This week I thought I’d offer up the writing exercise to a guest to direct. I put the call out on twitter and one lone wolf called back: Dan Holloway, author of: The Company of Fellows.
He offers us a writing exercise on dialogue. I hope you comment to let him know how much you enjoyed this week’s exercise, and as if a nifty exercise wasn’t enough, I am offering the gift of Four Years from Home by Larry Enright to a random commenter from the month.
There are things you’ll commonly hear when people talk about writing dialogue. And like every worthwhile lesson they’re both essential and utter rot. Never use anything but “said” and “asked” is the first, and it’s coupled with “use them sparingly if at all, and only so people don’t lose track.” And the second is a qualification of that “though you shouldn’t really need tags at all because each character should have their own distinctive voice.”
Super. And there are other great pieces of advice like “enter the conversation late and leave it early” and “make it realistic not real” and “don’t use dialogue for information dumps” and “dialogue gets you from one point in the scene arc to its goal”.
Super duper. Very true. Great. You’ve got the mechanics. Try telling your disgruntled lover the morning after “what are you complaining about, I’ve got the mechanics.”
So here’s the exercise. It’s about colour and sound. And taste, touch and smell I guess. Basically it’s about mood. Feel. You know the kind of thing – like those apps for cameras that make your photos look sepia, or soft focus.
I’m giving you a man and a woman in a cafe. We don’t know what they’re doing but we do know it’s 6pm and the man she’s with isn’t the woman’s husband but she’s going to be with her husband 8. and you’re going to write them three ways. You know, like those fancy meals. Like venison cooked three ways.
The cues you get are all mood cues. And they’re all based on movies. First up, think Vincent and Mia in Pulp Fiction (watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HQh4YRw9H8). It’s hip, it’s slick, it’s hard-boiled. Next we have Brief Encounter (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hubyFqSUaGA), all propriety and repression and denial. And finally a masterclass from the one and only Juliette Binoche in Three Colours: Blue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8R0RQ3F0hE), full of worldliness and flirtation and layering and menace.
And here’s the thing. I want you to have the characters have the exact same conversation (word for word if you can, but at least blow by blow the same subject). And I want you to make them as different as those three clips.
Prompt 1: it’s all about how you tag and POV the dialogue, because tagging is about so much more than telling us who said what. It’s about fell, mood, rhythm. How do you create a breath, a beat, a pause in dialogue? Throw in a “he said”. Take the following sentence:
“I always loved you but it wasn’t enough.”
She said, “I always loved you but it wasn’t enough.”
“I always loved you but it wasn’t enough,” she said
“I always loved you,” she said. “But it wasn’t enough.”
Three completely different rhythms. Three completely different lines of dialogue. But only because of the tags.
Prompt 2: Read your first conversation again. Now try omitting all quotation marks, writing it as a single sentence and splicing every piece of dialogue together with “and he said…and she said…and he said”. Go on. Let loose and try it. I dare you.
Dan Holloway (http://danholloway.wordpress.com) is a writer and spoken word performer. He is the author of, amongst other things, The Company of Fellows (http://www.amazon.com/The-Company-of-Fellows/dp/B004PLMHYC), Black Heart High(http://www.amazon.com/Black-Heart-High-ebook/dp/B0053CPFDC), and Songs from the Other Side of the Wall (http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Other-Side-Wall-ebook/dp/B003LN1UBG).
Feel free to comment below, paste your story, a line from your story, a complaint about the exercise, whatever…and get entered to win a copy of Four Years From Home by Larry Enright at the end of the month.
Now, go. Be creative if you can. Mwah ha ha