The Making of a Dialogue Exercise

On Saturday I mentioned a post on dialogue that I thought could give some direction regarding a dialogueing exercise or two. I’d hoped with a little research I might find other helpers for such, but in the time I’ve alloted myself I haven’t. The reason I wanted to look around more is because the post I mentioned doesn’t complete its thought regarding its premise. Or at least the premise I’ve inferred.

It lists ten modes of dialogue:
1. Probing – to gain information
2. Sarcastic – to reverse the momentum
3. Abrupt – to end an interaction bluntly
4. Angry – to release tension
5. Despondent – to express negative emotions
6. Inhibiting – to disallow undermine
7. Supportive – to relate acceptance
8. Uncaring – to relate lack of concern
9. Demanding – to overwhelm opinion
10. Prohibitive – to change direction

I haven’t and I won’t take the time to vet this list or its definitions—it feels like I ought to—but I won’t. He goes on to pair each of these active dialogue pursuits with their correlative reactive partners.

Probing requires a Revealing reply.
Sarcasm requires a Serious reply.
Abruptness requires a Calm reply.
Anger requires a Nice reply.
Despondence requires a Happy reply.
Inhibition requires an Encouraging reply.
Supportiveness requires an Uncooperative reply.
Uncaring requires a Caring reply.
Demands require a Trivial reply.
Prohibiton requires an Unrestrictive reply.

I’ve translated his listing structure to appeal to my own sense of pattern, but I don’t think I’ve lost the gist. He goes on to mention the need for conflict, and I start to cheer but then he never hits the mark despite his remarkably solid set of examples. Instead he wanders into a few statements about subtext and deeper which make no sense to me. Lastly, he ends with the application of the above to a movie; I htink that was fine enough, but not terribly coherent.

Anyway, that doesn’t stop me from thinking what I thought rather than what I think he said, which is that these active and reactive pairs, when used in concert, elicit conflict between speakers—and that he’s got a few that need correcting. At least one. And it’s the first one. Which may be what confused me when I first read this. If you probe someone and they reveal what they know, that’s not terribly conflicty. So let’s amend that to: Probing requires a Rebuffing reply.

Now we’re cooking.

Here’s the thing though—and maybe this was his hope for whatever he was talking about with subtext—these are overt pairings. To get to the subtext, to get to the part where the reader plays a role in the dialogue, you need to write these pairs indirectly or askew of the mark.

“Where’s the bathroom?” — “I’m not telling you.” versus “I need to pee.” — “Someone’s in there.”

475 words on day 829