DIALOG EXERCISE: TIME, PLACE, AND GENRE

In my one-day seminar Living Dialog, I give each student this little excerpt from Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey and ask them to rewrite it so it’s set in a time, place, and/or genre of their choice. It’s a fun exercise, meant to get you thinking about what dialog can do other than simply expressing some point of fact. Here’s the excerpt:

That moment a rustling of leaves attracted her attention; then the familiar clinking accompaniment of a slow, soft, measured step, and Lassiter walked into the court.

“Jane, there’s a fellow out there with a long gun,” he said, and, removing his sombrero, showed his head bound in a bloody scarf.

“I heard the shot; I knew it was meant for you. Let me see—you can’t be badly injured?”

“I reckon not. But mebbe it wasn’t a close call! . . . I’ll sit here in this corner where nobody can see me from the grove.” He untied the scarf and removed it to show a long, bleeding furrow above his left temple.

“It’s only a cut,” said Jane. “But how it bleeds! Hold your scarf over it just a moment till I come back.”

She ran into the house and returned with bandages; and while she bathed and dressed the wound Lassiter talked.

“That fellow had a good chance to get me. But he must have flinched when he pulled the trigger. As I dodged down I saw him run through the trees. He had a rifle. I’ve been expectin’ that kind of gun play. I reckon now I’ll have to keep a little closer hid myself. These fellers all seem to get chilly or shaky when they draw a bead on me, but one of them might jest happen to hit me.”

“Won’t you go away—leave Cottonwoods as I’ve begged you to—before someone does happen to hit you?” she appealed to him.

“I reckon I’ll stay.”

“But, oh, Lassiter—your blood will be on my hands!”

“See here, lady, look at your hands now, right now. Aren’t they fine, firm, white hands? Aren’t they bloody now? Lassiter’s blood! That’s a queer thing to stain your beautiful hands. But if you could only see deeper you’d find a redder color of blood. Heart color, Jane!”

“Oh! . . . My friend!”

“No, Jane, I’m not one to quit when the game grows hot, no more than you. This game, though, is new to me, an’ I don’t know the moves yet, else I wouldn’t have stepped in front of that bullet.”

“Have you no desire to hunt the man who fired at you—to find him—and—and kill him?”

“Well, I reckon I haven’t any great hankerin’ for that.”

First, consider this in the original genre it was written in, a western, of course. Note how different Jane’s dialog is than Lassiter’s. Clearly this is meant to convey that Jane is more educated, more genteel than Lassiter. And in Lassiter’s dialog look at how Zane Grey shortened some words and misspelled others to give that character a sort of “cowboy accent”: hankerin’, mebbe. And how the order of words actually do an even better job of establishing the cowboy cadence: I reckon now I’ll have to keep a little closer hid myself.

I’ll rewrite the scene as a 1930s hardboiled detective story:

That moment a rustling of newspapers attracted her attention; then the familiar tap of a slow, soft, measured step, and Lassiter walked into the court.

“Jane, there’s a torpedo out there with a gat,” he said, and, removing his fedora, showed his head bound in a bloody handkerchief.

“I heard the shot; I knew it was meant for you. Let me see—you can’t be badly injured?”

“Nah. That hood might’ve been tryin’ to flub it . . . I’ll take a load off here in this corner where them palookas can’t see me from the grove.” He untied the handkerchief and removed it to show a long, bleeding furrow above his left temple.

“It’s only a cut,” said Jane. “But how it bleeds! Hold your hanky over it just a moment till I come back.”

She ran into the house and returned with bandages; and while she bathed and dressed the wound Lassiter talked.

“That chump had a good chance to plug me. But he must have flinched when he pulled the trigger. I hit the deck but peeped him high-taillin’ it through the trees. He had a Tommy gun. I’ve been expectin’ that kinda Chicago lightning. I guess now I’ll havta go to the mattresses. These goons all seem to get the heebie jeebies when they level a Roscoe at me, but one of ’em might just manage to ventilate me.”

“Won’t you go away—leave Cottonwoods as I’ve begged you to—before someone does happen to hit you?” she appealed to him.

“I ain’t no pushover to go climb up my thumb just cause—”

“But, oh, Lassiter—your blood will be on my hands!”

“See here, Sheba, look at them mitts now, right now. Aren’t they fine, firm, white flippers? Aren’t they bloody now? And that’s my blood! You got yerself a piece of my heart in them meat hooks, Toots! I’m dizzy for ya.”

“Oh! . . . You big lug!”

“No, Dollface, I’m not one to take the run out just cause the heat’s on, no more than you. This kinda heat, though, is the rumble to me, an’ I don’t know the play yet, or else I wouldn’t have ankled in front of that slug.”

“Don’t you want to find the man who shot at you—to find him—and—and kill him?”

“Not this bunny, Dolly.”

Same story, same facts, same basic characters, but a very different time and place.

Feel free to give this a try.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, how to write fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Writing, writing advice, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s