Thursday, October 15, 2015

Creative Writing Sparked by Dialogue

          Snippets of dialogue serve as excellent writing prompts when they are ambiguous enough to suggest various possible tones, and in turn, various contexts for scene development. Often I propose that my students write two separate scenes founded upon the same line of dialogue interpreted differently. That writing exercise is part of a lesson on tone and how to convey specific moods in literature. I sometimes craft my own fictional scenes based on one line of dialogue uttered by a character's voice in my mind; from those scenes, novels are born. 

          Given two dialogue lines--"'re welcome...," and "I just wanted to tell you how much you've inspired me..."--as prompts to create a piece of short fiction, my young teenage student wrote this:

by L.Z.

          I am so excited, but also very nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before, but

missing a chance to meet her in person would leave me in regret for the rest of my life. So here I am now, standing in the back of a line so long that I cannot even see the actual author and her desk, but then, suddenly, through a gap in the crowds, I get a good look at her. She looks just like the woman on the back cover of my book, with her beautiful smile, signing for her loyal fans.
          In a flash, I am in the front of the line. “Hi,” she said smiling, “Would you like me to sign your book?”

          I breathed deeply trying to calm my nerves. “Actually, I just wanted to tell you how much you’ve‐‐”

          She interrupted me, her smile disappearing, “So you don’t have a book for me to sign?”

          “No,” I responded, “But I just wanted to tell you how much you’ve inspired me. I also read your books everyday.”

          “Okay... Thank you?” the author replied impatiently.

          “’re welcome.” I trudged out the exit towards my car.

          Only now, after discovering who she really was, have I realized that her smile was
cold and fake, and unlike what she wrote on the back of the book, she did not actually respect her supporters. There are many other people in the world who deserve more fame and respect than someone like her. 

          The dialogue-based writing prompt could have evoked other scenes so different from the student's scene (above) that a reader might not even notice that the same dialogue lines appear in both. For example, "'re welcome" could be uttered by a humble person who is uncomfortable accepting thanks; or by a rude person who has no intention of giving anything in the first place; or by a person who is unsure about why he is being thanked; or by a snide person who says these words to remind an impolite person to say "thank you"; or, as in this piece, by a disillusioned person who doubts the sincerity of the thanks she has received. Similarly, the speaker who tells another person how much s/he has inspired her could declare those words effusively, with sincere admiration for a warmly appreciative role model; or she could shyly murmur them and evoke tears from the mentor in return; or she could sneer as she utters those words snidely to someone she has no respect for at all. Thus, you can see how even a single dialogue line can serve as a path that branches off in various directions via the literary landscape planted by purposefully chosen, vivid verbs and memorable descriptions.