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

Looking for a New Exercise

I’m looking for a new lesson. Not that I’ve exhausted the Comma Fanboys one but I’d like to incroporate others for variety and growth. There are likely a few more comma related ones I ought to codify. Appositives and introductory phrases come to mind. I could probably find meat outside the comma hard-on I seem to have as well. I’ve noticed I’m using more hyphens lately and think I may be using them incorrectly.

However, I’d like to find some structural elements to make in to exercises. Bickham’s book suggests a few I could easily enough run with. Action-reaction couplets. Five-sentence scenes: goal, conflict-conflict-conflict, disaster. Or Four-sentence sequels: emotion, thought, decision, action.

I found a dialogue related bit of craft tonight while skimming Evernote for help. It contends dialogue fits into ten active categories and their ten reactive reverses. The ten pairs cling tremulously to that blog, and I’m sure I’d have to prop them up with some brain lifting before I had an exercise worth doing. As far as I know though, that’s the best I’ve got for dialogue craft.

181 words on day 827<£>

Comma On My Mind

  • I think today I’ll do some exercises, and I may seek new ones.
  • Hovering over the keyboard, his fingers contemplated their next move.
  • Clouds drenched us overnight and gray hangs overhead this morning, so I feel like writing about water.
  • Last night I told my wife I think writing well would mean writing full time, but I don’t think I will take on that challenge soon.
  • As it turns out, knowing where to put the commas isn’t all that hard.
  • My grammar for fiction writers book is in my desk drawer, yet I resist opening either util I can nail all the conjunctions.
  • I don’t think I will get them all from memory, plus I haven’t figured out how to use ‘nor’ at all.
  • I’m still shaky on the introductory phrase, for I often find I write longer ones than I think are allowed to be called introductory.
  • I’m not sure if questions constitute a full sentence, nor am I sure why I would think that were true.
  • Eesh, that nor one kills me.
  • I shouldn’t forget the comma before names. Right, Scott?

What other exercise can I dream up?

I read about SVO order, and I thought I might work on that more. I also read one author who recommended back loading sentences with your core thought. Either of those might make good exercises.

I’ll explore those later.

xxx words on day 586