Sunday, August 24, 2008

INTO WORDS: An Itty Bitty Column on Writing

"An Itty Bitty Column on Writing" by Mindy Phillips Lawrence
From Sharing with Writers (Carolyn Howard-Johnson)
August 24, 2008 _/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/


A group of retired men met weekly in the small café on Saturday morning for breakfast. They crowded around the same set of tables to talk and to escape from women. They didn’t quite succeed. I usually sat at a nearby table where I could overhear their discussions – usually on sports, politics, family or cars. It occurred to me how wonderful it was to sit there and get a male perspective on life, so I started listening more closely and taking notes. I became a well-trained eavesdropper.

If you want to develop dialogue for your book or short story, take a notebook to a café or other public venue, sit with a cup of coffee or a glass of tea and listen. Listen to the servers, to the men, to the women, to the children. You will learn the rhythms of their speech and the topics of their conversations.

I pray you never hear something illegal that has occurred, but eavesdropping, politely of course, is a great way to learn how to write dialogue and develop characters.

Conversations aren’t the same as dialogue but they help in its development. Be discreet, but tune those ears of yours onto conversations.


Writing Dialogue: Elizabeth Rose
Writing Dialogue, Fiction Writing: About.Com

Baylor University, Writing Dialogue

Arts Edge, Kennedy Center (PDF)

Writing Great Dialogue: Rob Tobin

A Cultured Breakfast

When I used to live less than a mile from a Steak and Shake, I’d often go there for breakfast on Saturday mornings. The waitresses knew me and exactly where I’d want to sit – near the two tables scooted together where all the retired men had their conversations. I’d sit there with my cup of coffee, a notebook and a pen trying to catch snippets of their conversation. It made good background for dialogue.

As I sat there one Saturday, a dark-haired man took the small booth in front of me. I noticed that he contemplated the menu more than usual and then called a waitress over. As I listened in, he asked her what might be on the menu that contained no pork and that wasn’t cooked in a container where pork had been prepared. The waitress shook her head, confused, and tried to help him work it out. I didn’t hear what he ordered, but it made me curious.

As I was leaving I said, “Hello. Are you a vegetarian? I overheard you ordering.”

“No, I am Muslim,” he said. “Would you like to sit with me and talk?”

“Yes,” I said and took the seat across from him at the small booth. In a post-9-11 world, this might have been considered strange but I didn’t consider it anything but solving my curiosity. We talked about many things. He had a lovely smile. Eventually, he asked, “Do you feel uncomfortable sitting with me.”

“No,” I said--and I didn’t. But I remembered it.

As the conversation closed, he scooted my bill to his side of the table and bought my breakfast. I thanked him for his kindness and never saw him again. Later I learned he owned a motel in a nearby town.

The entire experience came about because I eavesdropped. I learned a bit about his culture, had a very interesting conversation and a good breakfast thanks to a very kind man.