Sunday, September 18, 2011

You'll Never Guess What I Just Heard...

At this stage in my still to be completed novel I have been having difficulty with the dialogue. As a first step, I purchased "Writing Dialogue" by Tom Chiarella, which is a great book, and I highly recommend it. In Tom's book, there are a number of exercises for gathering dialogue, as well as recognizing the nuances and rhythm of the way we say things.

The first exercise I decided on was to carry a notebook with me everywhere and write down the last statement/phrase that I said when talking to someone. I thought it would be boring, but feeling open-minded (and a bit desperate to fix my dialogue problems) I went for it. Boy, was I wrong about boring! It is amazing what comes out of my mouth some days!

I learned that there are catch phrases that I use too often:

"Right on" and "that's funny," being the worst offenders

And then there are the one-offs that probably won't be said again in the history of mankind, although, I have come to realize that parents do tend to put together phrases that you just never would conceive of hearing, like:

"Grover, stop licking the sofa!" and: "Don't do it again; when you lick the DVD's it makes the machine sticky!"

If nothing more, I learned through that exercise that my son licks too many things that are not really 'lick-able'!

The next exercise was to "Crowd." This is when you go to a public place and basically eavesdrop on conversations. Typically, a mall is a great place for people-watching, but for dialogue-listening, I find that the echoed voices create too much of a din to properly hear conversations. I decided on our local bookshop, which is equipped with a handy coffee shop.

With Grover as my 'cover', (I mean, how much more unassuming can a tot and a mom playing 'go fish' be?) we headed to the circle of chairs to set up our... erm... dialogue sting. I was hopeful; there was a pair of middle-aged men sitting in two of the chairs engaged in conversation, stern conversation I gathered from their expressions. I settled into a chair in the corner and gave Grove my credit card to get a hot cocoa from the counter (probably won't be able to to that much longer; he'll be coming back with more that hot cocoa before long!).

Man with beard: "I know, I know. I told her she should make her amends before--"
Man with beanie: "Before it's too late, but it was."
Man with beard: "Bitterness, man... Bitterness will eat you up and kill you from the inside out."
Man with beanie: "I know; I told my niece the same thing before her mother died... Ate her up... Can't take it back now."
Man with beard: "You want another lemon cake?"
Man with beanie: "Yeah, alright."

They got up and went to wait in line behind Grover, who, already exerting his independence, was receiving, not only a cocoa, but a plate with a donut on it, complete with frosting and yellow sprinkles. Grover came back to me, proud of his sticky accomplishment. I quickly fished my credit card out of his pocket.

Grove and I were halfway through a game of 'go fish' by the time another dialogue opportunity sauntered in and plopped down in chairs close to us. They were a pair of teens; a tall, thin boy with just a bit of fuzz on his chin, and a short girl close in age to the boy, with a light pink flush on her cheeks and ears; obvious hints of infatuation.

I got my notebook ready and pulled my secret weapon for Grover out of my purse: A new "Charlie and Lola" book I had purchased in secret. Grove took the book with relish, and I brandished my pen...

Boy:  "You don't want anything do you?" (Code for: I'm broke, I can't buy you a coffee)
Girl:  "No, I'm fine; I'm not even hungry... at all." (Code for: I'm starving, but I know you're broke)
Boy:  "Cool."
Girl:  "So it was, like, totally cold today!"
Boy:  "Yeah, I guess."
Girl:  "Yeah... and I was, like, waiting at the bus stop, and, like, was gonna go in a get a sweater, but like, I knew my mom wouldn't gimme a ride to school if I missed the bus, so I just, like, froze."
Boy:  "Yeah."
Girl:  "So... yeah."
Boy:  ...
Girl:  "So cold..."

I looked up from my notebook at this point; partially because Grover was beginning to vibrate from cocoa/donut combination, and partly to check and make sure the boy hadn't gone into a coma.  The boy was sitting in the armchair with his chin in his hand, stroking the tuft of hair with his pinkie while the girl sat in the chair caddie-corner to his looking at her fingernails, but stealing glances at the boy (perhaps wondering herself if he had, indeed, fallen into some sort of coma).

I don't suppose using the second conversation in writing will win any O'Henry awards, however, the act of paying close attention to everything that accompanies a conversation will help to build our ability to write more effective dialogue.

My challenge to you:  Get yourself a notebook and steal away!  Learn the art of lurking for dialogue, and it will improve your skill... at the very least, you'll have fun feeling like a spy!

Write prolifically!


Monday, August 22, 2011


Last night after Grover went to sleep, my friend from Portland sent me a text in response to a panicked text I sent to him about all the pressure I'm under right now.  The text simply said: "Breathe. Go outside & look at the Milky Way; I'm looking at it right now."

I went down to my dock with a blanket wrapped around me. I didn't look up until I was settled on the dock, facing where I knew the fuzzy band of the Milky Way would be... I closed my eyes first, listening.

Sounds trickled into my awareness slowly, then gaining volume. The lapping of the water against the dock gently rocked me.  The voices of snickering children heading to their bunks for the night floated lazily across the cove from MDA camp.  A duck or two that swam softly, but not silently near the shore ruffled their feathers in a flurry of urgency.  Frogs called amphibious love songs back and forth, though I'm sure the mocking tone I was sure I heard was my own insertion.

The smell of seaweed and salt, and wet rocks were comforting in their familiarity, but from somewhere, the smell of lilies tainted the air; out of place mingled with the scent of the saltwater bay.

Finally I lie back and open my eyes, straining at first, then seeing it; the magical sprinkling of the Milky Way spread across the sky like so much salt tossed over the shoulder of God.   I marveled at the beauty of it and was reminded how, in spite of all trials and worries, God is still good.   I am who and where I am supposed to be.  And I am thankful...

If you can be thankful at the end of the day, you will have whatever strength you need to get through tomorrow. ~RR

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

By Any Other Name

Claudia Honeywell hiked her over-sized purse higher onto her shoulder, bracing the bag with her hip she leaned over the cold, Formica counter top. She looked over the form and paused with the pen poised over the signature line for just a breath, than pushed the point of the pen onto the document and signed her name for the last time. She was finally rid of the name...the legacy.

The sickening sweetness of 'Honeywell', the name forever carried by her brothers… her father… carried forward into history with heavy shame that would not be hers to bear any more. A single tear punctuated the still-wet ink, leaving a dirty smudge on the paper that would no longer be a stain on her heart.

~Rebecca Reece

March 2011