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
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
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?