I'm just home from my final writing workshop at Hebrew Academy. Today, we talked about dialogue and how it can help bring a story to life. We also discussed how dialogue that doesn't work can distract readers from the story you want to tell. Because it was our final workshop, I gave the students a little more time than usual to work on their stories -- and then to share them with the restof the group. Here are some of the neat things the students came up with:
Noah is working on a story about a black teenager who is accused of stealing. After a cashier speaks rudely to him, the teen says: "I ain't rubbish!" That line really helps us get to know Noah's main character and to sense his frustration.
Eric is working on a story about boxing. When his narrator gets walloped by his opponent, the coach calls out: "You're better than this! What were you thinking?" Here too, we can HEAR the COACH'S VOICE -- which is what creating dialogue is all about: capturing voices.
I told the students how I like to hone my dialogue-writing skills by LISTENING IN ON OTHER PEOPLE'S CONVERSATIONS. Some people might think this is rude, but try it and you'll see it works -- just don't be too obvious about it!!
Talia is writing about two girls who meet up at school. Her narrator says this about her teacher Mrs. Olive: "She's not an old warty toad like the rest of the teachers." I thought that was a great descriptive line.
One of the most fun parts of working with the students at Hebrew Academy is seeing how easily writing comes to them. If I asked my students at Marianopolis to produce a piece of writing in 20 minutes -- or if someone asked me to do that -- we'd probably all freeze, at least at first. But these kids just go for it. I think it has something to do with being the age they are (they're in grades five and six). They haven't learned to worry about how good they are the way older people tend to do. So perhaps these youngsters have something to teach the rest of us: not to worry too much, and just to get down to our writing and do it. On that note, I'm going back to polish up the final draft of What World Is Left. Hey, I haven't told you some cool news: I'm going to be away for a few days next week. I've been invited to participate in "Livres en fete!" -- a literary festival in the Gaspe. Fun, fun, fun!!
I love dialogue when it's well done -- my pet peeve is when two characters have similar personalities and I can't tell which one is saying what until about 5 or 6 lines further down, when the author mentions who said a specific line, and then I have to count back to the beginning of the conversation to figure out which thoughts are which characters'.
Speaking of listening in on conversations, it's a wonderful distraction on the train. This evening, there was a couple sitting in front of me, and they (the couple) were having a rather awkward discussion because she wanted to sleep and he kept annoying her with random comments. In the end, she managed to fall asleep, but he looked like he was wondering what to do and kept blinking and reminded me of a fish, for some reason.
And finally, I hate being told to write something in 20 minutes. The only times I've written something nice within that amount of time is when I had a sudden inspiration/idea and somehow wrote a nice paragraph within a couple of minutes. Other than that, reading tests in English class are horrible when a paragraph is required, because I have to write while I'm thinking and the end result lacks flow.