quickly the dialogue jumps back and forth between Vonetta and Fern. Dialogue tags would simply slow down the back-and-forth between the girls. Williams-Garcia helps the reader know who’s speaking through a couple of directions. She tells us that Vonetta is talking to Delphine. The second speaker, though, isn’t Delphine replying. It’s Fern piping in, which the reader knows due to Fern’s signature word surely.

While I could cite many more examples of dialogue in One Crazy Summer, I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that the dialogue works on so many levels: it develops the character of the sisters as a united group and as individuals; it shows their wit and spirit; and it provides moments of laugh-out-loud humor.

StorySleuths Tip #77: Look for ways to establish patterns of communication between characters as a way to show character on many different levels.