One of the hardest things about fiction is dialogue. One of the best writers of dialogue, in my view, was the crime fiction author Raymond Chandler.
I’ve been revisiting his work recently, and recalled this passage from his first novel, “The Big Sleep,” which is maybe my favorite exchange ever. Here is private detective Phillip Marlowe smarting off to his new client’s butler, Norris:
“…What does Mrs. Regan want to see me about?”
His blue eyes gave me a smooth level look. “She has a misconception of the purpose of your visit, sir.”
“Who told her anything about my visit?”
“Her windows command the greenhouse. She saw us go in. I was obliged to tell her who you were.”
“I don’t like that,” I said.
His blue eyes frosted. “Are you attempting to tell me my duties, sir?”
“No. But I’m having a lot of fun trying to guess what they are.”
We stared at each other for a moment. He gave me a blue glare and turned away.
This scene, like the entire book, feels effortless. But note the way he weaves so cleanly between dialogue and exposition. And, more so, note how clever the dialogue is. Particularly the last lines in the exchange, which send me to giggles each time I re-read it.