Showing posts with label dialogue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dialogue. Show all posts

12 September 2018

In The Corner

David Edgerley Gates


Ever painted yourself into a corner? Writers obviously set targets, like a page count or a due date, or decide on a specific setting or circumstance, maybe a card game, or Elizabethan London, or a child's narrative POV - and then of course we move the goalposts. I'm thinking more particularly of stepping into a snare of your own devising, creating a problem you didn't know you had.

Writing's an obstacle course. And one of the things you learn early on is that you can't leave stuff out, you can't skip something because you think nobody will notice. This is obvious if we're talking about forensic detail, say, but less so when it requires us to bring more to the game. We all play to our strengths, and have lazy habits of mind, or avoidance mechanisms. It's about the comfort zone. 

For example. I first blocked out my spy story "Cover of Darkness" a very long time before the end result saw print. We're talking years. Partly, it was cold feet. I wasn't even entirely sure I wanted to write about the Cold War, and my time in Berlin, and I had a handy alibi, because I knew I was crossing the line between inside information and actual classified material. But the real stumbling block was my own skill level. The set-up for the story - the rainy tarmac, the stuffy car, the security, the briefing - was all very fluent. The  problem was, once the story really starts, once McElroy makes the dive into the icy river, everything takes place underwater. It was claustrophobic, there was no dialogue, it was all physical description. I broke it up a little, of necessity, but the basic story is one long action scene. It was a toughie.

Another story, "Winter Kill," stopped me a third of the way in, because I'd written myself into an impossible box. I had a murder victim, a cold case, skeletal remains, but no ID on the victim. How do you pin it on somebody? Doyle claimed that the Holmes stories were written back to front, he knew going in what Holmes would deduce, so it was a matter of reversing the plot. In my case, I don't think I've ever known going in how a story would turn out. The work-around, in "Winter Kill," is that I blinked. I realized it couldn't be made to happen, and I came up with a way to narrow the possibilities, and put a history to the bones. In other words, I fudged it.

I've talked before about the sex scene in my novella Viper. This is an example where there wasn't any work-around. I put my head in the lion's mouth. I hadn't planned it that way, by any means, but as the story took on shape and momentum, the inevitability loomed. And it had to be full-frontal, it couldn't happen off-stage. I've speculated previously that I did this accidentally on purpose, just to see if I could navigate the rapids.

I'm wrapping a Benny Salvador story now called "Second Sight," and I've hit a snag right at the end. The question isn't what happened, but how to explain it - more exactly, how not to explain it, how to paper over the details because the truth will do more injury than a comforting lie. There's the moral issue involved, Benny being pretty much a straight arrow, and a part of him knows he owes an honest account, but the lie will own him. And then we have the actual mechanics. How do I manage this convincingly?

This last is a different kind of obstacle from the ones I've outlined above, and of course that's the point, that each of them presents a new, and individual, difficulty. The specific, not the generic. I'm perfectly ready to entertain the notion that we're testing ourselves, pushing the boundaries, raising the bar. That it's a contest, or even a contact sport, hand-to-hand combat, wrestling an intransigent syntax to a weary draw. Or is it simply the quiet satisfaction of getting it right? No. There's more to it than that. There's that place we all know, where you get to say it out loud. Gotcha, you bastard.



03 February 2018

"I said, 'He said,'" she said.


by John M. Floyd



We all know there's plenty of room for disagreement in the writing/publishing world: literary vs. genre, characters vs. plot, outlining vs. pantsing, showing vs. telling, first-person vs. third-, simultaneous submissions vs. one-at-a-time, past tense vs. present, self-publishing vs. traditional, and so on. (Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers column yesterday, mostly about POV issues, is a good example.) One of my favorite discussions, though, is the one about using/avoiding the word "said."

There is apparently a movement now to declare "said" an obsolete word. Its proponents insist that the word is unemotional, boring, and unsophisticated, and that there are many better words we can substitute. The movement's loudest cheerleader, I've heard, is a California middle-school teacher who published a successful book on the subject, and a lot of other educators and writers have climbed onto that bandwagon. One article suggested replacing "said" with "more colorful words like barked, howled, demanded, cackled, snarled, professed, argued, cautioned, remarked, or cried."

Elmore Leonard is probably spinning in his grave. One of the commandments in his 10 Rules of Writing was "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." "Never" seems a little extreme, but I think his point was that "said" is a transparent word--the reader's eye skips right over it. Flowery synonyms for "said" can do the opposite of what I as a fiction writer want to do: they can distract the reader from the story itself, and make him or her think about the writing and the writer rather than what's written. I read somewhere that "said"--and probably "asked" as well--is more like a punctuation mark than a verb. It's unobtrusive.

Also, some substitutes for "said" seem to try to explain or clarify things too much. In the sentence "Get out," she demanded, the attribution verb is redundant--we can see that it's a demand. Same thing with "I beg you," he pleaded or "I feel terrible," she moaned. And believe me, I've seen this in a lot of students' stories. It's amateurish overwriting at best and ("I saw you," he observed) hilarious at worst.

Besides Dutch Leonard (I really miss him, by the way), there are other prominent writers who seem/seemed to prefer the word "said" over its synonyms: Larry McMurtry, Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Lee Child, Joe R. Lansdale, Janet Evanovich, Dennis Lehane, Raymond Chandler, Martin Cruz Smith, Stephen King, William Goldman, and John Sanford, to name a few.

I've rounded up several quotes on this issue of "said" avoidance:



". . . Don't tell me your character 'excaimed,' 'stated,' or 'replied.' When in doubt, just use 'said.' That's all. Maybe they 'answered.' They certainly did not 'retort.' You can use 'said' more often than you think . . . it's one of those words that takes a while before it starts sounding repetitive."
-- Ariel Gore, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead

"The best form of dialogue attribution is 'said,' as in 'he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said."
-- Stephen King, On Writing

"Mr. [Robert] Ludlum . . . hates the 'he said' locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom 'say' anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: '"I repeat," repeated Alex.' The book may sell in the billions, but it's still junk."
-- Newgate Callender, in The New York Times Book Review

"Editors and critics often refer to melodramatic dialogue tags as 'said bookisms.' They know that these phrases give our story an amateurish look. Your readers might not know what the darn things are called, but chances are that they'll notice them, too . . . In most cases, the word 'said' would work just fine, and using said bookisms detracts from the dialogue."
-- Ann M. Marble, "'Stop Using Those Said Bookisms,' the Editor Shrieked."

"[Say is] just too simple and clear and straightforward for many people. Why say something when you can declare, assert, expostulate, whine, exclaim, groan, peal, breathe, cry, explain, or asseverate it? I'm all for variety and freshness of expression, but let's not go overboard."
-- Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe Is I

". . . Some teachers, teachers who were themselves not writers, used to warn against the monotony of the word 'said.' This was wrong-headed advice."
-- Rick Demarinis, The Art & Craft of the Short Story

"In journalism circles, said is a virtue--simple, precise, and unadorned--and alternatives to it are considered frilly and silly. You don't have to agree, but be aware that lots of editors hold this view. Choose your alternatives to said with great care."
--June Casagrande, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences

"We're all in favor of choosing exactly the right verb for the action, but when you're writing speaker attributions the right verb is nearly always 'said.' The reason those well-intentioned attempts at variety don't work is that verbs other than 'said' tend to draw attention away from the dialogue."
--Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers



You can tell which side of the argument I'm on, here--I prefer "said," and, if asked, "asked"--but I'm not a sign-waving activist. I tend to throw in some whispers, shouts, and murmurs when I feel like it. And, in all fairness, there are a lot of excellent and successful authors, among them J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks, Salman Rushdie, Nevada Barr, John Irving, Patricia Cornwell, and Jan Karon, who regularly frolic in the synonymial daisies of dialogue attribution and come out smelling just fine. Bottom line is, there'll always be writers who love "said," writers who avoid it like Kryptonite, and writers who lobby for verb diversity. It's just another of those debatable issues of style where some things work for some and not for others.

"The choice is yours," he intoned.






04 July 2017

Dialogue to Die For

by Barb Goffman

Remember the TV show "Name That Tune"? The idea was to see how few notes of a song a person could hear and correctly name that tune. I don't know how well I'd do on that show, but if there were a "Name That Movie" show, I would clean up--assuming they asked about movies I've seen. Spoken dialogue, I've found, sticks with me. I adore snappy and heartfelt dialogue in books too, but for whatever reason, I don't retain it the way I do dialogue from movies and TV shows. (You'd think, then, that I would have good recall for dialogue from audio books, yet not so much.)

Anyway, I started thinking about ear memory the other day when I turned on the TV. I wasn't looking at the screen. All I heard was, "Always," and I knew it was the late Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. (I might have seen that movie a few times.) That one word transported me back right to the exact scene in the movie. Rickman delivered it perfectly, revealing so much about Snape's character. Even now, recalling the scene breaks my heart a little all over again.
Alan Rickman 

Of course, Rickman had help. His dialogue was written for him. Great dialogue depends on the team of great writers and great actors working together, as well as the folks who add the background music that adds drama or tugs at your heart. When done right, dialogue can be magical. I only need hear certain words or a sentences in the right voice, with the right rhythm, and I know the film. I'm transported in my mind right back to that scene.

Here are a few examples. They may not be the most well-known from each movie, but they certainly stand out:

"I want the truth!" "You can't handle the truth." Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

"You can't kiss her!" Sally Field in Soapdish

"Why can't I write shit like this?" Whoopi Goldberg in Soapdish

"Shall we play a game?" Joshua (computer) in War Games (even a computer can make dialogue memorable)


More Alan Rickman
"There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?" Emma Thompson in Love Actually

"Oh jeez. I'm getting pulled over. Everybody just pretend to be normal." Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying." Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption

"And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that?" Frances McDorman in Fargo

"You don't really know how much you can do until you stand up and decide to try." Kevin Kline in Dave

"Here's looking at you, kid." Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

"A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town." Todd Karns in It's a Wonderful Life (It's interesting that one of the most memorable lines in the film is from a minor character.)

And even more Alan Rickman
"I'll have what she's having." Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally (another minor character who steals the scene)

"By Grabthar's hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged." Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride


"You're going to the cemetery with your toothbrush. How Egyptian." Robin Williams in The Birdcage

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark

"It was like ... magic." Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle 

"I'm not crazy. I've just been in a very bad mood for forty years." Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias

"But I don't want to be a pirate." Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld

"I'm not insane. My mother had me tested." Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory

Alas, not Alan Rickman
but still wonderful



"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Gordon Jump in WKRP in Cincinnati

Inspired to go watch a great movie or to try to write your own memorable dialogue? Great. But before you go, please share your favorite movie or TV show line(s) of dialogue. The lines that stick with you, that you remember sometimes out of nowhere. The words that transport you and make you smile. And if you know how to make dialogue on the page stand out in memory the way spoken dialogue does, please let me know. I'm open to any and all tips.

And to all of you in the United States, happy Independence Day!

04 April 2015

Dial D for Dialect


by John M. Floyd



As a native of Mississippi, I confess that most writers south of the Mason-Dixon think they're good at writing dialect, or at least think they should write dialect, because the way southerners talk is so different and so recognizable. (If you don't believe that, you ain't seen the last of Ernest T. Bass.)

The truth is, whether we're good at it or not, we'd be well advised to (as one dominatrix said to the other) use a little restraint now and then. The overuse of dialect of any kind is far more risky than not using it at all. More about that later.

Calling the dialectrician

What exactly is dialect, anyway? Merriam-Webster says it's "a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations."

I prefer a simpler definition: it's the way specific groups (regional, ethnic, social, etc.) talk. And, make no mistake, all of us speak in dialect. It only sounds funny when it's not ours.

From a writing standpoint (which is, after all, where we at this blog should be standing and pointing from), dialect can at times be useful. All writers want their characters to have individual, believable voices. We should make them speak in dialogue that has unique phrases and interesting rhythms. I once heard that the key to fascinating characters is not the words they use but the way they use them. Reference a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: "I was sittin' on the porch, and he come along. There's this old chifforobe in the yard, and I said, 'You come in here, boy, and bust up this chifforobe, and I'll give you a nickel.'" To me, that's good use of dialect. I grew up the same part of the country as Harper Lee's Maycomb County, and I can assure you a lot of folks down here talk that way.

At theeditorsblog.net, Fiction Editor Beth Hill says we should "use contractions--I'd, isn't, weren't, would've, and so on. Then, when you don't use a contraction, the words will take on an emphasis they couldn't have if all words were written without contractions." (As in, I suppose, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Presidential statements should always be emphatic.)

Ms. Hill goes on to say that authors should "select one or two or half a dozen words that'll identify a character's background and accent or dialect. Or use a sentence construction or phrase pattern with recognizable accents." Another example of the proper use of dialect, this one from Huckleberry Finn: ". . . It was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out."

Compare that to this groaner of a line, from Huck's friend Jim: "I got hurt a little, en couldn't swim fas', so I wuz a considable ways behine you towards de las'." Go thou and don't do likewise.

Which brings up the other side of the coin:

Don't touch that dialect

The fact is, an overdose of dialect can kill your story deader than Billy Bob Shakespeare. Despite what we've seen in some of the work of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell, George Eliot, William Faulkner, and many others from long ago, the overuse of dialect these days can be as dangerous as the all-too-familiar overuse of adverbs, adjectives, italics, exclamation points, cliches, ellipses, etc. Any of those things are distractions when used too often, and can pull the reader out of the dream world you've worked so hard to create.

Too much dialect can also transform your characters from realistic and interesting to cartoonish and cliched. Not to mention the fact that it is sometimes--let's face it--politically incorrect.

Besides, most dialect is just plain annoying. In a DailyWritingTips piece called "Showing Dialect in Dialogue," Maeve Maddox says modern readers have little patience with this kind of writing. Detailed punctuation, she says, interferes with the narrative, and "some readers who speak nonstandard dialects find attempts to represent their home dialects--even if they are successful renditions--disrespectful." She then addresses one of my pet peeves: "Sprinkling dialogue with odd spellings is especially pointless when the misspelling conveys the same pronunciation as the standard spelling. For example, sez for says, and shure for sure. The consensus among today's writing coaches is that dialect is best expressed with vocabulary, grammar, and easily understood regional expressions, rather than with apostrophes and made-up spellings."

Screenplays can be a different matter. In the movie Fargo, they overused dialect quite a bit, for the purpose of humor--and it worked. Ya, darn tootin', youbetcha it did.


More quotes on this subject:

"Dialect is out. Hinting at a character's ethnic background or regional origins by very subtle means is in. The occasional foreign word or y'all will do, and by all means, don't spell funny. Editors hate funny spelling. So do intelligent readers." -- Carolyn Wheat, How to Write Killer Fiction

"Four out of five readers report that reading representations of heavy dialect is extremely bothersome." -- Lori L. Lake, "The Uses and Abuses of Dialect," justaboutwrite.com

"There is no point in spelling phonetically any word as it is ordinarily pronounced; almost all of us say things like 'fur' or for, 'uv' for of, 'wuz' for was, 'an' for and . . . When you misspell these words in dialogue, you indicate that the speaker is ignorant enough to spell them that way when writing." -- Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

"Dialogue that is written in dialect is very tiring to read. If you can do it brilliantly, fine . . . but be positive that you do it well, because otherwise it is a lot of work to read short stories or novels that are written in dialect." -- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

"Some writers try to use misspellings to convey dialect. Yet . . . those who speak differently don't spell differently; the words are the same. So the spelling should be standard." -- Beth Hill, as credited above

"Dialect is annoying to the reader. It takes extra effort to derive the meaning of words on the page . . . [also,] dialect is offensive to some readers." -- Sol Stein, Stein on Writing

Have a good dighe, mite

Another aggravation is that many U.S. writers seem to have problems with the English dialogue of characters from other countries. The best tip I've heard regarding foreigners' dialects came from Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell. He said we should use syntax (the order of the words rather than the words themselves) to indicate that someone's native language is not English. Example: "Please, where is bathroom?"

Anytime this topic comes up, I'm reminded of an e-mail I received years ago from an IBM colleague in the Philippines the week before I traveled to Manila to teach a check-processing class. His note to me (I printed it out and kept it) said, "I am having happy feeling about you come to visit."

Sometimes simple is the best option. In the article "Most Common Writing Mistakes: The Do's and Don'ts of Dialect" at helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com, K.M. Weiland says, "Readers are smart. They don't need much encouragement to get the idea that your character talks like Jackie Chan or Helen Mirren. Sometimes just mentioning your character's nationality will be enough to help readers hear the proper accent when reading your dialogue." She continues with: "Let your character's interesting word choices or incorrect sentence constructions carry the burden of conveying the foreignness of his speech." Good advice.

Personal observations

In my own writing, I commit dialect errors often, but I'm trying to cut back to two or three a week. I still leave the occasional "g" out of my writin' and rantin', and I can't seem to resist using "gonna" or "gotta" now and then. But I'm editing out more and more of the sho-nuffs and the scuse-me's and substituting correct spellings.

Finally, here's an example of dialect from one of my favorite movie characters: "Luke, when gone am I . . . the last of the Jedi will you be."

Now, gone am I. Back in two weeks I will be.






08 December 2013

Professional Tips: Speech! Speech!

by Leigh Lundin

I’ve been tutoring new writers in the basics. Realistic dialogue is difficult enough, not to mention outside the purview of my lessons, but I’m amazed how many writers haven’t mastered the ‘mechanics’, the essential punctuation required to make dialogue readable.

Punctilious Punctuation

The most obvious indicators of dialogue are the quotation marks that wrap the spoken words themselves. That seems simple enough, but situations arise that flummox many students, including the simplest declarative statement plus a speech tag identifying who spoke. It’s not uncommon to see:
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son.” he said.
The fullstop (period) confuses writers when adding a speech tag naming the speaker. If the phrase ended with a question mark or exclamation mark, then all would be well:
“And has thou slain the Jabberwock?” he said.
Recognizing the end of a declarative sentence, many students want to simply add He said or he said, rather than the correct form, a comma:
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son,” he said.
Is this the party to whom I am speaking?

Roughly half of students omit commas setting off the person being addressed. This can confuse the reader and can change the meaning of the sentence:
“Beware the Jabberwock my son.”
Is the speaker implying he fathered the Jabberwocky? Consider:
“Would you like to eat Mary?”
This works only if Mary is the victim, not the listener. What about the following? Is the speaker referring to a former king?
“Edward I swam the English Channel.”
Always set off the person addressed with commas:
“Yes, sir, I will.”
Beyond a Single Paragraph

What happens when a speaker’s dialogue breaks into uninterrupted paragraphs? The correct response is to place a quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, but place a closing quotation mark only after the final sentence of the last paragraph.
“Has thou slain the Jabberwock?
“Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
Momentarily stepping outside the realm of dialogue, we often wish to enclose words or phrases within quote marks as I did in the first paragraph above. When a comma or period is required, many authors simply write in this form, the ‘always inside’ rule:
(open quote) word/phrase (comma/fullstop)(close quote)
Other writers such as James Lincoln Warren argue that where you put the terminating punctuation depends on context and meaning, and I agree. (JLW also writes convincingly in support of the ‘Oxford comma’ indicating that its exclusion can alter the meaning of a list.)

The Stratemeyer Stain

“Everything I learned about writing, I learned from Edward Stratemeyer,” or so it seems from new writers some days.

Edward Stratemeyer has a lot to answer for. From the late 1800s through the first half of the twentieth century, the Stratemeyer Syndicate dominated the field of youth literature with more than 100 series and 1300 titles, books you’ve probably read: Nancy Drew (1930), The Hardy Boys (1927), Tom Swift (1910), The Bobbsey Twins (1904), The Rover Boys (1899), etc.

While you can find varied speech tags in Dickens and Doyle, Stratemeyer grew notorious for using any verb other than ‘said’. To wit:
Tom acquiesced, added, admitted, advanced, advised, affirmed, articulated, asserted, boasted, bragged, confirmed, demanded, demurred, frowned, grinned, gurgled, injected, murmured, queried, responded, shouted, smiled, snapped, snorted, whimpered, whined, whispered, “Stop the madness!”
When asked why writers shouldn’t use a full, glorious array of verbs, teachers find themselves unarmed. They say “You can’t frown words, you can’t smile an answer,” and hurriedly move on to the next topic.

Intrusion Alert

But there’s a better reason. Many editors and authors consider anything other than ‘said’ and perhaps ‘asked’ to be author intrusion. Instead of letting the words speak for themselves, the author inserts himself into the story to tell the reader how to interpret it. Rob Lopresti brilliantly identifies these as superfluous 'stage directions'. Many professional writers suggest readers don't 'hear' the verb 'said', that it's invisible to the eye and ear.

So it happens many students come prepared with thesauri-enhanced speech tags and they can’t believe it when instructed to slash them from their epics. “This can’t be right to replace our colorful, masterful, steroidal verbs with dull grey ‘said’?

More than one will decline, arguing “It’s just my style. I can’t change my style.” Fair enough, but don’t be surprised if your style might not be your publisher’s.

Low Marks

Here’s a little puzzle from ESLCarissa passed on from Post Secret. Jot your solution in the comments section!

I don't know how to punctuate.

11 June 2013

Putting a Face to the Name

by Terence Faherty

Last year a friend lent me his well-worn copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins.  My friend was aghast that I'd never read a book he considered seminal in the crime fiction field.  I enjoyed the novel.  It was easy to see that it would have been a standout when it was first published in 1971, since so much of it is told in dialogue and that dialogue is almost straight goodfellaese (almost twenty years before Goodfellas).  The novel appeared just after the publication of Mario Puzo's The Godfather (1969), but in tone it's almost the anti-Godfather.  The characters (Irish rather than Italian) are lower middle class and most of their crimes are two-bit.  Higgins' refusal to romanticize organized crime makes the book ring true.  That and the dialogue.

But it seems to me that Higgins' reliance on dialogue is both a strength and weakness of the novel.  It gives the book an immediacy that's almost like listening in on a wiretap, but it also makes it hard to root for or identify with any character in the book, including the title character, Eddie Coyle.  That mutes the ending a bit--or it did for me.  You can argue that a story without a hero was exactly what Higgins was after, but that isn't the issue I want to talk about today.  I want to stick with dialogue, with its advantages and limitations for presenting character.

When I write, I depend a lot on dialogue to help me get to know my characters.  That is, I get to know them by listening to them speak.  This is especially true of minor characters, the ones who weren't given much attention in my outline.  I seldom write much physical description of characters or very detailed "stage directions" in an early draft of a scene.  I come to see the character and how the character moves or fidgets or doesn't by listening to his or her voice.  Then I go back and add the non-dialogue elements.  In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, these elements are either missing or pared to the bone.  And because so many of the characters are speaking in the wise guy voice, it's hard to separate individuals from the pack.   I love the wiretap, but I'd like more video surveillance.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle intrigued me so much I decided to rent the movie version from Netflix.  It was released in 1973 and starred Robert Mitchum.  I enjoyed it even more than the novel.  For one thing, the clothes and cars and settings were out of a time capsule from my college years.  It was filmed around Boston, probably in '72 or early '73.  I arrived at Boston College (George V. Higgins' alma mater) in the fall of 1972.  I even once owned a Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia, like the one driven by one of the lowlifes in the movie.  (He gets razzed for it by his crook buddies, understandably.)  The movie easily overcame the problem I had with the book:  my inability to identify with or develop much sympathy for Coyle.  With a world-weary Mitchum in the part , I automatically rooted for him (to no avail).  All the actors in the movie provide the same service, giving faces to the voices of the book.

As a closing aside, It's amazing how adult the movies of the 70s were.  In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, there was no gratuitous romance, no showy violence, no soapbox posturing, and no big name star cast in a part he really isn't right for.  (Tom Cruise, call your office.)  In contrast, 2012's Killing Them Softly, based on another Higgins' novel, Cogan's Trade, was a disappointment.  It had a solid central performance by Brad Pitt, but it was marred by the grand opera style violence that's fashionable now.  Not to mention some high concept parallels to the 2008 financial meltdown that bowed the legs of Higgins' simple plot.  A better film might have sparked a Higgins revival.  This one didn't.