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Writers' Workshop #4 - Avoiding Exposition through Dialogue

 
 
jespah
 
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 04:05 pm
I am not a writing teacher, and this is not school. The idea here is that we can all teach each other to be better writers. Constructive criticism (e. g. always welcomed. Destructive criticism (e. g. you stink!) is never welcomed. Vague criticisms and/or praise (e. g. that was amazing!) is lovely but it's a lot more helpful if there are some specifics.

Everyone is welcome to write, and everyone is welcome to critique. Anyone wishing to suggest a workshop topic should send me a Private Message. Workshop topics will be opened pretty much whenever I have topics.

Thank You!

Now for the current challenge:

In writing, we often need to explain things. We set scenes, we describe furniture, we insert a mood, etc. It's tempting to do this through exposition. Exposition is fine, so long as it isn't over-used. E. g.

Quote:
Emily felt tired. Very tired. Like she'd been working all day, which she had. And the day before, and the day before that. Tired, tired, tired.


Wouldn't it be better to just write:

Quote:
Emily said, "I'm exhausted."


Both are "correct", per se, but the second example gets the same idea across without making the reader plod through endless prose. The first example makes the reader as tired as poor Emily is!

So here's the idea:

You are to write a short two-character scene about anything - anything at all - but you cannot use anything but dialogue. No "he said", "she said" or "the clock was ticking" or the like. Get the characters to tell the story, or at least to explain who they are. Get the dialogue to set the scene.

Now, it's tempting to do this in a very unnatural manner, e. g. "I'm Doug, and I'm a handsome, fourth-year English major from Auburn, Alabama, into sailing and French cooking. I have a trust fund and my mother thinks I'm irresponsible but I have poisoned her so I can be free." etc. No one talks like that. It sounds like a personal ad, not half of a conversation! So you'll need to try to get it to sound natural and unforced.

To keep things clear, either use separate colors or italic and regular script for the two characters. So, Doug is blue posts and Emily is red, for example. If you don't know how to format text, use the "Reply" key and type out your story. Once done, scroll your mouse over the first line you wish to format. Select a formatting option from the boxes (B for Bold, i for Italic, U for underline, or pull down the font color from the drop-down. Please don't use the green from the rainbow as it's hard to read. See?

I'll post a sample below. Feel free to critique or add samples on this thread. If you're critiquing someone, please use the quote function and quote the first line or so of their piece so that we can keep everything straight. Pieces should be less than about 500 words long. Thanks!
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 5,147 • Replies: 20
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jespah
 
  2  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 04:16 pm
"I hate this horse."
"Ma'am, we've been through this before."
"Well, then we'll go through it again. Get me another one."
"But Lightning is all saddled up. Please don't make me go back there and get another one. It's a total waste of time."
"I despise Lightning. He's mean."
"He's a horse. They aren't mean or nice. They just are."
"No, that's not true, Sam. Some of them are mean. Lightning is mean."
"You're just upset 'cause he threw you. That was months ago!"
"It's like yesterday. Now, are you going to get me another horse or am I going to fire you?"
"Oh all right. But ma'am, there aren't any horses here that haven't thrown you at least once."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying it may not be the horses that are mean."
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 03:00 am
I took a crack at this one, and it led me somewhere unexpected! No title yet, and about 345 words.

"You cannot possibly expect me to hold that sign. It will splinter me to death."
"You don't hold, you wear it, and this is the least you can do. Hold still while I stuff you in. Wow, I never seen a boy too big for a sandwich board."
"I will not tolerate this abuse! Take you hands off me at once! One can only guess where those paws of yours have been." "Gosh, Grover, you sure are feisty today. How about you just sit here with the sign, prop it up on one of your guts and I'll get you a chair. Sound good?"
"While you are in that roach motel of a diner, could you possibly bring me an iced tea? I am about to faint. There must be a board of labor somewhere to notify of these squalid working conditions."
"Iced tea will come out of your pocket, and don't even think about getting any food here. Big boy like you, I know how you eat! You'd sink my all you can eat buffet."
"My suffering is vast! I will not last! Someone phone Mother, I shall soon collapse!"
"Your ma and me will be working the kitchen, don't bug us. Just stay out here with the sign, and cut the theatrics! If you want the car you will have to earn it. No son of mine ever took a handout, and now I'm married to your ma, neither will you."
"You, sir, did not father me."
"Not up till now, no. Now you be glad I let you sit your big butt in a chair instead of make you walk. You can come in for lunch."
"Child labor laws are being violated!"
"Here, have your tea and settle down. If you come every day of summer vacation, you'll have enough saved by fall to drive yourself to school!"
"Well, maybe I will see if I can make it through to lunch. How long is that?"
"Two and a half hours. See you then!"
"I shall go mad!"
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 03:14 am
Hi jespah!
Your dialogue is fun and to the point. I have the image of a snooty woman, probably "upper class", if she is at a stable. Your man Sam seems to be the rough cowbow type, and he isn't afraid to let the lady know her attitude may be what's mean. They have known each other for some time, and this routine is old for Sam. You have used the dialogue well to create a scene that needs no further exposition. I have one comment on your text. "It's like yesterday" doesn't seem fitting to the character, maybe you can rephrase this. It seems like something a teenager would say, and I am not under the impression this woman is that young)
Useful exercise, thanks!

jespah wrote:
"I hate this horse."
"Ma'am, we've been through this before."
"Well, then we'll go through it again. Get me another one."
"But Lightning is all saddled up. Please don't make me go back there and get another one. It's a total waste of time."
"I despise Lightning. He's mean."
"He's a horse. They aren't mean or nice. They just are."
"No, that's not true, Sam. Some of them are mean. Lightning is mean."
"You're just upset 'cause he threw you. That was months ago!"
"It's like yesterday. Now, are you going to get me another horse or am I going to fire you?"
"Oh all right. But ma'am, there aren't any horses here that haven't thrown you at least once."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying it may not be the horses that are mean."
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  2  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 05:27 am
Hey, carriephonic! Thanks for the critique! Yeah, hmm, one thing I'm not happy about is I kind of tossed mine off. Actually, I had her as an English rider (I mean the style of saddle, not her nationality). Hmmm.

Oh, and the sandwich board sign! That's too funny - the first job I ever had (other than babysitting) was to wear a sandwich board sign. Unlike poor Grover, I had to walk up and down the street (Commonwealth Avenue).

Interesting piece you've got there. Grover is clearly educated - he's from a high class family and speaks with perfect diction. But it seems like his biological father has died (or left his mother) and the family's fallen on hard times. So his mother remarries and works in a diner, and all Grover wants is a car. Due to his name and the existence of the diner (they're all but extinct, except in NY, NJ and CA, mainly), my guess is that the scene takes place during the Great Depression. He (Grover) also strikes me as - here's how I picture him: Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, but older, and heavier. But still wearing the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit.

So, to me, the only thing that jangles is the term "roach motel", which dates to the '70's or '80's. If you intend a more recent scene, that's fine. I'd change Grover's name, then, as it's exceptionally old-fashioned. If you change the name to, say, Josh, the Great Depression vibe more or less goes away.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  2  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 05:40 am
"So?"
"So what?"
"So did you think about it?"
"A little..."
"I see. A little as in not a lot."
"Would you PLEASE stop pressuring me."
"Sorry, it's just that I'm anxious for an answer."
"Okay, fine. To be honest, I'm still not sure. I really just don't know."
"We'll never finish a crossword together, will we?"
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 08:00 am
carriephonic! Lovely! Grover is wonderful! You've taken dialogue-as-exposition to the next level, as it is not only functional (we learn all of these details) but aesthetically pleasing.

One transition is a bit jarring, but that's probably inevitable with dialogue and only dialogue:

Quote:
....Sound good?"
"While you are in that roach motel of a diner...


I'd think Grover would react to that more... "It most certainly does not. However, as I see I have no hope for escape, could you possibly..." That also glides over "roach motel", which I agree doesn't really fit with the rest.

Jes, you have a real gift for dialogue. Flows wonderfully, very naturalistic. Managed to make the woman quite unlikable in a short time.

Cav, a nice little snapshot. The pacing is great, with the tumbling, overlapping cadences.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 08:10 am
Thanks soz....

carriephonic, I loved the vignette. Grover's dialogue reminds me of Withnail, of 'Withnail and I' fame....down and out, but correct to a tee. I can't help picturing Grover as a fuzzy blue muppet in a helmet and cape though....Sesame Street ruined the name for me, in terms of taking it seriously. Your piece could definitely be expanded. The kernel is great, add some back story and some resolution, you may have a play on your hands Smile
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 08:11 am
Jes, your piece reminds me of why I try to not cater for WASPS Very Happy
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 10:33 am
The Tennessee Walking Horse
THE TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE
By BumbleBeeBoogie

"Officer Clydesdale, you are under arrest for stealing a painted carousel horse from the Horsin' Around Merry-Go-Round."

"What makes you think I did it, Lipizzaner?"

"It took a while, but your horse gave us the evidence we needed."

"How could my horse betray me?"

"It was easy. I watched all our horses' behavior on park patrol. Your's was the only horse that balked and shied away from the carousel."

"You don't have any proof; what could a horse testify about?"

"Oh, yeah, well Officer Shetland will testify that every time that calliope started up, your horse would begin to tremble, as if its ears were aching."

"That doesn't mean anything."

"I looked at your saddle. It has fresh scratches and traces of paint matching those of the missing carousel horse. It's obvious you hauled it away on your horse's back."

"Well, uh."

"What have you to got to say for yourself? Do we have to search your house?"

"Well, ah, no. OK, I've got the horse. I'll return it."

"Why'd you do it, Clydesdale?"

"I've always wanted my own carousel horse. It's a kid thing, you know."
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 11:45 am
THE COUNTRY BUMPKIN
THE COUNTRY BUMPKIN
By BumbleBeeBoogie

"Hi, sweetie, you look like yer new to the city."

"Hi ya. Yep, this is my first visit here."

"Been enjoying yerself?"

"You betcha, everybody been real nice to me. Such friendly folks."

"What ya doing now?"

"I'm waitin fer the Greyhound bus to get a ride back home to my folks."

"To bad, you missed the bus; it left a few minutes ago."

"Dang, I was gawkin at all them tall buildings an I forgot the time. Now I can't get home till tomorrow and I got no place to stay."

"That's OK, sweetie, ya got nothing to worry about. Ya can stay with me tonight."

"Oh my, yer so nice, me being a stranger an all."

"Come with me, I'll show ya my apartment."

"Ok."

"Sorry about the mess. I didn't have time to clean up."

"That's OK. I don't mind."

"Yer so sweet. The bathroom is through that door."

"Thanks. I don't see a couch and ya got only one bed. I guess I can sleep on the floor."

"Oh, no, yer my guest and I'll share my bed with ya."

"My gosh, yer so nice to me."

"Well, I like ya."

"Ah, I'm ashamed I don't got no pajamas to sleep in."

"Now don't worry bout that. Just to make ya feel at home, I won't wear my nightie."

"Gosh, my folks won't believe my luck in finding somebody so friendly who shared her bed and pillow with me."

"See, this is nice, don't ya think?"

"Snooooore!"

"Sigh."

"Good morning. Ain't this a beautiful day?"

"I got black tea, biscuits with orange marmalade for ya."

"Ya gonna feed me after givin me a place to sleep?"

"Sure, I don't want ya to start that long bus trip without something in yer tummy."

"Oh yeah, I gotta get going else I'll miss that bus again."

"Give me a big hug, my sweet mountain man."

"Goodby my sweet lady I thank ya kindly fer everything."

"Bye bye."

"Boy, this bus is crowded. I'm gonna miss this city but I'm glad I'm goin home. I can't wait to tell my friends about my sweet lady friend."

"Hummmmn?"

"Dang! You know what? If I'd played my cards right, I coulda had that sweet gal!"

"Dang!"
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 03:12 pm
Hi BumbleBee!
What a strange thing, an officer stealing a carousel horse! Good imagination, and I like your use of names in this piece. I picture a horse-related face for each officer. The theft must have been a traumatic experiance for the police horse. As far as exposition goes, I have a fair idea of the nature of Officer Clydesdale, but not Lipizzaner, beyond the stereotype of the by-the-book investigator. I thought this was really cleaver and funny. I haven't read your new sub yet.
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 03:27 pm
Hi cavfancier!
Short and sweet! I enjoy this dialogue, but I really can't picture the characters, and I don't gain much insight into their relationship or personalities. The first speaker seems impatient and annoyed with his companion, his companion seems not to find life as serious as the first speaker. I really think your dialogue has a good pace and rhythm. Thanks for your crit, I used the first name that came to me without thinking too hard! Just goes to teach that every little word should have signifigance!
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 03:31 pm
Hi Sozobe!
Thank you for the crit! I think you are right about that transition, and taking your comment into hand with jespah's, I will be editing that section!
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  2  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 04:44 pm
Once again, I love love love these pieces! We have a very talented group here.

cav - the crossword puzzle people - too funny. Not a lot of description, but that's not always necessary. They can be either gender and any age.

BBB - the first one - I kept getting the impression of Central Park and some guy just walking through Sheep Meadow with a huge carousel horse tucked under his shirt (partly) and having the officer come up and see the plain as day evidence.

Don't know about the mountain man in the city. He seemed waaaay too dumb and/or naive to me. What guy over the age of 5 wouldn't realize a friendly, naked woman in bed with him is at least the opportunity for sex?
0 Replies
 
Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 04:48 pm
Do you want to play? I'm building a big, tall house with lots of people.

I don't think you can make it with sand.

I can. I did it before.

Can I hold the shovel?

No. I need the shovel. You use your hands.

Well. Then, I don't want to play. I need the shovel. I can dig quicker.

It's mine. I'm using it. I can dig quicker, too.

You should share. My mom said people are supposed to share. And she told me boys are more stronger than any girl AND boys get to be daddies, and daddies are in charge of the house.

Mommy is in charge of my house. You fill up the pail with your hands. No. Get the dirt I dig, and fill the pail. You can be the dump truck.

There's not a dump truck. That's not sharing.

Pretend. Make a noise like a dump truck.

You're bossy.

Am not!

I'm not playin'.

OK, here!

Pack it down hard. Is your mommy divorced?

Ooohh! It looks smooth! How do we make the windows? What?

Is your mom divorced? Does your dad live at your house?

I don't have a dad.

Did you ever have one?

Nope. I'll get some sticks for the roof.

We're not supposed to put sticks in the sandbox. Hey, little girl! No sticks.
What's your name?


Samantha. What's your name?

Paul. How old are you?

Five. How old are you?

Seven.

Oh. Do you have a daddy...

Yeah. He's big, really big and strong. He can lift anything.

...at your house?

Yeah. We're not divorced. Lots of people are in my class. Most of 'em just have a momma.

Is it best to have a dad plus a mommy?

Yeah.

OK, then you be the daddy and I'll be the mommy. Should we make a swimming pool for our house?

I am not playing house. No way!

Pleeeease?
0 Replies
 
carriephonic
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 09:46 pm
Hey Sofia,
You really nailed the concept of this exercise, in my humble opinion. Usually I try to add something constructive to further the usefulness of "writing exercise" crits, but I really don't have more to say than "well done".
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Jun, 2003 01:03 am
Bravo to all for getting this going.







and never forget the evil ducks.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  2  
Reply Fri 27 Jun, 2003 06:16 am
Loved the kids at the beach; the picture was painted vividly.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2016 06:38 am
This was such a great thread. Wish we had more like it.
 

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