CRAFT: Dialogue exercise

On the WRITING FidoList, we’re playing a little game.

We’re posting a snippet from one of our works. It has to be untagged dialogue. We’re trying to see if readers can figure out what’s going on without tags or attributions. You wouldn’t want to do an entire novel this way, but sometimes you can do this and it can work well. Some writers are naturally more cinematically minded than others, and some are the old-fashioned “readerminds” like me who enjoy the other stuff just as much, and love to see the turns of phrase characteristic of a writer-type. But this is a cool exercise.

The best one I’ve seen so far is from Carl Thames. I think this is from his NaNovel. We’ve got to get this guy writing fiction . . . he’s done mostly nonfiction.

“Well, we were doing fine until Numbnuts here yelled, ‘Sit down and shut the hell up!'”

“He walked into a biker bar and told everybody to shut up?”

“OW, watch that. Yeah, he did, and I was dumb enough to be with him when he did it.”

“Who threw the first punch?”

“I did.”

“Oh? Why?”

“This guy was coming at me with a chair. He was holding it over his head.”

“Hold still, one more stitch, then we move on to the arm.”

“While I was decking the turkey with the chair, Brainiac reaches out and grabs the waitress on the butt. Man, this place stinks. Smells like Clorox.”

“We got to keep it clean. Regs. She wasn’t a waitress.”

“You’re telling me that now?”

“So what did she do?”

“She hit him right between the eyes. Really pretty straight right.”

“That’s when the rest of them jumped up?”

“I guess. I was kinda busy by then. I didn’t really see what everyone was doing. That last one hurt.”

“Alcohol is an alkaloid, Lidocaine is a base. They cancel each other out. We got three broken jaws waiting back there. You do that?”

“I know I did two of them, but it was self-defense.”

“What about the cracked pelvis?”

“That might have been me too. I know I nailed one guy really good.”

“That hurts to think about.”

“Numbnuts told me the guy’s feet came off the floor when I kicked him.”

“Whoa. Give me a minute here.”

“Hey, he broke the first beer bottle.”

“Looks like that got popular real quick.”

“Yeah, but what can you do? Guy comes at you with sharp objects, you either do something or you’re sushi.”

“I guess you know one of those guys is touch and go whether he’s going to make it or not?”

“Not my problem. If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.”

“Okay, let’s have the arm. Damn, what caused this?”

“That was the knife. Somebody always has a knife.”

“Which one was he?”

“Broken arm, for sure. Yeow, you have to jerk the bandage like that?”

“Broken arm, six broken ribs, probably a broken cheek. I saw him. It’s either jerk it off or take it a half-inch at a time. You rather have that?”

“No, quick is better. He had it coming. More with the needle?”

“Yeah, I gotta numb it up as much as I can. You got some sub-cue going here. Hold still.”

“Man, I hate needles.”

BarbJ’s suggested contribution for after this passage:

The resident appeared in the doorway. He leaned against the doorjamb. “So was the bar burned to the ground from when someone got tossed into the fryer?”

The next step in this exercise is for us to post the snippet with attributions and see whether this makes the scene more vivid. If it doesn’t, we need different action tags.

I’m going to post my contribution there in a minute, but you get to see it first!
# # #
This is a scene from when Ari arrives in Marfa.

“C’mon down. Yee-ha, little dogie. See that? That one’s for the record books.”

“Buzz, stop that foolishness. This here’s Arrietty French, the girl come to get Aaron’s things. She don’t need to see you playin’ at that and think you’re a tired old coot.”

“I was tired, and now I’m tired again, so I suppose you could say I’m re-tired. Francis James Parker, but call me Buzz, little lady.”

“Ariadne French. Everyone calls me Ari.”

“Airy it is, then. I tore up my shoulder the first time I swung this rope around. Now look at me. Well, you saw. A man’s got to do something for fun, and I’m too old to chase girls.”

“You’d get your fanny whupped if you tried.”

Original version:

A tall older man stood in their barren field of a front yard, tossing a lasso. I hesitated, thinking this could be a bad way to be introduced–becoming a calf substitute for his practice–but then I realized he was aiming the loop at a metal statue, a roping dummy. He spied us and twirled the rope in our direction à la Roy Rogers.

“C’mon down,” he called, sounding just like the announcer on “The Price is Right.” Holding the tip of his tongue between his obviously-capped front teeth, he swung the lariat. The noose slipped deftly over the practice steer’s neck, and he snapped the rope taut. “Yee-ha, little dogie,” he crowed. “See that? That one’s for the record books.”

“Buzz, stop that foolishness.” Cora wiped her hands on her balled-up apron, even though she hadn’t touched anything and I couldn’t imagine what she might think had gotten on them. “This here’s Arrietty French, the girl come to get Aaron’s things. She don’t need to see you playin’ at that and think you’re a tired old coot.”

He grinned, winding and looping the rope around his shoulder and elbow like real cowboys do. “I was tired, and now I’m tired again, so I suppose you could say I’m re-tired.” He held out his hand. “Francis James Parker, but call me Buzz, little lady.”

He was old enough that the “little lady” didn’t seem sexist or affected. “Ariadne French. Everyone calls me Ari.”

“Airy it is, then.” His face took on a triumphant little-boy expression. “I tore up my shoulder the first time I swung this rope around. Now look at me. Well, you saw.” He pointed at the dummy. “A man’s got to do something for fun, and I’m too old to chase girls.”

“You’d get your fanny whupped if you tried,” put in Cora.
# # #
Perfection’s probably somewhere in between, but I like the version with the action and attributions. That’s how I visualized the scene. But this scene wasn’t really very much like Carl’s . . . it needs the scene-setting.

# # #
Internet Explorer insisted on updating itself last night while I slept. Now it has tabs and all sorts of rot. I can’t get used to the new look. *grump* I don’t need whatever this new stuff is. I need the old, smaller toolbar back.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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