Saturday, March 24, 2012

We’re having a good old-fashioned Out-of-Context Dialogue contest! (P.S. I may be using the term “old-fashioned” incorrectly.)

Hey there, my dudes and lady-dudes. I’m not sure if I should apologize for the fact that it’s been nearly a week since my last post. I originally said I would post every week. But then I started posting every other day and sometimes twice a day, like some kind of wizard of bloggery. Or, perhaps more accurately, like a person desperately putting off doing other things.

But this past week I’ve had to go into the office every day like a normal human, which left less time for blogging, or much writing at all. Now that I’m back to my Sweatpants Half-Life (meaning I could spend half my life in sweatpants because I only work part-time. I’m not saying I do …I kind of do, though), I’m spending some time frolicking in that lovely idea phase with two projects that couldn’t be more different from each other. They’re both the beginnings of ideas that I’ve had for a while, but for the next week or two I’ll be fleshing them out into something that feels more substantial. With one idea I’m working off an outline and a plethora of horrible, horrible sketches; with the other I’m drawing from just a one-page conversation with no real context whatsoever.

On Monday I talked about how out of context conversations between characters can help you start your new novel. I love writing dialogue possibly more than I love any other kind of writing. So sometimes I write dialogue merely for the pleasure of doing so, without thinking too much about context or even the characters. I find it helps me to warm up to real writing.

I wrote such a conversation months ago and literally saved it as “random boy-girl conversation.” I knew the girl was sad, and that it was very important to the guy that the girl not be sad.

Here’s the conversation we’re talking about:

He put a hand on either side of her face and looked her in the eyes. “You’ve no right to be unhappy, you know,” he remarked. “You’re young, attractive, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.”
            She smiled a little at the compliment but it was a close-lipped smile. “Mmm, but that’s just it. If I have such a hard time being happy while I’m still young, attractive, and interesting, what kind of hope can I have for when I’m old, fat, and boring?”
            “You’ll never be boring, Lenny. I said before you’re one of the most interesting people I know. My grandfather’s the most interesting. He’s eighty-seven and I’m sure he’s got ten stories that would easily top your best.” He reached down to grip her hand. “So you’ve got to hang around for at least another sixty years, see if you can beat his stories when you’re as old as him.”
            Her teeth peeked out from behind her lips like precious pearls. “So that’s what it’s all about? Being able to tell a good story?  How do you know he’s not making them up?”
            “Oh, I bet he makes up at least half of them. But if you haven’t had the time to learn some beautiful truths, beautiful lies are much harder to tell.”

That’s it. That is the entire thing. But even though the dialogue was only a page long by the end, I felt like I could follow these characters into a new project.

My excitement quickly petered out when the flurry of ideas I expected to follow that first stroke of inspiration never came. Eventually I just saved the conversation in my Future Projects folder and kind of forgot about it.

About a month later, I came up with an idea and wrote out an entire outline. The outline felt like having a tooth pulled. And when I read the story over, I found it to be melodramatic and contrived. (Bet you didn’t know I sounded like such a pretentious douche when critiquing my own work, huh? I call myself “pedantic” sometimes, too.)

I pushed the project away for a while after that. I began to worry it didn’t even qualify as a project. It was just a tiny bit of dialogue about nothing.

But taking my focus off my current WIP led me back to that random boy-girl conversation. And a few days ago, with none of the anxiety and frustration I had writing that first outline, I came up with an idea. It’s still not even an outline. I’ll have to do quite a bit of research since the book would be partially based on real events. I started some of the research, and thus far history is not only meeting but exceeding my expectations. I think I could have a lot of fun with this one.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not a waste of time to do writing exercises like this. It’ll help you to improve your writing and can sometimes even lead to a shiny new idea for a story.

So with that in mind, here’s my assignment for you guys. (Yes, that's the way to involve the readers, Jillian! Give them homework! Like a teacher! People LOVE teachers!) I’m going to give you five choices for a jumping-off point to a conversation between two characters. I want you guys to pick one and try writing a dialogue.

Send your dialogues to me at jillian karger @ gmail dot com with no spaces. I’ll pick my favorite and post it here on the blog.

Here are the choices:

-Two friends are growing apart but don’t want to admit it to themselves or each other.

-Two siblings discuss the fact that their other sibling is making a big life change, like a new job, marriage, or a baby.

-A person discusses his or her deceased parent with a family friend.

-Someone is trying to convince the person he or she loves not to move away.

-Old friends reunite for the first time in a very long time.

If you feel inspired to write something that has nothing to do with any of those choices, feel free to send it my way as well. You certainly don’t have to do this part, but if you want, you can leave suggestions of jumping-off points in the Comments for me. If any of you do so, I’ll pick my favorite and post my own dialogue alongside the winner’s. Again, this part is totally up to you guys.

I’ll make the deadline Wednesday, April 11th and will post the winner on Sunday, April 15th. What do you get if you win? A sense of community with other writers. Yeah, sorry, that’s pretty much it. I’m poor and can’t afford to buy you a spaceship.

But if at least two people send me dialogues by Thursday, March 29th (the day I plan to post next), I will post some of those horrible sketches I mentioned in my next post. Would it be worth it to see my sketches for their artistic value? No. Absolutely not. Would it be worth it for the comedic value? Oh, hell yes.

By the way, most of the sketches are of monsters.

I’ll be eagerly awaiting your dialogues, guys. C’mon. Let’s have some fun writing times together. If nothing else, it’ll be something other than taxes to think about that day.


  1. What a beautiful piece of dialogue--a nice idea for writing exercises too. I'll try writing my own dialogue, but I doubt it'll be good enough to send to you :)

    1. Thank you! Aw, don't stress too much about the dialogue. It's all just a bit of fun. I'm so excited to get submissions at all. I would probably hop for joy if I got a submission that simply said LALALALALA over and over again.

  2. horrible sketches of monsters? Oh hell yeah. *cough* So! Expect writings from me. I wonder which one I pick. Jumping off points are.. kind of a new thing for me. I'm in a silly mood though, so I'll suggest one or two for kicks n' giggles.

    Someone is trying to explain a rather embarrassing event to someone else they really don't want to explain it to, like their mom or boss.

    And...hmm... A kid trying to explain to someone why magic is without a doubt real.

    Now let's see if I do any homework tonight.... Also, isn't it amazing what distance can do? I've given a certain beloved idea distance for a long, long time. Then it suddenly became a full-fledged mental outline, only the very final bit of ending is a little blurry.

    1. Hooray, I'm excited to read yours. And, yay, now I get to write one too! Those are both very good suggestions (kinda better than all the ones I gave), so it'll be tough to pick one...

      Also yay for distance! It can work wonders. I'm blurry on part of a project ending too at the moment, but I think that can be a good thing. Sometimes you can only decide how things are going to go down in the moment.

  3. I have to say I'm getting pretty nervous about this contest thing. For me, Thursday is only two hours and a bit away. I couldn't convince you to release the results on Japan time, could I?

    1. Wait, not Thursday... April 15th! This is going to be a long three weeks.

      P.S. Looking forward to the monster sketches.

    2. Aww, yes, I wanted to give a good chunk of time to the less speedy writers. But I am so impressed with you guys! To be honest I kind of expected to have to call the whole thing off due to lack of submissions. But instead you get monster sketches tomorrow!