"Tha's tryin' to jest the jester!"
-The Scarlet-Gypsy Song
Banter is good-natured jibing and teasing, while Verbal Sparring is jibing and teasing with intent and reason; often to discomfit the opponent--not to elicit a laugh from them. I think of banter like friends playing chicken-fights in the water, while verbal sparring is like playing stick-knife with a real knife and a gang of rough-and-tumbles standing at the ready to pound you if you win.
Essentially, The Scarlet-Gypsy Song is a book full of characters that are all too clever for their own good. They each have a rather high opinion of their intellect, and it can result in tidy little tit-for-tats. The challenge in writing it, of course, was not to let bantering go too far on its own. Often I turned what had been banter into verbal sparring, because who really wants to sit and listen to banter on its own for eight paragraphs?--certainly not I. But banter is a fabulous way to ease into a tense situation. The tone is light, congenial, and then suddenly turns desperate.
“I have no wish to fight you.”
“Haven’t you?” Mockery and contempt mingled freely in Diccon’s tones. What a donkey this fellow was—he wondered with idle curiosity whether Peter Quickenhelm was at all related to Sir Roger Guillbert, but the thought was brief. There were more important matters at hand. “You call yourself a soldier, and yet you are fearful of meeting a man in fair combat?”
Peter raised his eyes and all the pride of a wounded lion flashed from them and scalded Diccon. “Is ambush considered fair combat?”
Diccon observed him with his head on one side and a pitying eye. “Many a wiser man has answered that question: ‘All’s fair in love and war,’ or haven’t you heard? I rather think you are besotted with love—or something rather cruder—for these damsels. I—” he put a hand to his leather veskit, “—am a man of war. Therefore, I deem it fair combat, and you, my chosen opponent.”
The beauty of banter and verbal sparring is that it wards off melodrama as effectively as Thief's Oil wards off illness. I have used banter to lighten moments of danger, but it's also equally effective in romantic scenes--a tactic I used more than once in my other novel, Fly Away Home. See, I'm not a big one for deep, dramatic dialog. I enjoy reading it sometimes (especially in older books) but I don't choose to write it--it isn't a natural tone for me. When you are writing with a sweeping, emotional voice, it can be hard to avoid coming across as melodramatic. That is when the all-purpose tool of banter or verbal sparring could save the day. Try it, and see how it works out for you!
Diccon turned around and caught
eye, then smiled. He approached her and extended his hand. “Ah, my own
sister—let me escort you to the very capable hands of that fierce little
wench—Dear-Heart, was it? You look in need of a good wash.”
“Is it not a gentleman’s duty to tell the truth? There—I have silenced you.” He laughed and patted her shoulder. “Get you to the chamber and clean up—it will be a mighty evening.”