COMPARATIVE DIALOGUE EXERCISE

Here are two comparative exercises that feature dialogue.  Choose either 1) or 2).  Each of them requires that you write two versions of the same dialogue scene.  (The scene need not be long.  In fact, neither version should come in longer than 400 or 500 words. When you volunteer in class, we'd like you to read each of them.  Then, before anybody in the class comments on what you've written, we'd like you to give a few comments that compare your experience writing the two versions.  You don't have to actually write your comments.  They can be extemporaneous and off the cuff.  But do give some thought as you are doing the exercises about what you will say.  You might jot down some notes that will assist you when you comment. These exercises benefit greatly from what you gain yourself from the comparative experiencee.  Notes about what you might comment on are included in the third point for each exercise.


1) Have two characters talk about a touchy subject in which at least one of them is being evasive.

Version One: What you see is what you get. We only hear the characters talking.  There can be descriptive narrative. Possibly we see the setting and the gestures and what is going on around them.  Possibly we even hear their tones.  But we don’t get a chance to learn anything about what is really going on inside.

Version Two: Intersperse the dialogue with internal monologue reaction by one of the characters, just one.  The piece becomes that character’s point of view piece, either in first person or in third person.  The point of view character can even be the evasive one, in which case the internal monologue hints or reveals the character’s blocking and defenses.

In your comments, in addition to choosing which you think was the more effective, consider the contrasts between what the point of view character was saying and what s/he was thinking.  Was it helpful to you to have these two channels?  Or was it more helpful literarily to be able to work with the mystery that comes from not having access into either character.

2) Two characters are going to encounter each other who haven’t seen each other for a long time, even though once they knew each other fairly well.

Version One:  Have the narrative character work in a back story, either before, in the midst of, or after the dialogue, that tells us about whatever part of their past makes the dialogue useful or effective.  The back story is told in narrative and is not woven in to what the characters are saying.

Version Two: Work the backstory into the dialogue as cleverly as you can, so that the reader learns what needs to be learned, but the characters can still sound as natural as possible without having to artificially narrate or recount a past that, were it not for the fact they are characters in a story, they would not likely be talking about.

In your author comments, you might consider whether you felt that weaving backstory into the dialogue seemed unnatural, something real characters would not be likely to do when they were talking.  Compare this with the interruption in dialogue flow or the departure that comes when you have to weave backstory into the piece via narrative.  Which was more comfortable for you?