5 Days – 5 Photos Challenge – Day 4: Hierarchy

5 day photo challenge
Colleen from Silver Threading kindly set me this intriguing challenge. The rules are simple:

Post a photo each day for five consecutive days, and tell a story about each photo.  The story can be truth or fiction, poetry or prose.  Each day one must also nominate a fellow blogger to participate in the challenge.

Click on the image to see the origin.
Click on the image to see the origin.

I decided to try a dialogue only piece today. It’s interesting how it turned out, because this is not the conversation I had in mind. But who am I except a vessel for the interesting voices in my head!

“You’all right?”

“Now is that any way to speak to a lady?”

“My apologies. How are you, Beatrice, on this fine and sunny afternoon?”

“Now you’re humouring me. Should I be worried that you sought me out?”

“I’m no threat to you, if that’s what you mean.”

“Which implies there is a threat.”

“Does it?”

“I’ve never understood you. Perhaps that’s why I’m afraid.”

“Everyone would be afraid in your position. My role has never been an easy one.”

“No, I guess not. In fact yours must be a lonely existence.”

“It can be.”

“Are things so bad that you’ve taken up drinking?”

“This? No I found it lying by the swings where any child might find it.”

“The world is full of morons. I’ve always said so.”

“It is not our place to judge. That’s not why we were created.”

“Why must you always sound so condescending?”

“I’m condescending because I choose to see the best in people?”

“No, because you never break or bend the rules. It’s exhausting.”

“It’s funny. But that’s the easiest part of my job.”

“Which brings us right back to the beginning. What happens now?”

“It’s time for you to return home, Beatrice. Our kind are not meant to spend prolonged periods on Earth.”

“And yet you’ve been here longer than all of us.”

“Because it’s my responsibility to take care of you.”

“There you go patronising me again. What of my current assignments?”

“They’re already taken care of.”

“Then I guess there’s nothing left to say.”

“I guess not. Be well, Beatrice. I’ll see you again.”

“Will you still be my handler when I return?”

“Of course. I always take care of my own.”

***

I would like to extend the challenge to Gina Briganti today. I’m not sure she has the time to participate at the moment, but if her schedule allows it we’ll be in for a treat!

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time.

Mel

Writing Dialogue

We’ve all dipped into them: books whose plots zip along well enough but whose dialogue makes you want to slit your wrists. Or maybe the authors’ wrists. The kind where characters stand around telling each other what they already know, as if they have one eye on the reader and want desperately to clue in. Or whose characters don’t sound quite like they’re from this planet because something’s off in the rhythm of their speech.

Dialogue’s one of those places where your characters make themselves known directly, without the interpretation of the narrator. Or, let’s face it, the writer. So it needs to convince.

Great dialogue comes naturally to a few writers, and if you’re one of them, go read something that’ll be more useful to you. Me, though? I had to struggle with it, so if you’re not a natural, let me make a few recommendations:

Listen. Seriously. Listen to a short snippet of conversation. Then go away and write down as much it as you remember. It may not be much, so do it again, and then do it some more. Tune yourself to the rhythm of your own speech and the speech of people around you. Listen not just for the content of what people say but for the words, the phrases, the rhythms, the grammar, the oddities. Listen for anything that marks one person’s speech as particularly their own. In some speakers, you’ll find a peculiar strength and poetry once you learn to hear it.

Tape conversations. This is a variant on the last exercise. Tape a short bit of conversation, then transcribe it. Keep it short, because transcription’s a slow process. Again, you’re tuning your ear. A student of mine did this once and learned that her four-year-old had been tracking an entirely different set of events than the adults were.

Read your dialogue out loud. This feels strange at first, but do it anyway. If you have trouble speaking the words you’ve written, so will your characters. If something feels wrong, you don’t necessarily need to know what the problem is, just try something else. You don’t have to limit this to dialogue. Reading everything you write aloud will tune your writing to your speech patterns.

Redefine dialogue.  Dialogue isn’t just about speech. Listen for the pauses. Notice who interrupts and who gets interrupted. Watch for gestures and the ways they add to the conversation, and detract. Watch what people do with their hands and with the things they have in their hands. Or with their heads, their faces, their feet, and anything else you can think of. Watch where they breathe. Watch where you breathe, and how and why. Listen to the sound of their voices as well as the content. When you write down your snippet of dialogue, you don’t have to limit yourself to words alone. You may want to, but you can also use silence, visual information, and anything else that helps get the interchange on paper.

Notice the grammar of the spoken language: Very few of us use officially approved grammar when we’re talking. Example? Would you say “who interrupts whom”? It’s grammatically correct, but the spoken language is abandoning whom, and many of the people who still use it struggle to keep the rules straight because they don’t hear it enough for it to come naturally. Another example, and one I’m fond of, is the double is: “the fact is, is that….” I think it’s an Americanism, but how or when that got started I have no idea. We also speak in half sentences, in non-sentences, in sentences that on paper would go on for half a page. We change our minds halfway through what we’re saying and end up pairing a singular verb with a plural subject. We do all kinds of things that would drive a grammar teacher to tears, and we don’t notice most of them. Teach yourself to notice, and instead of disapproving, love the oddities.

Notice word choice: Listen to the actual words people use, not just what they’re trying to say. Who says, “That’s the way we speak” and who says, “That’s the way we talk”? What impact does that difference have? The more closely you listen, the less predictable your dialogue will be, and the more real.

Respect the speakers: Don’t try to make everyone sound the same. Respect the differences in their speech, but don’t exaggerate them. Treat all accents with respect—especially the ones that are different from your own. Be very careful about trying to catch an accent by misspelling words. A very few writers have managed to make this work, but the odds are good that you’ll make the character look ignorant—and make yourself look even more ignorant in the process. If you’re trying to capture an accent that is (or that you consider to be) nonstandard, use a very light hand or you’ll sink.

And finally, enjoy it. The spoken language is beautiful in all its oddities and unpredictabilities. Love it.


Ellen HawleyEllen Hawley is the author of three novels, The Divorce Diet (2014), Open Line  (2008), and Trip Sheets  (1998). She has taught fiction writing and has worked as an editor, a cab driver, a radio talk show host, and several other improbable things. Her blog, Notes from the UK, is about the oddities of living as an American in Britain. Stop by and see what she’s up to.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Thrilling Tuesdays' – Prompt #7

The daily prompts are back. For the first week of July the theme will be in the form of a final sentence. All you need to do is weave a ‘thrilling’ tale which concludes with the following sentence:

“Whichever way he played it, the result would be the same.”

 

[WR101 Prompt Series] Seductive Saturdays' – Prompt #6

This is the last dialogue based prompt for this weeks theme. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, and thanks to those who contributed.

So, here it is – your seductive opener for Saturday:

“Are you serious right now?”

Enjoy!dialogue

NB: The usual daily prompts will be taking a short break, but will return on the 1 July 2014. In the meantime I have created the ’30 Days of June’, which incorporates a different prompt for each day.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Fictional Fridays' – Prompt #6

This week the theme is based on dialogue, so each day I will post the opening line and all you need to do is continue from there. It’s a dialogue only prompt, which can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.

So, your opener for Friday is:

“Welcome back, Captain.”

Enjoy!dialogue

NB: I will be taking a break from running the daily prompts at the end of this week. The next series, and a new theme, will begin on the 1 July 2014.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Terrifying Thursdays' – Prompt #6

This week the theme is based on dialogue, so each day I will post the opening line and all you need to do is continue from there. It’s a dialogue only prompt, which can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.

So, your chilling opener for Thursday is:

“It looked at me…I swear to you, the thing saw me.”

Enjoy!dialogue

NB: I will be taking a break from running the daily prompts at the end of this week. The next series, and a new theme, will begin on the 1 July 2014.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Weird and Whacky Wednesdays' – Prompt #6

This week the theme is based on dialogue, so each day I will post the opening line and all you need to do is continue from there. It’s a dialogue only prompt, which can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.

So, your whacky opener for Wednesday is:

“What do you mean, it’s gone?”

Enjoy!dialogue

NB: I will be taking a break from running the daily prompts at the end of this week. The next series, and a new theme, will begin on the 1 July 2014.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Thrilling Tuesdays' – Prompt #6

This week the theme is based on dialogue, so each day I will post the opening line and all you need to do is continue from there. It’s a dialogue only prompt, which can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.

So, your thrilling opener for Tuesday is:

“After all this time, you still don’t get it.”

Enjoy!dialogue

NB: I will be taking a break from running the daily prompts at the end of this week. The next series, and a new theme, will begin on the 1 July 2014.

[WR101 Prompt Series] Mystery on Mondays' – Prompt #5

 

dialogueThis week the theme is based on dialogue, so each day I will post the opening line and all you need to do is continue from there. It’s a dialogue only prompt, which can be challenging, but also a lot of fun.

So, your mysterious opener for Monday is:

 “Why the hell did you do that?”

 

Enjoy!

 

NB: I will be taking a break from running the daily prompts at the end of this week. The next series, and a new theme, will begin on the 1 July 2014.