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An update from our forty-forth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday, October 8, plus some of the output published below

This week's workshop, Conner began with the caveat that these tools for writing dialogue, while strict, are just his opinion, and that we are free to write dialogue however we like. Conner's "eight tools for writing dialogue," not rules, started with the suggestion that dialogue should be realistic, but not too realistic. For example, even though most people overuse the word "like," we don't need to pepper our dialogue with these phrases. The rest of the tools were as follows: 2) use dialogue to reveal characters (differentiate characters, show a character's personality, make character's seem real, only write down interesting, essential, and surprising dialogue). As an example we read an excerpt of dialogue from Cormac McCarthy's Child of God. 3) Start dialogue late, and end dialogue early. In other words, forget about hello and goodbye; jump into the dialogue at the moment the dialogue is essential, and end before the dialogue gets tedious. 4) Avoid the "information dump," situations in which the characters are presenting each other with information they already know, but that the audience doesn't. This information should be placed in summary. 5) Gestures are more communicative than words. As an example, we revised the sentence "'I can't believe it,' he shouted, covering his mouth in disbelief" into "he covered his mouth." 6) Have your characters talk to each other while simultaneously doing something else (as in the 2013 Pulitzer Price winning play Disgraced); 7) Use indirect dialogue, or when characters speak past each other with their own agendas. We used an example from Hemingway's story "Hills Like White Elephants," wherein the man wants to talk about their relationship, whereas the woman wants to talk about literally anything else. But you don't want to get too indirect to the point of using non-sequiturs. 8) Avoid synonyms of the "to say" verb. They often end up being redundancies. Let the reader infer the mood rather than explaining it.

The Challenge: Write a poem or short story entirely in dialogue, in which the characters are doing something else—walking, building something, making dinner, writing a letter, playing a game, telling a story—while talking to each other.

The Participants: Emma, Anna, Alice, Russell, Savi, Anushka, Arjun, Allie, Robert, Aditi, Benedetta, Tate, Ella, Josh, Samantha


In the Kitchen

Emma Hoff, 10

“And she brought along all of her friends... I swear, people flit to her like moths to a lamp!”

“Moths... horrible things.”

“And I simply had to sit there and take it all, trying to pull her over to the side to tell her that I’d never invited any of these people without seeming rude!”

“They make holes in clothes, you know that? Well, they’ll never get near any of my clothes... they’ll have to meet my swatter first!”

“And then she insisted that they were ‘ever so kind,’ and ‘wouldn’t I let them stay?’ and I had to say yes. She makes me so angry sometimes!”

“I would never invite her to a party... she’s just as bad as one of them moths!”

“And then she said, ‘oh, Jerry, you’re ever so kind to let them stay!’ and then bustled about, trying to help, but she didn’t do anything at all! She isn’t even interesting to talk to!”

“Parties are such a waste of time... oh, look, I’ve burned the potatoes! Stop distracting me with your talk of insects.”

“But I’m not talking about insects... here, let me help you, you’ve gone and covered the whole counter with potato skins, how many did you use?”

“Don’t tell me I didn’t hear you... you were talking about insects! Female insects, who do nothing but buzz in your ear all day, who you, for some reason, invite to your parties.”

“Well, it was definitely a mistake... I’m serious, how many potatoes did you use? And you’re not planning on using all those green beans, are you?”

“I’m not planning on wasting my time looking at that silly recipe... I trust my cooking instincts. You can never have too many potatoes.”

“This is absolutely ridiculous!”

“Maybe you can invite that bug and her millions of friends over to finish our leftovers.”

“Stop calling her a bug!”

“Why? I thought you didn’t like her.”

“I simply don’t believe in calling people bugs.”

“Phooey... Myrtle called Janet a nosy fly all of yesterday... of course, I won’t tell her that I agree with her, I would never live it down...”

“That many green beans is quite enough...”

“You know, Myrtle was telling me earlier that I should go to a nursing home somewhere, where someone can take care of me... I told her that I had my son to take care of me, if you weren’t always away at your parties...”

“You can stop glaring at me, you’re exaggerating... and don’t dump all the green beans in!”

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