Context Example 2

Tension from both sides, meeting the “new person.” Quick, cut and dried. The nervous person, the cheerful person, the efficient person, stacked, turn over conversation. Also introducing the “accent” issue without writing dialect forever. We get told that the Scottish girls have an accent, and so does the American. One time. After that it’s all rhythm and the occasional colloquialism. Yay or nay

Again- semi context at close to the front of a chapter.

She crossed the wet, puddle infested street, lugging her big, hot red American Tourister suitcase and make-up case. She’d had to put her leather purse on her shoulder under her red London Fog. Her hair was wet and stringy and it was cold enough to make her nose red. She dropped the knocker twice.

The girl who answered didn’t miss many meals. Deanna heard her brother say, “Winter bred and corn fed. A real farmer’s daughter.” The girl had deep auburn hair, some freckles under a light dusting of face powder, and twinkly eyes. “You’ll be Deanna. Bloody landing beacon, you are. Come on, don’t stand about in the rain. Cat? Our lass from the colonies is arrived.”

Another girl appeared in the dark back corner of the room, dishtowel in hand. “Bloody…She’ll not be run down on Merton in that.” Dishtowel girl gave Deanna the once over, frowned at her low heel dress shoes. “No Wellies? You weren’t told it rains here?” It took Deanna a few seconds to process that from “Nwellies? Ya wernatole eh rines ere?”

“Yes. No wellies. Those are rain boots? Rubbers, my dad says, and mom says galoshes. Do I need them? I sort of threw all this together in a big hurry.”

“Will you have a listen to her? Sounds a bit off, but she’s a fine eyeful of lass, I’d say.” Merriam had taken her coat and hung it on a coat rack that stood in the middle of a drip pan. “Scotch, love? We’ve a beer as well.”

“Seven-Up?”

“Fizzy drinks are in a cold case at the shop ‘round the corner.” She pointed at a small, square box under the sink. “Fridge space is premium, beer wins the day over fizzy. Have a sit. Cat?”

Catorina explained the flat layout, without moving anything but her arm. “Down the side, our Merriam, you, our new lass, and the loo in the corner, just there. Across the back the table for study and fine dining. Kitchen, as it is. Not much in the way of cupboard, we share all that’s there, the odd cups and plates. Choose what you like, we’re not much for standing on Her Majesty’s ceremony here.” There was a recent small, four burner gas stove top with what she’d discover was the ubiquitous teapot on top, an oven underneath, and an old, chipped sink with counter space and cabinets top and bottom on either side.

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Context Example 1

Trying to start a conversation with an unwilling participant. In semi-context – 1970s. In this excerpt I was trying to connect two people, both strangers in a strange land. The male hasn’t got a lot of baggage except for some heartbreak and confusion and being inadvertently waylaid by hallucinogens in New Mexico on his way to USC. He’s the piano bar background. The female character is supposed to unfold as the chapter progresses and her issues send him on a short quest to find her help. Here’s how he breaks the ice. Does it work?

 

Jackson stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen after lunch shift with a couple of waiters, one male, one female, to burn one, post lunch rush.

The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He was weird, too thin and nervous, probably a speed freak. But he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.

Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her hitting a wall Jackson followed her. It looked like she was going to walk to where the west side met the desert if he didn’t stop her.

He caught up at a light, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”

“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”

“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered in beads and more of a cuff, almost like Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.

“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead, rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.

“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”

“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”

“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself, you don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.

“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”

“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds, he drummed his fingers on the top of his car while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, small smile get out. He was gaining ground.

“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”

“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”

“You’re not there yet. Maybe North Texas?” She gave up a very small grin, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner even works!”

He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.

“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She cradled the lug wrench across her lap, opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.

“No Kansas without a tape player.”

“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted, where I lived.”

In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”

Dialogue Dialogues

This Menu is for examples and discussion about writing “modern” dialogue. How, and when to break the “rules,” techniques and suggestions for group dialogue, dynamic situation based dialogue, dialogue tags and the dreaded “said” rule. The examples are not up here as any sort of “here’s how,” but as dialogue conversation starters. Anyone can contribute. Manners apply. Suggestions by and for all are open.

My feeling is dialogue drives characters and scenes and interactions. You may feel differently. I would like to see/read what anyone else is doing to get past the sticking points of writing realistic, character driven dialogue. Post a comment or reference your page if you have examples to share. Like I said, what’s posted here are personal workarounds and broken rules.

For the sake of context, complete scene examples may be used. Be polite.

Throw Some Flowers

“I got a new costume this year! It’s blue and lavender, not that old green thing that just made me disappear. And there’s a girl, she’s one of my teacher’s old students, she’s a mom with me this year, she was a principle at Houston ballet until guess what? She broke her sesamoid, too, like me. Then she went to college while it healed and she works at some corporation now and has a four-year old and doesn’t have time for ballet or anything…” I see the look that is doing child age and career math equals time line to return to ballet class. “But after this and Ms. Kathy, she’ll be back. It’s like a habit you can’t quit or something, almost. You can quit for a while, but then it just runs over you again. And she was a principle, a real professional, so she can’t stop. And this guy? He was there last year, he said he was so glad to be back because this is the best time of the whole year. And he’s right. Last year I said I probably shouldn’t do it anymore, but now I’m glad I am. I don’t know why I got picked again.”

Please. Maybe because put you on stage in a costume, some $20 curls and too much red lipstick and you light up like a freaking Christmas tree. And that’s the real story of The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker party scene is where, in regional productions anyway, lucky retired and adult ballet dancers get to put on costumes and make all of the rest of the year’s classes worthwhile. The hired dance-slingers from ABT or NYCB come to dance the dreams of a little girl named Clara alongside the best of the young dancers the area has to offer, some of their retired peers, maybe even an ex-childhood teacher. And a pretty grandmother who gets to wear a blue and lavender costume, not the old green one.

The remarkable thing about The Nutcracker is that it does with music and dance what we, as a global society, often cannot. It transcends religion and geography and tells a story full of cross cultural fantasy and spectacle and fear and joy and when it’s over everyone throws or delivers flowers to the stage where it happened. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal. The Nutcracker is supposed to be about Clara, a little girl who dreams her dreams of faraway magical lands that she shares with a brave, handsome prince. But what makes the music come to life, what makes the principle dancers from the best ballet companies in the world look so spectacular, what makes people cheer year after year is that the stage where it happens is packed with ageless little girls’ dreams, not just Clara’s. Dreams so big and real they fill up a theater with their hope and that inexplicable magic of belief in something bigger than reality.

So if it’s your neighbor’s kid or your kid or grand kid or your wife, or even if no one you know is in The Nutcracker playing in your part of the world this year, go see it. Talk to a stranger in the lobby, toast the season. Take some flowers with you and give them to a dancer who might be famous, might have been famous, might have been hurt, might even be a grandmother. This season, no matter what you believe, make yourself part of something bigger and better and more magical than what the nightly news would lead you to believe is our world.

Nuts

She waved her hand in a wide but unobtrusive arc, more wrist than arm. “Every time I see these things I think about John’s nuts.”

Here we go. “Yeah? What things?”

“All these big green egg things. They remind me of John’s nuts, that’s all.”

Big green egg shaped things and John somebody’s nuts.

“He’s dead, now.” She let that hang a moment. “He was at work one day, all chirpy, saying he was okay, and he was gone the next day. It was all kind of sad.”

Okay, maybe this John guy had big green nuts and that’s what killed him. Big green nuts would do that, kill a guy if he didn’t get them checked out. If I woke up with big green nuts I would sure as hell beat it to the Doc’s.

“We all ate his nuts for like three months.”

Hold on. “You all ate John’s nuts?”

“So did we, you and I. You remember, from the Christmas party a few years ago? Taller, kind of poinky. Gray hair. He was gay and a really nice man. We saw him that time at the store and I introduced you?”

“Oh yeah, right. Him. You worked with him for a while?” The only person I remembered from the Christmas parties was a black dude trumpet player who taught music and was fun, and a sparkly older lady whose daddy had been a senator or governor or something from Louisiana. She held the patent on the old school Southern Belle thing and was sharper than a barber’s razor. Otherwise, like most work Christmas parties, there was never a lack of shortish or tallish, poinky-ish, gray haired, maybe gay people around.

“Yes. He’s dead now.”

“You said that.” Okay. Deep breath. “He didn’t die of giant green egg shaped nuts, did he?”

“No…” She was off somewhere remembering poinky gray gay John, missing his presence at work. Hopefully not his nuts. “It was cancer. They told him he had five or six years after his first round with it, and like clockwork, in four and a half years it was back with a vengeance. He was gone in six months. Anyway, he gave us all a big bag of his roasted nuts for Christmas that year and we ate them for a couple of months.”

“He didn’t like give us chunks of his big green egg shaped nuts that he roasted, right?”

“No. Listen, and don’t be goofy. He roasted his own nuts in one of these green egg griller-roaster things. And gave them to us in a big bag with a ribbon around the top. When I see all these green egg things it reminds me of him and his nuts. Like when I see those beat up cooking pots, you know, the big ones? I think of my grandpa’s boiled peanuts.”

“Boiled what?”

“Peanuts. Big ol’ green egg things and big ol’ beat up cook pots making me think about John’s and grampa’s nuts. I guess I’m weird, huh?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, you. Stop it. Talk about weird, Mister Weird-o. Did you get those screw-on nipple things you wanted so we can leave?”

nipples

Gone

What if where you were
When you were who you were, before
Who you are now
Was gone

My father grew up here
So did I. There were signs black and bold
The family name,
What else was sold

I painted them one summer
I was eight, it was hot as hell, alive
With beat up trucks
Colorful men

Grampa built this, no one now would know,
Looking you’d think the name was “closed”
In pen on yellow paper
Audible emptiness

Flowers grew where dead grass
Tries behind railroad ties and on gravel
Where memories of dead men once
Parked cars

If where I was
In all those yesterdays
Is full of weeds and emptiness, did I ever
Even belong

Or with the signs am I, too,
Gone

My Little Stiff Tool

Why DIY with your wife is more fun than doing it by yourself.

I felt the second tug on the bottom of my painting sweats, couldn’t look down from the ladder. “Yeah?”

“I need your little ‘stiff’ thingy for a minute.”

All of them ran through my mind. I landed on the most offensive, to me. “Little?”

“Yes. You know, your little ‘stiff’ tool?”

“Yeah, I know my not-so-little stiff tool. Just for a minute?”

She was oblivious. “Yes. Where is it?”

“I try to keep it with me. Hate to lose it.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t have enough pockets for all this junk.” She was shuffling through the tools that shouldn’t have been on the end table. “I don’t see it down here.”

I got to a place where I could put the paint brush down and look at her. Jesus. The girl always got more paint on herself than anything she ever painted. I can still find thirty-year-old pink all over an aluminum step ladder from the time she and our daughter decided the steamer trunk for all nine thousand Barbies needed to be pink.

“I’m not sure what ‘stiff tool thingy’ you mean.”

“You know, the one I used to get caulk off the fireplace the other day.”

“You got ‘caulk’ off the fireplace with my ‘little stiff tool thingy?’” Still nothing. Oh well. “You mean the painter’s tool?”

“I guess. Only men would have a tool called ‘stiff’ that scraped up after their ‘caulk’ mess and had another name, too.” I wished I could have seen her face for that one.

It was killing me, but wisdom said leave it. “Painter’s tool. Just remember that. My little stiff tool thingy is a Painter’s tool. ‘Stiff’ is just how hard it is.” Still nothing. I eyed the tool bag on the floor next to the ladder. “There it is. Yellow tool bag, on the floor. Right next to my Big Johnson.” How could that have been  more perfect?

“Well, it says ‘stiff’ on the handle. And ‘stiff’ I can remember.” She gave me that devil girl look. “Barely.”

“I’ll be happy to fix that for you.”

“That’s what you said about this fireplace. Two weeks ago.”

“I didn’t know what I was getting into, or how much work it would be.” That was just stupid. Wide, wide open.

“So that’s what you’ll tell me? You didn’t know how much work I’d be? And I’ll have to wait two weeks?”

I wanted to say, “You could consider it foreplay,” but I don’t have a death wish. “I’m a part-time handyman, except on weekends.” I put on my best Barry White. “But you know, baby, I’m a full-time lur-uv machine.”

She walked away toward the kitchen, hair streaked with paint, my “little stiff tool thingy” in hand. “No you’re not.” She turned, looked back up the ladder and smiled. “But I knew there was a way to get you to finish this before Sunday afternoon.”