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.

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.

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

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.”

Keep the Tip

She put her hand up under my arm, squeezed, leaned into me a little and whispered conspiratorially as we walked out of Lowe’s, “God, that man’s giant weinie smells scrumptious, doesn’t it?”

“Say what?”

“That man’s weinie.” She squeezes a little more. “It looks so-o good and smells out of this world.” The grip starts to relax.

“What man?” The squeeze is back, full on, with a tug.

That man in the red shirt putting stuff on his weinie. Right there.” She glanced to her right, I started to turn. “Don’t look.”

“What, some guy has his weinie out and I–”

“Not that kind of weinie. The ones with grilled onions. And, ” she glanced again, “oh my God, some are even wrapped in bacon!”

“Ohhh….” I slow down, trying to be nice. “I think the guy selling them has Turkey dogs. You want one?”

“No, no. Keep going. I’m not really hungry, and I don’t like gross old weiners.”

I choke the laugh on that one. “Now you tell me.”

“Shut UP!” I can feel her nails in my inner elbow as I’m pulled through the parking lot. “I can’t go anywhere with you, can I?”

I know there’s a squeeze bruise on the inside of my arm, but man…It was worth it.

 

37

When, and how, to say “No” to your wife.

She pushed the pocket door on her side of the bathroom open with her foot and the room started to smell as exotic as her shower always did. “Thursday is our anniversary,” wafted out with the fragrant girl smells.

“I know.” She was cute in her wrapped around, covers everything just barely towel and big hot-roller curlers.

“I know you know. Our daughter told me you texted her about it. We can’t do anything, though, because we’re still helping them out with the kids. I thought I’d pick up a cake, or make something. Or we can wait until the weekend.”

Please, God, don’t bake. “I can pick something up and –”

“I said I’ll do it. Do you know how long?”

I’d wait until the mascara was whipped on, the only real makeup she wore besides lipstick, just to tug on her patience threshold.

“How long what? To get the cake or until we’re off grandkid duty or –”

“How long we’ve been married, maybe?” She was doing that corner of the eye in the mirror thing that gave her eyes in the back of her head.

“Thirty-seven. This year for sure. I used a calculator. And then all my fingers and toes almost twice to be sure.”

“That’s what you said last year when it was thirty-seven years.”

“Last year fifteen minus nine was seven.”

“For you, Mister Man. Ow!” She pulled and palmed one of the hot curlers. “These things are hot.”

I started to say something about that’s why they’re called hot curlers, knew better.

“Thirty-seven years,” she said. “We’re old married people. Boy, that’s a long time, huh?”

“No, it seems like yesterday and I’d do it all again because you were so cute in that purple robe I couldn’t stand it. And you let me bring my waterbed.”

“That thing,” she made a face and banged a drawer closed with her hip. “Last year, did it really feel like thirty-seven years?”

“That’s two trick questions on one cup of coffee.”

“Well?”

I let that one hang like the last drop of honey in one of those little plastic bears she uses for tea and to keep a sticky spot going on the kitchen counter.

“No…”

She checked his grin with the sideways mirror eyes. “You. Don’t be funny. I need some privacy, please. I need to get dressed.” The door closed with the same foot that had opened it. She raised her voice a touch. “You don’t have to get me anything, as long as you remembered when and how long.”

“Right. No card or wine or even a token gift is how I made it this long.”

“What? I couldn’t hear you, the door’s closed. Are you still in here?”

“Leaving. Just talking to the dogs.”

I may be old and math challenged but I’ve been married thirty-seven really-I-checked-this-time years. And I’m not stupid.

 

 

Quesadilla

“All I want to be when I grow up is a ballerina.”

“I think everybody knows that, mom.”

“Most ballerinas retire by the time they’re forty. I don’t think anyone is going to hire me at sixty-one, huh?”

“Probably not.”

“I just love it so-o much. Is that stupid or what? Me and the other old – lady ballerinas. I can’t believe I’m going to a night class. I used to feel really guilty when you were a baby and I’d go. I won’t be home till after nine.”

“Lots of people are out after nine, mom. You’ll be fine.”

“I know, but I got up at five and I’m exhausted. I ate half a sandwich and a little bag of Cheetos at one. I guess I’m not too bloated.”

“Mom, it starts at seven. You’ll be fine. You haven’t gone to night ballet for a while, right, except for rehearsals? What’s dad say? He doesn’t care, does he?

“He says he’ll split a quesadilla with me and leave it in the microwave. And you know your dad, he said he knows if he bitched and told me to go fix dinner and run the vacuum cleaner I’d poison him. I told him I wasn’t passive-aggressive, I’d just stab him or something and be done with it because I don’t have the patience for manipulative stuff. He said the strangest thing, though.”

“Dad says lots of strange, spacey things.”

“Really, right? He said the reason he’d never told me ‘no’ about school or books or ballet wasn’t the knife or anything but because the two things in the universe that cast the longest shadows were love and art. And if I was lucky like him to know both I should stand  by the window and let the evening sun kiss me before it went down and throw my ballerina shadow into forever.”

“Sounds like it’s still okay if you go to ballet class at night.”

“I guess. But you know, I’d go anyway. Splitting a quesadilla with me is nice of him, though. Don’t you think?”