So I was lying on the sofa earlier, playing some Panda Jam and chilling out, when it suddenly dawned on me that I never posted my writing exercises for June. Gasp! So I am doing it now. Chapter 6 of One Year To a Writing Life is about Dialogues. It was a really interesting chapter, and perhaps the most useful one for me personally so far. I’m a bit of a sucker for dialogues and have a tendency to make them too long and rambly at times, and this chapter made some good points about what good dialogue should be like that I will definitely be keeping in mind in future.
The chapter contained 5 writing exercises. The first three are preparatory exercises, so to say, and involve writing two character sketches, one for your protag and one for a second character, and a short description of a setting. Mine ended up looking as follows:
Jane is a woman in her late 20s, of medium height and with freckles and a dark brown wavy bob. She wears a wrist-watch with a red leather strap. She dresses smartly, a habit which after several years working at high-end hotels has extended onto all types of occasions in her life. She is recently divorced after having been married for a little over five years. She is an only child and enjoys the cinema, Italian food and crocheting.
Anne is a woman in her early 50s with red hair and bright blue glasses. She works as a therapist, in a small private practice which she runs out of her home. She dresses casually but professionally. In her spare time she enjoys gardening, which has resulted in a slight tan. Her music of choice is Simon and Garfunkle.
The therapy room looks like a study, decorated in a pleasant but not overly person style. It is clean and tidy, beige and matte blues being the dominating colors, with a splash of red. The therapist’s chair is a simple but comfortable swivel chair with black upholstery. The patient can chose between a sofa and an armchair, both a matching shade of beige with red and blue pillows. The only art in the room is abstract, except for a still-life of a vase of flowers on the desk.
I know a lot of people don’t find character sketches useful but personally I tend to like them. Just blurting out some random facts about a character can really help them take shape in my head. In fact, I’ve long-standing plans of a sort of spreadsheet… we’ll see if I ever get around to that.
The fourth exercise was to begin a dialogue between the two characters (in 10 minutes), and the fifth is to rewrite and finish the same piece. Since I didn’t change much in the rewrite except to add the ending, which I didn’t have time to finish it on the first go, I’ll just post the finished piece here:
“So, Jane… can you tell me why you’re here today?” The woman smiles, a small notepad resting on her lap, a pencil casually in her hand.
Jane smooths a wrinkle in her gray pencil skirt. “Well… I got divorced, recently.”
“And to be quite frank, I’m not sure I’m really dealing with it like I should. I feel like maybe I haven’t processed it properly.”
“Is there any particular reason why you feel that way?”
“Just… observation. I mean, it’s a big deal, right? A divorce. We were married five years. And people who find out now, they look at me like I’m about to break.” She smiles nervously, a smile that fades quickly.
The woman nods. “Why did you divorce?”
“He was unfaithful.” She looks down at her hands.
“Infidelity is always a terrible thing to be faced with.”
“It is.” She says. “Three women in as many years. It was awful, when I found out. I’ve never been so angry.”
“Do you think it’s your anger that keeps you from dealing with your emotions in the way you’d prefer.”
“Well, that’s just it… I’m not angry. I was for a few days but… “ Her eyes darted around the room, finally landing on her therapist’s face. “The truth is I feel fine. We finalized the divorce three weeks ago, and I’ve been fine the whole time. Happy, even.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” She suggests.
“But shouldn’t I be angry? Or bitter? Shouldn’t I feel like I’ve wasted all this time on him and now I have to start all over?”
“Some people might feel that way after a divorce. That doesn’t mean that you have to.”
“No, but I should, shouldn’t I? I mean, that’s why I’m here. My life should be ruined, but all I feel is… relief.” She shrugged and smiled, at once bewildered and at ease.
I had fun writing this exchange, but I feel it’s a little bit purpose-less, particularly since it just sort of…ends. Still, this chapter has given me a lot to think about when it come to dialogues and I think there’s a good chance I’ll refer back to it in the future.
Chapter 7 is entitled Tales: Folk, Fairy and Contemporary. I am just about to start reading it, and am very curious about what it’ll say and what exercises it’ll contain!