Sunday, April 15, 2012

Updated: It’s time to put those tax forms down and tune in for my Out-of-Context Dialogue contest results!

Hello my bros, and my brotastic ladies. I hope April has been kind to you thus far. It has been very busy for me. I work in publishing and it’s Book Fair season, which is the busiest time of the year before Summer Slowness sets in.

Somewhat inconveniently, I’ve also just fallen deep into a new story and would very much like to be writing that instead of doing pretty much anything else. As a result the blog’s been a bit neglected—I hope you’ll bear with me till the end of the month, when more regular updates should continue.

A few weeks ago I announced my Out-of-Context Dialogue contest. I’ll bring you up to speed on the rules: I provided a list of five jumping off points to writing a brief out-of-context dialogue between two characters. I encouraged readers to send their dialogues to me and I promised to post dialogue I liked best on the blog today to distract you all from taxes.

I posted the contest on a fairly impulsive whim. I could see that a lot of my readers seemed to be writers like myself, and thought how cool it would be if we could help each other out with our work in some small way. Writing stray bits of dialogue like this sometimes helps me when I get stuck, and so the contest was born.

But after posting I had a lot of second thoughts. I knew I had a few readers but could I really expect any of them to be willing to essentially complete a homework assignment for the chance to win, uh … nothing?

I told myself that it wouldn’t be so bad if I had to cancel the contest due to lack of submissions. A little disappointing, yes, but maybe it had been a silly idea in the first place. The blog is barely two months old, after all.

But then I got my first submission, and more followed. You guys didn’t seem to care that the contest had no prize other than a sense of writerly community with one another. And, as you’ll see in the dialogue below, you really put some time and effort into your submissions.

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted. You gave me the joy equivalent to roughly nine days straight of looking at nothing but pictures of puppies in baskets.

So, without further ado, I’ll announce the winner: Robert Sakai-Irvine!

He’s a longtime reader and awesome Twitterer, coming to us all the way from Japan. He gives me license to say that I already have a global readership, and I thank him a million times over for that. His was the jumping-off point that by far proved to be the most popular:

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

You romantics, you.

Robert informs me that his dialogue has to do with the world of a story he’s currently writing, though he doesn’t plan to include this scene in the actual book.

Here’s Robert’s lovely dialogue:

Five-minute walk

He cleared his throat, stared at the floor between them. “Because it’s going to happen to everyone eventually. It just makes sense to get a head start.”
“We talked about this,” she said and kicked the bag sitting next to his feet on the white foyer tiles. “We talked about this! Last night even! How can you… You said you wouldn’t… How could you lie to me like that!?”
He looked up at her, eyes pleading. “I didn’t lie, Pria! I wouldn’t! I meant every word I said, but over night I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it, and in the end, you know, why wait? It’s such a good opportunity; even better for the people who go early.”
Pria gritted her teeth, eyes hot and stinging with fresh tears. “They’ll change you, Evan,” she said in a choked voice. “You don’t think so, but they will. You won’t really be you anymore. And who says everyone will go? I’m not. None of our friends are.”
“Pria, please. They’re here. They’ve found us. Do you think they’re going to just pack up and leave? No. They don’t work that way. The moment they showed up, our futures were decided for us. I simply want to make the move before the stampede starts.”
“I won’t go. Not ever,” Pria said. “I don’t want to be ‘revised’. I don’t want those little things in me. I’m happy being the person I was when I was born. I thought you were, too. That’s what you said last night. That’s why I love you, Evan. I love you, but if you go out that door, if you go to them, well then you won’t be that man anymore, will you? You’ll be one of them – machine perfect, revised. You’ll be gone.”
“Come on,” he said, reaching out for her. She dodged his hand. He sighed. “This doesn’t have to be the end, Pria. I won’t be gone. The Quarter is only a five-minute walk away, for crying out loud. Just five minutes.”
“Yeah,” she spat, taking a step back. “Five minutes and a whole goddamn world away.”
There was a polite tap on the door behind Evan. He looked around and shrugged. “That’ll be them, I guess.”
“I can’t believe you,” Pria said, raising a hand to cover her mouth as tears ran freely down her cheeks. “I can’t… I can’t believe you.”
Another tap, tap, tap.
“I gotta go, Pria,” Evan said, scooping up his bag and turning to the door. He paused and looked over his shoulder at her. “I love you, Pria. And when you take citizenship, I’ll be waiting for you.” And he slid the door open.

Don’t you guys totally want to read the book that scene belongs to now? I do. It makes me think a bit of the movie Gattaca. Thank you for sharing your writing with us, Robert. And keep working on this story so we can all read it.

When I announced the contest, I also said readers were welcome to leave jumping-off points for me to write a dialogue, which I would run alongside the winner’s. The wonderful DragenEyez offered two dynamite suggestions that I believe are better than any of the ones I offered up. Because I thought the suggestions were so good,  I attempted both of them. I’m indecisive and lazy, so I’m just gonna post them both. Thanks again, DragenEyez!

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.

Laney rolled up her sleeves to do the dishes, causing her mother, Margaret, to cry out in alarm.
“Laney!” she cried. “What happened to your arms?”
Laney’s face turned bright red and she shoved the sleeves of her pale blue blouse down with force. “Nothing.”
Margaret turned her imposing gray stare on her daughter. “Laney,” was all she said, but her stern tone did its job admirably.
Laney sighed, turned from the kitchen sink, and rolled her sleeves back up.  A long, pink scrape ran from her left elbow to her wrist while a smaller but more dangerous-looking circular scrape decorated her right elbow.
“So you know I went to Mark and Sheila’s engagement party last night, right?” Laney asked, avoiding her mother’s eyes. “And how it was in Mark’s sister’s dorm room?” Margaret gave a nod. “Well, there was a window set into the wall right near the ceiling. You could use the couch to climb up to the window’s ledge and sit.”
Which of course Laney had done. She’d long been fascinated by high-up places, from roofs to mountains.
“Did you fall?” Margaret asked.
Laney hesitated then shook her head. “Um, no. See, I decided it would be cool if I jumped from the ledge onto the couch. It was only a five-foot jump—I thought I could make it. But, instead I…” She reddened again and mumbled something indecipherable.
“You what?” her mother prodded.
“I overshot, scraped my arms on the couch, and landed on the floor on my tailbone,” Laney said in a rush, like pulling off a band-aid. She peered at Margaret, her green eyes wary.
“Hmm,” was all Margaret said for a few moments. “And how drunk were you at the time?”
Noting the smile threatening to claim her mother’s mouth, Laney burst into embarrassed laughter. “Considerably. How did you know?”
Margaret laughed as well. She put an arm around her wayward twenty-year-old and led her to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. “You’re a smart girl, Laney,” her mother replied as she sprayed Laney’s war wounds with Bactine. “I would have a lot more to worry about if you pulled these kinds of shenanigans sober.”

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

“You know those moments when you see something strange out of the corner of your eye, but when you take a closer look it’s not at all like you thought?” Godfrey asked, his pale eyes bright and excited.
Jane nodded. “It happens to everyone, doesn’t it?”
“I do believe you’re right,” he replied. He paced back and forth across the room and Jane couldn’t help but grin. His enthusiasm was contagious. “When it happens to me I always think I saw something fantastic. A black plastic bag blowing in the wind becomes a flying ghoul—the corner of a white truck is the shoulder of a unicorn.” His eyes locked on hers. “Is it the same for you?”
Jane put her chin in her hand, considering. “I suppose. But it’s more that I just notice something out of the ordinary, and think it warrants closer investigation.”
“But here’s a question.” Godfrey pointed at her. “Do you ever look back just once? Or do you have to stare long and hard at that lamppost or branch and convince yourself that it isn’t a wizard’s staff or a dryad’s reaching hand?”
As he spoke, Jane realized he was right. Whenever she did have those jarring moments of uncertainty, when a shadow slithered just beyond her vision, she always stopped for a little while to inspect her surroundings. It was silly, really. If there truly had been anything unsettling nearby, Jane would’ve done right to keep going. But a part of her craved that bit of unusual enough to stick around and search for it.
Godfrey gave her a slow smile. “I don’t think we’re the only ones, Jane. I think we, all of us, can’t quite believe that our corner-of-the-eye fantasies aren’t real—no matter how strange they might be. And that is because somewhere, deep down, we expect the fantastic. It isn’t about wanting something more out of the world, or thinking anything at all. It is an innate reaction that grabs at us before we have a chance to rationalize what we see.”
Godfrey finally sank into a chair beside Jane. “If there weren’t truly magic to be had in the world,” he said softly, “I think we would’ve stopped expecting it long ago.”

I used a loose interpretation of the word “kid” in the second one. These guys are at least in college if not older. And possibly British. I don’t know. And I’m not going to admit quite how closely that first dialogue is based on a conversation I had with my own mother over Christmas.

Both dialogues were a blast to write—as was reading your submissions. I hope the others who participated in the contest aren’t too disappointed. This is all just a bit of writerly fun. There weren’t even prizes, remember? (Sorry, Robert.)

I had a great time with this contest, and I hope you did too. I was really blown away by how many of you guys put yourselves out there to participate. I kind of want to do something like this again. Maybe not another contest, though. I’ve never been particularly competitive so I feel weird causing others to be so.

What would you guys think of finagling some kind of internet peer editing circle? It would be like passing our writing exercises over to the next desk to be critiqued, except the next desk is really some stranger’s email inbox. So I would be critiquing one writer’s exercise, and someone else entirely would be critiquing mine. Beyond that I could hook you guys up into a little massage train of critique-ees and critique-ers. I would probably just post the dialogue I critique and my own, along with the critiques I receive. But if I did this enough times, you’d probably all get a dialogue on the blog eventually.

I probably won’t do this for a while, since I am quite busy at the moment and want to know what you kids think first. Discuss in the comments, Velocininjas, and I’ll get to thinking of more potential jumping-off points in the meantime. I don’t know about you, but it has been a wonderful day of fun writing times for me and I thank you so much for that.

Now I’m off to finish Twilight 5, better known as 50 Shades of Grey. (It’s selling extremely well so I’m reading it for reference, okay? Reference.)  I plan to tweet a bit about it after I’ve finished reading later tonight. This will hopefully amuse my Twitter followers and keep me from breaking everything in my apartment in a bad-writing induced rage, so win-win.

P.S. So I know it looks like I liked my own post on Google Plus. Or plussed it. I can't keep up with the ten million ways you can show internet approval these days. I just want to clarify that this was not intentional. I was playing with Tiny Dancer's new iPad and hit the +1 accidentally when I was trying to reply to a comment.

I have to wonder if this is how Apple corrupts people. Between the unpredictability of a touchscreen and the crops of "like" buttons that decorate most sites, it's only a matter of time until you like something of your own. You can't undo it, and soon you decide, "Fuck it. I do like me. I plus me. I would retweet my fucking face off." And then it's just all downhill from there.

P.P.S. I'm buying an iPhone soon. Lord help me.


  1. Congrats to the winner! I am definitely curious to read his book now. And I am, as ever, so impressed with your ability to write compelling dialogue. No matter what you're writing, your characters always sound like real people I'd like to know.

    1. Thank you so much! I strive for authenticity in my dialogue, so that means a lot.

  2. Oooh, I wonder what "revised" means? Congratulations, Robert!

    And your writing is lovely as always :)

  3. So, Congrats, Robert! It's definitely an intriguing plot in there.

    I love your take on my little prompts (and thrilled to have them BOTH) written up. As for future similarish writing things, I'm all for it. I had a lot of fun with it. On a random note, i was wondering if you use or like any writing books?

    1. I thought so. Thanks! I've got you to thank for those awesome prompts. Hooray, I'm glad you're game to do more writerly things! Writerly things are so much fun.

      Writing books? Like books about writing? I really love and learned a lot from On Writing by Stephen King.

  4. Thank you Jillian! And thanks to all for the comments. I presume this means I have at least four guaranteed buyers if I ever get the book out. Right? Right?

    Gotta say, when I saw my dialogue here, my first words were, "Holy fucking hell I actually won." And then I was so excited I couldn't get to sleep for two hours. And then I had a dream about ninjas. Doesn't get much better than that.

    Congrats also to Ms. D. Eyez for coming up with some nifty situations to riff off. Jillian, you did a marvelous job on both, as usual. As Molly said, your characters always sound very real, especially in the second piece. I mean, everyone's had that experience, right? You know, "Oh my god there's a giant brain-sucking alien insect thingy clinging to the wall over there! Oh, no, never mind. That's my parka. It doesn't suck brains that I know of." And so on.

    Anyhow, you've made me a happy guy. Thanks again.

    P.S. I'm a kittens in baskets kind of guy, myself.

    P.P.S. Tax filing D-Day in Japan was on March 15. A such, I've spent the last month sipping fine congac and laughing in the general direction of the United States. All in good fun, of course.

    1. Thank YOU for submitting, Robert! Congrats again. And of course I'll buy your book! I'll brag about spotting your writing skills way back when, too.

      Weren't her suggestions great? Thanks for the kind words. Don't drink too much of that cognac--that stuff's known to brew many a typo :) And aren't ninja dreams just the best? They're my favorite kind.