I was writing to a friend of mine who is starting to re-think her novel, so I suggested 10-15 early pages of nothing but dialogue. Only dialogue. No narrative tags, no scene-despcription. Just dialogue.
There’s something wonderful, almost sorcerous, about having characters talk to each other w/out an author butting in. They reveal themselves in ways the writer never imagined. If you think of authors as puppet-masters, dialogue can sometimes cut the strings and the, in a sense, hostages go off on their own.
Here’s an example I remember from my days at VT. It’s not word-for-word but it’s sure the spirit of the thing:
Version #1 — Monica felt Owen was way too brave for his own good. Recklessly brave. Who knew what could happen to two kids on their own.
Version #2 —
M: My mother says you’re reckless.
O: I’m not, either. I’m just not scared of everything.
M: I’m not scared of everything.
O: You’re scared of dust. You said so.
M: Dust storms. That’s different.
O: There aren’t any dust storms where we’re going.
M: Which is where exactly?
O: Away from here, that’s for sure.
M: On a bus? Anything can happen on a bus.
O: Not to two people together. We’ll look out for each other.
We were in a workshop, okay? People had taken 10-15 minutes to write out dialogue only, using a flat statement or two from their workshop pieces.
This little transformation got a lot of heat. Version #1 was really more like a note-to-oneself, a nudge to write more. #2 was more. It had vitality and threat and a wonderful mini-exchange in the dust/dust storm lines. The young woman who wrote it was thrilled and surprised. She asked “Where did that come from?”
From you, kidddo. Once you got out of the way.
I like that when I'm stuck on a scene and all frustrated and ready to take up drinking, that you come along with an exercise that is so simple that I'm like, "Oh! I can do that." Thanks!
And there is me, Ron, who sometimes only writes dialog – on and on. Ah, the balance.