Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Pure Dialogue Exercise from Steering the Craft (Exercise 9, Part 1)

I'll be back with more later for Exercise 7 and 8 (which, along with novel progress, has kept me busy). For now, a quick one from Exercise 9, Part 1: Telling It Slant.

Part One: A & B
(Note that the assignment is quoted from page 119-120 of Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin)
The goal of this exercise is to tell a story and present two characters through dialogue alone.
Write a page or two – word count would be misleading, as dialogue leaves a lot of unfilled lines -  a page or two of pure dialogue.
Write it like a play, with A and B as the characters’ names. No stage directions. No description of the characters. Nothing but what A says and B says. Everything the reader knows about who they are, where they are, and what’s going on, comes through what they say.
Note: A& B is not an exercise in writing a short story. It’s an exercise in one of the elements of storytelling. You may, in fact, come out with a quite satisfactory little playlet or performance piece, but the technique is not one to use much or often in narrative prose.

Note on the story: while A is a completely new character, B is actually based on a character from a work-in-progress. Rather unfair to the A bloke. Aw well. Comments welcome as always.
I always found writing pure dialogue a lot of fun and it leaves a lot of loose ends or open space from which to write a fuller story from. And there was some great explanation of this and the focus of this chapter (telling a story indirectly) in Steering the Craft - recommended.

Exercise 9, Part 1, First Draft:

A: What do you think then, place it here, yeah?
B: Hum. Dum. Day. There’s nothing here. Nothing!
A: Sure there is. Decent trees, yeah? We got the clearing. It’ll mark it.
B: Mark it? You think we want to mark it? Let me get my markers and we’ll mark it plenty.
A: Calm yourself, Heu. Really. It’s just a gate. Okay. It’s a gate for crying out loud. This will be its front yard. You can stick around, grow a garden if you like.
B: A garden, he says. Well then, we better get to work now, now, now, if we’ll be gardening after as well.
A: I said you can garden, if you like. Nothing about me.
B: Fuck.
A: I said calm yourself. Look, I know we’d both rather be back at the counter playing games and seeing who can hit that high note better – would be me, I bet –
B: You bet? How much? Looking forward to my win. You’d just be shouting, not singing. I know you. But, hey, look, shut up. Listen. I don’t want it to stand out, so we’re not putting it in front of a perfect-for-gardening clearing. We’re not looking for a sightseeing viewpoint or some nonsense. We’re not looking for a port that the fisherman can spot and easily slide their ships into. Don’t be foolish, man. This is our business venture, and it’s a start-up, and you know what other entrepreneurs will do if they discover it marked plain and clear out here?
A: Okay. Yeah. They’ll chew it up and spit it out and make it their own, yeah? Fine. Let’s move along.
B: Look, we can come back here and garden to your heart’s delight – not a bad idea; it could be a false front; it could be a side business; it could show everyone we’re doing something but not the something we want to keep under wraps – but first we go and find our invisible, unattractive corner for the gate.
A: Onward then. Back to the cart with you.
B: Good show.
A: Ouch.
B: You’re doing good. I’ll give you a rubdown after, you brute. I’ll hum you a pack horse tune while I give my eyes a good rest.
A: Nah, silence for now. Keep invisible and unattractive, yeah?
B: Hum. The long silence it is, my friend.

A: Wake up, Heu. We got to get to work. On your feet.
B: Da-dum! I win!
A: Open your damn eyes.
B: What? I won! Why’d I open my fucking eyes?
A: Because your Dad needs you to stop messing about and hold up your end of -
B: Don’t say it. Disaster-waiting-to-happen.
A: Not what I was going to say, Heu. That is completely you putting your words into my mouth.
B: Da-dum! I’m up. Let’s do this, man. Okay, so. Ah! Good show, yet again. Let’s throw it over in that bush for now. I’ll get the baggage out while you do that. Tools, tools, more tools; snacks, I’ll set these aside for lunch; powders, pouches, incense; and lots more stuff. There, there, and there. Hum-dee-dum.
A: Excited, yeah?
B: You know it. Lunch is priority one though, especially after all that exercise.
A: Thanks. I wouldn’t mind some shut-eye myself.
B: Go for it, my friend. Braden isn’t superhuman after all.
A: Ouch.
B: Kidding. Eat this and take your nap. I’ll be doing preliminaries, cleansings, feeling out the threads of possibility, you know, such and such.
A: Careful, Heu. You wouldn’t want to become a workaholic Dad.
B: Definitely not. I wouldn’t want to have to cut anything off or grow anything uncomfortable.
A: Not to mention, having to take care of kids, yeah?
B: Fuck. Long silence, please.
A: Yeah.

B: What is that stink?
A: Oh, you’re up now? Thought you were still snoring.
B: I was,  until my nose couldn’t stand it any longer. What is it?
A: Preliminaries, like I warned you.
B: That was a warning?
A: Warning enough. Look, cleansings don’t smell like candy.
B: For shame. So, what do you want me to do?
A: Hold up the gate. I’m ready with the threads.
B: Aye, aye, seamstress.

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