Purpose

Create in-scene dialogue that reveals characterization and advances the plot. Three characters, equally involved and important in the scene.

Scene:

A motor cycle cop with leather boots and a helmet and an attitude about rich people and expensive cars, pulls over a Lamborghini driven by a middle aged man owner and in the passenger’s seat is his younger companion, wife or romantically linked girlfriend.

The cop is writing an excessively expensive ticket, and also charging the man with an out of state expired driver’s license. The man is guilty of everything he’s being fined for, and his reaction is either conciliatory, or outrage. The woman’s reaction is the opposite, either she is outraged and combative, or she is trying to appease the cop and silence her husband. The cop wants to humiliate and punish the man, but is attracted to the young woman. The man just wants no fine and to be rid of the cop. The woman wants to let the cop do his job and to either convince the cop they’re good people or humiliate the cop with derisive hurtful comments so he will  never again bother people who are richer and smarter than he is (the woman’s perception). The woman’s reaction will depend on the driver’s reaction.  You have flexibility.  Your goal is reveal character through conflict in a three-way conversation.

What to do.

Write the scene in less than a thousand words. Briefly set the stage but primarily use dialogue to propel the action and to reveal the characters. You’re working to reveal all three characters, primarily without telling the reader, but through the quality of the dialogue.

Submit your work for comment. And resubmit if you wish as follow up. Instructions

References:

Dialogue

Characterization Improves Dialogue, Motivates Plot, and Enhances Theme

Improving dialogue

Anatomy of a Wannabe Fiction Writer

Narration

Related Assignments:

Assignment 1: Working with POV.

Assignment 6: Creating a character based scene.

Assignment 8: Writing a scene from different points of view.

Assignment 11: Writing a scene in the voice and worldview of a character.


   Work submissions for Assignment 13: Create in-scene dialogue that reveals characterization and advances the plot

             On an old country highway, William Slater sped along a rolling expanse of road. A cool breeze blew through his hair. He imagined the crunch of a fresh apple, as he inhaled the countryside aroma. William seldom took time off as the chief executive of his technology company, but he looked forward to this weekend with his new girlfriend, Christina. His eyes drifted to her, chancy at this speed.

            Something flickered in his side view mirror—a motorcycle revving out from behind a billboard. Then he heard the siren.      

            “Oh Christ, It’s a goddamn motorcycle cop,” said Christina, stretching out on the passenger seat.

            “Get your seat belt on, Christina.”

            “I hate seat belts. Why don’t we outrun him?”

            “And make things worse? I was way over the speed limit.”

            “So fuckin what? That’s what Lamborghini’s are for.”

            Officer Sanchez swore when the Lamborghini flew past. He kicked his Harley into pursuit. The car moved fast, in excess of 100 mph. His Harley quivered in his grip. He struck a stone on the road, and nearly turned over. That rich SOB is going to pay, he thought. His palms grew clammy, his knuckles– white on the handlebars, but he pushed his Harley to the limit. At last, he caught up and the Lamborghini pulled to the side of the road. He took a deep breath before dismounting, then, slowly approached his catch.

            The driver appeared to be in his mid-fifties, medium build, with a full head of graying hair. His companion was a younger woman. “Some car you got, mister. Can’t say we see many Lamborghinis in these parts. How much does something like this run?” Sanchez scowled.

            The companion answered before the driver could open his mouth, “More than you can afford.”

            Sanchez regarded the slim blonde woman. Not a day over 30, he thought. And a nice set of tits, too. 

            The driver said, “Okay, Christina. The man’s just doing his job. Sorry officer.”

            Christina stuck out her tongue.

            Removing his helmet, Officer Sanchez said, “Some people have to work for a living, mam.”

            Christina felt the officer’s stare from behind his sunglasses. She leaned toward him, allowing him an eyeful of cleavage. “You could work 24/7 and still not be able to afford this.”

            A wave of heat flushed through Sanchez’s body. “No doubt, mam.” He turned his attention back to the driver. “License and registration, please.”

            William handed them over.

            “Well, look at this, an expired New York license. We don’t allow those in this state. And we don’t allow 110mph in a 55 zone, either. I’m afraid it’s going to cost you.”

            William remained silent.

            Officer Sanchez removed his sunglasses. His eyes followed Christina’s hand as she brushed hair from her face. “Are you his secretary mam? You look too young to be his wife,” he said, casually brushing back his own hair.

            She smirked, “Rich men can get anything they want, unlike public servants. Why don’t you quit harassing us? Go back to your village—an idiot is missing.”

            William clutched his forehead, “Christina…you’re not making things any easier.”

            She appeared puzzled. William’s voice was laced with a tint of anger but his face was full of mischief. She had never seen that look on him before.

            William said to the policeman, “Officer, this is my sister. Please excuse her. Our mother is hospitalized in Montpellier. We’re on our way to see her.”

            Officer Sanchez swallowed hard, “Sister! There must be twenty years age difference.”

            The Officer’s eyes had softened, and his skin flushed as he looked at Christina. She pouted at the officer. “Twenty five—How old do I look to you?”

             “No offense mam. You don’t look old at all. You look amazing, if you don’t mind my saying.”

            “Thank you’ Officer.” She batted her eyes and looked down.

            “It’s Officer Sanchez mam. Peter Sanchez.”

            “This is my fault Peter,” Christina said. “I asked William to drive fast. I just have to see my mother before she passes. Couldn’t you let us go, Peter?”

            “Oh, is she…”

            “She’s dying, Peter.”

            “Well, I guess I could let you off with a warning for the speeding.”

            “And maybe just forget about the expired license?”

            “Well…”

            “I’ll make sure William renews his license as soon as we get back to the city. I will send you a copy. Here’s my card. Call me if you wish or, if you’re ever in New York, I could show you around the Big Apple.”

            The Officer rocked back and forth on his heels, reading her card. “Hmmm, Christina Chartel, president of Chartel Advertising. Are you married, Ms. Chartel?”

            “No, Peter.” The officer looked perplexed as he re-examined the expired license of William Slater. “Oh,” she said, “you’re very observant. William is my half-brother—different fathers, different surnames.”

            “Ah, that explains it. I’ve never been to New York.”

            “Well then call me.”

            “Okay,” William said, “Can we get going now, before this turns into the dating game?”

            “Oh, Willie, don’t be such a brother.” She turned to the officer, “Well officer, are we free to go?”

            Officer Sanchez pocketed her card. He stepped back to take a last look at the Lamborghini, wishing he could hang it on his wall like a prize fish. “Just stay mindful of the speed limit. The next officer might not be so considerate.”

            They drove on, William wanting to be far away from the policeman. No one spoke for miles. He set his eyes straight ahead, without a glance at Christina. 

            “That cop was an idiot,” Christina hooted, unable to stand the silence. “And you were brilliant, coming up with that sister thing.”

            “I don’t feel good about it. I should have just paid the ticket.”

            Her mouth twisted into an ugly void, “Some fools don’t deserve honesty.”

            William knew that he started the dishonesty. It made his skin crawl. The country aroma turned sour. He upped his window. The weekend with Christina suddenly turned bleak.

            He hated to be called Willie.

Instructor Response

 On an old country highway, William Slater sped along a rolling expanse of road. A cool breeze blew through his hair. He imagined the crunch of a fresh apple, as he inhaled the countryside aroma. Good. William seldom took time off as the chief executive of his technology company, but he looked forward to this weekend with his new girlfriend, Christina. His eyes drifted to her, chancy at this speed.

Something flickered in his side view mirror—a motorcycle revving out from behind a billboard. Then he heard the siren.

“Oh Christ, It’s a goddamn motorcycle cop,” said Christina, stretching out on the passenger seat.

“Get your seat belt on, Christina.” 

“I hate seat belts. Why don’t we outrun him?”

“And make things worse? I was way over the speed limit.”

“So fuckin what? That’s what Lamborghini’s are for.”  All this dialogue is good but I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about dialogue and I’ll use some of this as examples of good dialogue that could be improved.  First, is rhythm.  I wouldn’t bring this up to a writer who has not accomplished as much as you have, or the writer who doesn’t have your natural feel for the rhythm of prose fiction.  Consider the basics we all know: dialogue is not a transcription of people talking in real life BUT it has to be perceived by the reader as being able to occur in real life.  And how people speak will depend on the immediate physical scene action and emotional valences of characters in the scene.  Not getting this right happens all the time and is rarely recognized by most writers.  Look at: “Get your seat belt on, Christina.”  Would the guy say “Christina”?  Okay, it is picky.  But it doesn’t ring real, and it also doesn’t fit the rhythm and sound of the prose, which would be succinct.  “Get your seat belt on!”  Then look at: “I hate seat belts. Why don’t we outrun him?”  “I hate seat belts . . .” is a touch of characterization and good.  But would it be in Christina’s dialogue when they’re about to be caught?  And doesn’t the reader already guess she doesn’t like seat belts since she’s not wearing one at a hundred miles an hour?  Consider something like: “Jesus.  Outrun him.”  The length seems more appropriate to the situation.

The second idea is exposition (and attribution).  When exposition starts to slip into dialogue—that is, the author trying to get scene detail or past history or even attribution of who’s speaking the dialogue—the credibility (and reader engagement) starts to erode.  It’s the author trying to get information to the reader through dialogue, and, at your level of accomplishment, that is almost always a no-no.  So, in: “Oh Christ, It’s a goddamn motorcycle cop,”  “goddamn” is Christina’s attitude and “motorcycle” is scene description in dialogue, which, under the tense circumstances, doesn’t fit too well.  Why not just “Oh, Christ, a cop.”  Then put the information in narrative if needed, not dialogue, (or figure out a way for it to seem ‘nonauthorial’ in the dialogue).  Seemingly small and insignificant criticisms, but sloppy dialogue is one reason readers come away with the I-don’t-like-the-style-of-this-author-too-much and have no clue as to why.

Officer Sanchez swore when the Lamborghini flew past. He kicked his Harley into pursuit. The car moved fast, in excess of 100 mph. His Harley quivered in his grip. He struck a stone on the road, and nearly turned over. That rich SOB is going to pay, he thought. His palms grew clammy, his knuckles– white on the handlebars, but he pushed his Harley to the limit. At last, he caught up and the Lamborghini pulled to the side of the road. He took a deep breath before dismounting, then, slowly approached his catch. Nice rhythmic pacing here.

The driver appeared to be in his mid-fifties, medium build, with a full head of graying hair. His companion was a younger woman. “Some car you got, mister. Can’t say we see many Lamborghinis in these parts. How much does something like this run?” Sanchez scowled.  This segment of dialogue too doesn’t run true for a cop.  It sounds author constructed and too long.  Not for this cop, but consider: “Expensive motherfucker.  How much you pay for this piece of shit?”  Again, not right for you, but you get the idea.  To expalin, the suggestion is really out of the cop’s character.  Instead, find a way to keep his submissive sense and maintain short and to the point in dialogue, especially in tense situations.  I’d tend toward:  “This here looks foreign.  How much you pay for something like this?”

The companion answered before the driver could open his mouth, “More than you can afford.”  You’re using different POV’s here effectively—narrator, character.  Don’t let people try to talk you out of this. 

Sanchez regarded the slim blonde woman. Not a day over 30, he thought. And a nice set of tits, too. 

The driver said, “Okay, Christina. The man’s just doing his job. Sorry officer.”  Good.

Christina stuck out her tongue.

Removing his helmet, Officer Sanchez said, “Some people have to work for a living, mam.” Yes.  Good.  I think you’ve maintained a good simpleton-feel for the cop. 

Christina felt the officer’s stare from behind his sunglasses. She leaned toward him, allowing him an eyeful of cleavage. “You could work 24/7 and still not be able to afford this.”

A wave of heat flushed through Sanchez’s body. “No doubt, mam.” He turned his attention back to the driver. “License and registration, please.”

William handed them over.

“Well, look at this, an expired New York license. We don’t allow those in this state. And we don’t allow 110mph in a 55 zone, either. I’m afraid it’s going to cost you.”

William remained silent.

Officer Sanchez removed his sunglasses. His eyes followed Christina’s hand as she brushed hair from her face. “Are you his secretary mam? You look too young to be his wife,” he said, casually brushing back his own hair.

She smirked, “Rich men can get anything they want, unlike public servants. Why don’t you quit harassing us? Go back to your village—an idiot is missing.”  I love this village idiot idea :)). 

William clutched his forehead, “Christina…you’re not making things any easier.”  Yes.  Great working dialogue.

She appeared puzzled. William’s voice was laced with a tint of anger but his face was full of mischief. She had never seen that look on him before.

William said to the policeman, “Officer, this is my sister. Please excuse her. Our mother is hospitalized in Montpellier. We’re on our way to see her.”

Officer Sanchez swallowed hard, “Sister! There must be twenty years age difference.” Here the syntax and the flow are off, I think.  How about: “Sister?  More like your kid.  How old are you?”

The Officer’s eyes had softened, and his skin flushed as he looked at Christina. She pouted at the officer. “Twenty five—How old do I look to you?”

 “No offense mam. You don’t look old at all. You look amazing, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Thank you’ Officer.” She batted her eyes and looked down.

“It’s Officer Sanchez mam. Peter Sanchez.”

“This is my fault Peter,” Christina said. “I asked William to drive fast. I just have to see my mother before she passes. Couldn’t you let us go, Peter?”

“Oh, is she…”

“She’s dying, Peter.”

“Well, I guess I could let you off with a warning for the speeding.”

“And maybe just forget about the expired license?”

“Well…”

“I’ll make sure William renews his license as soon as we get back to the city. I will send you a copy. Here’s my card. Call me if you wish or, if you’re ever in New York, I could show you around the Big Apple.”

The Officer rocked back and forth on his heels, reading her card. “Hmmm, Christina Chartel, president of Chartel Advertising. Are you married, Ms. Chartel?”

“No, Peter.” The officer looked perplexed as he re-examined the expired license of William Slater. “Oh,” she said, “you’re very observant. William is my half-brother—different fathers, different surnames.”  All this is working well.

“Ah, that explains it. I’ve never been to New York.”

“Well then call me.”

“Okay,” William said, “Can we get going now, before this turns into the dating game?”

“Oh, Willie, don’t be such a brother.” She turned to the officer, “Well officer, are we free to go?”

Officer Sanchez pocketed her card. He stepped back to take a last look at the Lamborghini, wishing he could hang it on his wall like a prize fish. “Just stay mindful of the speed limit. The next officer might not be so considerate.”

They drove on, William wanting to be far away from the policeman. No one spoke for miles. He set his eyes straight ahead, without a glance at Christina. 

“That cop was an idiot,” Christina hooted, unable to stand the silence. “And you were brilliant, coming up with that sister thing.”

“I don’t feel good about it. I should have just paid the ticket.”

Her mouth twisted into an ugly void, “Some fools don’t deserve honesty.”

William knew that he started the dishonesty. This is a nice storytelling touch.  A major character has a change or an enlightenment.  It’s what makes storytelling succeed.  Great job.  It made his skin crawl. The country aroma turned sour. He upped his window. The weekend with Christina suddenly turned bleak. Yes. This is the way to end this tale.

He hated to be called Willie.

 

Russ.  Great work.  And thanks for doing the assignment.
Bill

Instructor Response

Good work.  I’ll suggest some changes and try to express my reasoning.  With as much talent and craft skills as you have, I’d like to help you see how a reader might be more engaged in these crucial opening lines.  I’ll use color coding: green for narative looking back to the past.  Blue for exposition.  Highlight for in scene.  I’ll leave dialogue as is but make comments and suggestions.  Overall, there is too much expressed, and there is not enough focus on engaging.  You’ve done an excellent job on who, where, and what!  I’ll give some examples, not to be used but as possibilities to show what I mean about grabbing the reader and focusing on story.  I’ll use some of the essentials given in the assignment directions and some references.  I’ll undeline when I’m commenting on the writing. 

Trent told me about the day the cops came. He’d heard them coming up the front porch, realised what they had come for, and jumped onto his computer to wipe the hard drive clean. Then they began pounding at the front door.

I woke from the commotion and stepped out of my room about the same time Chris stumbled out of his. Ahead of him, through the opaque glass which framed the front door, I could see the fluoro vests of the officers. I walked toward Chris who was trembling and whining in confusion. In keeping with his midlife crisis, he disallowed responsible thought processes[The last two sentences are information too early for this beginning.  Overall, there is a shift in story time, and a lot of information that could be used later, even in some of the characterization.  See below.]]

 “Darien, what the fuck is going on?”  [This needs attribution.  It is important to leave no question as to who is speaking.]

“Go into your room and close the door.” I glanced at his marijuana-print shorts. This information is too early.  And it is not clear if he’s a user, a dealer, or just likes the shape of the leaf.  You could straighten all this out at another time.  To suggest it here weakens the openingI use for momentum in the example below.] “They’ve no reason to search in there.”  This is too obvious and sounds like fill.  Need to be succinct with ideas in the opening.

Chris scurried [not the right word.  Chris doesn’t sound like the scurry type.  This would be an opportunity to got more accurate characterization in a single well chosen word.]  back into his musky lair. The cops hammered at the door again.

“Hello?” came a woman’s voice. It was loud, firm and reasonable. “We’ve got a warrant for the arrest of Trent Cooper. Please open the door or we will forcibly enter.” [Work to keep dialogue succinct and story specific.  See Dialogue, and Improving Dialogue essays.]

I stood at the front.  [Of what?  Be specific.] Trent’s door was ajar and I pushed it open. He was at his desk with his face in his palms, black hair twisted through pale fingers.  [Too wordy for a beginning.]

 

“Trent, I’m gonna open up,” I said. He didn’t move. I turned the lock. on the front door. The door was pushed open from the other side and I stumbled back.  [How about something like: “I turned the lock; the cops barged in.  In action, excessive words dilute the intensity.]

 

Here’s what I see as essentials for this opening:

                1. Introducing “I” and Chris.  Darien too.  Not clear about his role.  A woman, not clear where she is in scene or who she is.  Outside?  A cop.  Trent.  [There are a lot of people and it’s not clear where they all are—many in different places and not clear how the front door relates to the other doors mentioned, and why and how all these people are related.

                2. Cops come.

                3. “I” decides to open front door and cops come in.

See how, with a little reorganization, you might increase threat and mystery.

               

We were all inside the house—Chris, Helen, Darien, Trent and me.  There was loud pounding on the front door.  Through the glass window I could see cops in riot gear.  “What the fuck?” Trent said from inside his room.  “Jesus,” Chris said sweeping packets of marijuana off the coffee table and stuffing them under the sofa.  I turned the lock on the door.  Trent came toward me and hit my arm.  Too late.  The cops burst in. 

 

 

Not great but I hope demonstrates bare bone action and introducing characters and exposition and shortened dialogue.

 

Recommend reading: Dialogue, and Momentum

 

WHC

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