Perfecting Dialogue In Sarah Jane Stratford's The Moonlight Brigade
Author Sarah Jane Stratford delivers her second novel in the compelling Millennials series with this month's The Moonlight Brigade. RT reviewer Debbie Haupt praised the story saying, "If you love the flavor of bygone dialogue, a literary fantasy with a hint of Shelley or Stoker, you'll love this WWII-set tale." We wanted to know how the author crafted this evocative dialogue, so we asked her to deconstruct a few of her characters' conversations for this illuminating post!
When I first began exploring the millennial vampires, it was natural that they would be avid and erudite conversationalists, simply as a result of having lived so long. Being caught up in World War II wouldn't change that. At the outset of The Moonlight Brigade, it is 1941 and circumstances have taken Mors to Rome, his ancient stomping grounds, where he trains partisans to fight and falls in love with their leader.
Although this book is darker and more action-packed than The Midnight Guardian, I wanted the language to remain true to the characters - speech and spoken communication are a key element of their personalities and relationships.
This is an abbreviated scene in which Mors first meets his compatriot, Rembrandt:
"A pleasure to meet you. I am Mors."
"Mors! Of the British tribunal. The millennial Mors! I don't believe it."
"Few do," Mors agreed. "I'm in a state of disbelief myself. The European refugees told us that any vampire who hadn't fallen prey to the Nachtspeere had emigrated. And yet, here are you, deep in enemy territory. I suppose truth is truth to the end of reckoning, hm? Except when it isn't. Not that they lied, of course. There's the news you hear and the news you feel. If only vampires had a proper communications system, hm? Now, come along, let's get to a shelter. I know of a decent enough spot quite near here."
The young vampire looked dazed, the usual expression of anyone who had never before heard Mors talk.
"I must say, Mors, thus far the stories about you do not exaggerate."
"That's a shame. I want to outsell the Greek myths someday."
This shows the rapidity of Mors's speech, as well as his leadership. He's a jolly vampire - that last quip is facetious. He does, however, think well of himself and his ability. Not that he isn't justified, but more than once he'll come up against the reality of his shortcomings. What was important to me as his character developed was that his essentials remain the same. He doesn't talk because he loves the sound of his own voice – he talks because he has something to say.
I wanted a tone that felt true to the periods – the1940s and the ancient world - without being "forsoothly," as the estimable Josephine Tey would have it. The speech thus has a formality we don't have in modern times, but the attempt was to make it natural. What is also natural to Mors and the other vampires is to frequently quote Shakespeare. They see him as having captured the truth of humanity in his work and, as the one thing they're not is human, they admire and absorb that language.
Soon after Mors arrives in Rome, he meets Giulia, a brave and intelligent leader of a partisan group and falls hard. The courtship is cut off and when he finally sees her again, he says:
"Giulia, at last, I can't tell you how much I've missed you. Please, please listen to me."
"I'm sorry, what was your name?" her voice might have spent a week in a morgue, but it still delighted him.
"I know, I deserve that, but I promise…" He forced her close to him and bent to whisper in her ear. "Giulia, I'm a British spy, here to find out how readily Italy can be invaded. … I'm Italian by birth, and I know there are partisan movements here, and I'm determined to use all my military expertise to turn them into serious fighting machines. I've been away on a reconnaissance mission and only just returned. Please, please believe me, let me prove it to you."
"What makes you think I'm not loyal to Il Duce?" she asked in a moderately warmer tone.
"Because neither of us are fools."
The tenor of their conversations changes considerably as their relationship deepens, but in this early exchange, it was interesting to watch Mors have to work. He knows Giulia's attracted to him, but she's justifiably wary. He's telling her as much truth as he can and hopes to win her over. He does so in part by speaking to their shared cause. Giulia appreciates his acknowledgement of her as an equal. I wanted to give the sense that these two understand each other, even before they've achieved an understanding.
The bulk of the story takes place between 1941 and 1943, but I also dip into Mors's long history. He was a smart-mouthed, reckless menace in his early days, but always a warrior. During a desperate search for his missing friend Otonia in 8th century Constantinople, he approaches the leader of the criminal underworld, Karas, who says:
"I haven't seen you before."
"Which makes you lucky. The woman I'm seeking disappeared at least three nights ago. She's Greek, about twenty-five, quite striking… What?" Karas was shaking his head.
"I have seen no such woman. I apologize and wish you luck."
Mors hesitated just a moment, then plunged further.
"What do you know of vampires?"
"I…what?" Karas was perplexed.
"Vampires, man, vampires. Creatures who look human until they sprout fangs and suck all the blood out of your body. Have you heard of them? Have you heard of the men who hunt them?"
What mattered here was the urgency, that Mors was putting himself at risk to try to get information. Vampires aren't supposed to reveal themselves to humans unless they intend to bite, but Mors has realized how much he needs Otonia. For this, he abandons politeness and verbal pyrotechnics. In such moments, Mors speaks plainly.
Putting words into Mors's mouth was often a challenge, but it was also fantastic fun. I can't wait to revisit these characters again.
- Sarah Jane Stratford
Want more? You can dive into Sarah Jane Stratford's first two Millennial Novels, The Midnight Guardian and this month's The Moonlight Brigade, which are both on sale now. And of course, to keep up with the latest genre news, be sure to check out our Everything Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Page or if you are interested in hearing more author tricks and tips, you can head over to our Aspiring Authors Page!