Following the thrust of the last blog I wrote on how to write dialog, I am going to give, to those of you who dare, an assignment that will challenge your dialog skills.
You are in your bedroom as it was when you were a child of, say, seven- to ten-years old, with the exception that there is no window or other exit but the single door in front of you. You are locked in this room. Outside the door is a person from your childhood who has the key to the lock.
This key holder is someone who either picked on you, or had slightly sadistic tendencies—childish as they were at the time—and you have to convince them with your words and the tone of your voice to let you out of the room. You know that threatening will most likely not work.
You are the age you are currently. You have full recall of everything the child outside the door will be soon going through in life, what will happen to them in the near and far future. You try to use this knowledge to get them to open the door.
Lock Yourself In Your Room And Write
Some authors find that events in their everyday life will, concurrently, reflect themselves in their writing—and not by design.
However, this effect can also be purposefully manipulated.
In my assignment above, you can certainly use environmental stimulus to help inspire your writing. Many of you may not have to do this, fully content with your favorite writing spot and a mind that can easily travel anywhere.
But there may be some of you who wish, or initially need, to have your environment affect you so that the writing takes on more clarity and truth.
It would be quite easy for me to write about what it was like in a sweatbox in a prison yard, had I actually experienced that and tucked it away in the soft folds of my memory.
But memory can be elusive. Bright and bold things we experienced as a child may lose color and texture with the layering of years. Recreating that same stimulus—even in a very small way—may help trigger memories that enrich your writing.
So lock yourself in a room (if you don’t do that already), and see if anything new comes from the experience to help you with this assignment.
This assignment might stir some emotions you haven’t had to deal with in a long time. Use them. Our child mind sees things much bigger than we do as adults. Problems are much bigger, chairs and hallways are much bigger.
Remember, you’re not just writing about yourself here. Your task is to try and write from the mindset and dialog of the child outside the door.
The more clearly you can recall the annoying little person outside your door, the more you can get into his or her character. Try to remember his or her height, weight, smell, sound of voice, repetitious patters of speech or physical mannerisms, quickness or slowness of wit, etc.
All of these things matter in forming an honest character that produces realistic speech.
Is that little person hungry? Mad at you because of some specific reason? Just sadistic for no reason at all?
Many of you will recall a brother or sister who matched the latter very accurately. The person behind the door could just as easily be a cousin or friend.
The twist in this assignment gives you a lot of material from which to draw. You would speak differently to that person outside the door if you knew they were not going to be alive in a few years. Let your dialog to the child reflect this accurately.
Be honest, and your story will be good.
As usual, I am very interested in anything you wish to share with me, be it the story itself, or your process writing it.