In my opinion, telephone conversations can either make or break a scene. More often than not, telephone scenes have pacing issues (the conversation is broken, unnatural sounding, or hard to follow), there is too much awkward "phone handling" action, or the scenes are just plain clunky.
If you're going to include a telephone conversation in your book, I recommend they do one of three things - help establish something important about your characters, serve to relay important plot information to your characters (and to your readers), or fulfill a plot point.
Just for the sake of saying so, I've rarely seen a telephone conversation used specifically to fulfill a plot point in a romance. I'm not saying it can't happen. I've just noticed it usually happens in thrillers or horror novels. For example, a political thriller where a military officer calls in a set of missile launch codes. Or a character is trapped in a building and is using a walkie-talkie/cell phone to stay in contact with the police/terrorists. Or a potential (horror movie) survivor calls the police after being on the run from a homicidal maniac during the first half of a book or film.
The telephone conversation in A Beauty Uncovered is well written, and it offers the reader a ton of information about the involved characters - who they are, how they act, and what their relationship is like - all this while moving the story forward. I recommend reading the book to see a telephone conversation used effectively in a romance.
There are no hard and fast rules for writing a phone scene that I'm aware of. As far as that goes, you could write an entire book about nothing but two characters talking on the phone if you wanted to. That said, I'm compiling this list to make note of a few things I've noticed about my favorite romantic phone scenes.
- They are usually brief, often no more than five pages long.
- No head hopping. Choose a POV character and stick with that character for the duration of the scene.
- Good dialogue still applies. The dialogue should feel "natural". I've noticed the best phone conversations read as if the people speaking are in the same room together. If your character is speaking to an automated voice, keep the fleshy character's actions/reactions as real as possible.
- Banter is a good thing. Flirty, funny, cruel, angry, whatever. Just make sure it fits the tone of the scene.
- Don't juggle the phone. Once the phone is in action, it's not necessary to interrupt your dialogue just to remind the reader your character is talking on the phone. It's not necessary to continually swap ears, twirl the cord, etc. The conversation is probably more important than how the phone is held, so try not to interrupt your dialogue with a series of unnecessary and distracting actions.
- Don't let the conversation take place in a vacuum. Orient the reader briefly during the conversation. Is the character walking when he pulls out the phone and dials the heroine's number? Does he sit on the couch to prepare to call his mother? Does he step outside the hospital into the cool night air to make a difficult phone call? Give the reader just enough information to create a concrete sense of mood, time, and place, then let 'er rip.
- It's okay to mix exposition in with the dialogue, but keep description to a minimum. To keep the scene flowing, stay in character and keep the exposition relevant to the conversation. One thing to watch out for: the exposition shouldn't go on so long the reader forgets what the conversation itself is about.
I recommend reading A Beauty Uncovered to see all the elements pulled together. The page numbers for the telephone scene are listed at the top of this blog post. If you do buy and read the book, I'd love to hear what you think of it.
If you'd like to read my review of A Beauty Uncovered, you can click the link to check it out at Goodreads. If you'd like to purchase a copy of the book, click here to go to Barnes and Noble online. (Important note: I do not receive anything - no affiliate points, money, or rewards, etc. - in return for you clicking on my links. They are there simply for your convenience.)