One of the most powerfully vivid ways to show character, relationship, conflict and/or mood is through the use of dialogue. In my one day only Dialogue Intensive on September 27 at The Writers Center, we'll focus on the use and misuse of dialogue with a series of mini-lectures interspersed with brief exercises. The goal is that by the end of the workshop, your dialogue will be of notably higher quality. The workshop is for both beginning and advanced fiction and nonfiction writers.
Herewith, five five minute exercises, typical of some of the ones we'll be doing in the workshop. Use an egg-timer if you must.
#1. Sprinkle in ze French
An American who was resident in Paris for many years gives a tour of the local art museum to some friends who are mighty impressed (but do they admit it?). Write the scene with dialogue.
#2. Echoing in Dialogue
From Henry James's novel The Portrait of a Lady, here's an example of "echoing" in dialogue:
"She has offered to take her--- she's dying to have Isabel go. But what I want her to do when she gets her there is give her all the advantages. I'm sure all we've got to do," said Mrs. Ludlow, "is to give her a chance."
"A chance for what?"
"A chance to develop."
"Oh Moses!" Edmund Ludlow exclaimed. "I hope she isn't going to develop any more!"
In this example, echoing works well to show the two characters's easy going affection for one another. So, try writing a similar scene with echoing in the dialogue. If you need a prompt: a boss and his/ her ingratiating subordinate planning the new furniture arrangements for the office.
#3. Larry & Saul Bake a Cake
Larry and Saul are elderly brothers. Larry is jealous of Saul. Saul thinks Larry is full of himself. They are in Larry's kitchen making a cake. Write the scene with dialogue.
#4. The Control Freak, the Liar & the Narcissist
Three characters, all members of the same family, sit down to dinner. Show by the things they say to one another that one is a control freak, one a liar, and one a narcissist.
#5. Good Cat, Bad Cat
In a pet store: he wants a cat; she does not. Write 5 lines he could say; then, write 5 lines she could say. Briefly describe the cat in question. If you have time, write the scene.
Help yourself: Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More 5 Minute Writing Exercises are free online here.
P.S. I'll be reading from my new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empre, at the Fall for the Book Festival on September 26 at 3 pm (with Pam Jenoff) at the Patrick Henry Library, 101 Maple Avenue East, Vienna, VA. Visit my events page
--- C.M. Mayo
C.M. Mayo is the author of the novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books); Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions), and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her many other awards include three Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, three Washington Writing Prizes, and numerous fellowships, among them, to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Her work has appeared in many outstanding literary journals, among them, Chelsea, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Paris Review, and Tin House. An avid translator of contemporary Mexican literature, she is also founding editor of Tameme and editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. For more about C.M. Mayo and her work, visit www.cmmayo.com.