Creative Writing: A dialogue exercise (Jaq and Nox argue)

Another exercise for my Creative Writing class involves dialogue. My teacher points out: "Dialogue is NOT the communication of information. It is not discussion of a subject. Dialogue is characters doing things to one another. Action is objective. Construct characters by putting them in scenes where they interact with other characters actively, in pursuit of their objectives."

To study dialogue, we read a story by Ernest Hemingway called "Hills Like White Elephants." The PDF version is available to read from this website. Hemingway builds his entire story around dialogue and moves the story forward using very little description. In short, he cuts out all of the non-pertinent details and tells a story that lets us fill in the blanks--and it works. My teacher asked us to highlight the dialogue in the story, decide who was speaking, and then explain what each character was trying to do and how they were doing it. It's a power struggle, a push and pull and simper and huff. It's really something to read the story first without warning, then read it again and really look at how the story is constructed.

I'm afraid my dialogue experiment pales in comparison currently!


February 17th, 2016

Scenario: Two characters want a basic object: a blanket, a key, etc. Try to convince the other only through dialogue. It is a matter of life or death.

Jaq: "It is a matter of life or death."

Nox: "What do you care--you're a Transcender."

Jaq: "Fine. More importantly then: my pride is at stake."

Nox: "Your pride is always at stake."

Jaq: "..."

Jaq: "Fair enough. However, I deserve this spot more."

Nox: "What? How so?"

Jaq: "Savior of the Citadel? The greatest War Transcender to ever live? Shall I continue?"

Nox: "Only the greatest until Malisyn gets older."

Jaq: "You don't even like the desert."

Nox: "It's growing on me. Fire Transcender. Remember?"

Jaq: "You'd never convince Malisyn to stay here."

Nox: "No, but you could."

Jaq: "But I wouldn't! She belongs next to the ocean. You both do."

I'll admit I had quite a bit of fun writing this. They're arguing about where to place the Temple in their honor (I'm reading Greek Mythology right now, temples are forefront in my mind, and it is changing the geography of my literary map). It was done during class, so maybe a 5 minute exercise. I happen to love writing dialogue but I never really considered it for more than what it appeared: communication. It is a way to communicate, but there are also a lot of non-verbal cues, actions, the way in which people talk to each other--in more of a roundabout way--much more than the simple "Point A to point B" dialogue style that I've always practiced. So I know now that I'll be conscious about my dialogue, make sure it's giving my characters a voice and moving the story forward, but also maintains a sense of ease wherever I can manage. I can't overthink it. That's the problem. Just love dialogue but understand it has power! Don't waste words! Savor them!

How does the dialogue make you feel? Can you get a sense of breathlessness out of it? Did it make you smile? Can you (if you're familiar with the characters or you're meeting them for the first time today) picture them staring at a plot in the desert, trying to outwit the other? If you can't--well, then I need to try harder. I'd insist that I only had five minutes but... by now, I should be able to write something decent in short notice, right? Or is that... write?