“Home for Christmas” by Melanie Wilber is a pleasant general fiction story that will appeal to fans of “The Waltons” or “The Brady Bunch”. It’s the story about a very introverted woman who is going home for the Christmas holidays to reunite with her family. It’s a good story to read before going to bed because it’s not the type of book that will keep you turning the pages.
The story has a nice plot, interesting characters and decent values, but what makes it so tedious to read is the lack of dialogue. The first seven chapters have no conversation of any kind, except for a smattering of small talk and chit-chat. After that, the author begins to use some conversation, but not as much as she could. Dialogue is a useful element that authors can use to make a story engaging, and to solve several other problems.
Engagement is what pulls the reader into the story to make the reader feel like they are there. In the first scene, Lindsey is at a women’s luncheon with her best friend, Ruth. She spends the evening thinking about her last boyfriend, and the upcoming holiday. If she had talked about her feelings instead of just sitting there, she would seem like more of a friend than just a wallflower; the type of person who can be all alone in a crowd. If she talked about her boyfriend to Ruth, the reader would feel like they are listening to the conversation. The reader can’t feel like they’ve “met” her if all she is doing is thinking.
Dialogue also solves the problem of what to do with all the backstory. Lindsey has a divorced sister with a new boyfriend, a mother and father, nieces and nephews, and all types of people that need to be introduced. A conversation about them would be a better way to introduce the cast without doing page after page of just backstory.
Dialogue can add emotion and action to an otherwise sedate scene. In the opening scene, Lindsey is at a women’s luncheon. Not much can happen while you’re eating, but if she was talking about her old boyfriend, and how much he hurt her, Ruth could place a hand on hers, raise an eyebrow, or give her a hug.
Dialogue also offers a chance to sneak in physical descriptions in small pieces. After she says something, Lindsey can look at her manicured nails, raise a neatly plucked eyebrow, or straighten a loose strand of her silky, light brown hair. Reminding the reader of what she looks like in this way helps cement the image in the reader’s mind, and that also helps make the story engaging. It also allows for a chance to add items to a description that are often overlooked. How much makeup a woman wears can add to the woman’s character, but it’s an item that is often overlooked in a physical description paragraph. However, if Lindsey begins to cry because of what she said, the author can let her dab away the tears in a way that doesn’t smear her heavily mascaraed lashes.
Dialogue also helps with the basic rule of writing: show, don’t tell. The way the story is now, the author tells you about Lindsey and her family. The author tells you how lonely and hurt Lindsey is after her breakup with Joel. It would be better if the author showed you how lonely she is by allowing Lindsey to tell Ruth how she feels and what happened to her, wringing her hands and rolling her eyes.
Dialogue also helps import the senses into the scene. This family does a lot of cooking for the holidays. The food looks and tastes good, but none of it smells. “Gee, that smells delicious!” adds another sense.
Dialogue is also a way to make the heroine strong and courageous in the reader’s assessment of them. It takes courage to admit your mistakes. If she spends too much time just thinking about it, then the character seems to be wallowing in self-pity.
As it is, “Home for Christmas” is a nice story. If it had effective dialogue, it could be a great one.