Bridge to Story

Beginning with What Someone Else Has To Say

With the brief exchange we show in the example, we go directly to what the other character has to say. It’s not all about Ramon, the Main Character. Yet, doing things like this, you can see Ramon’s problem. By beginning with the dialogue that a secondary character (his Mother) is saying, you can also see these points of the story:

  • His mother’s feelings are displayed in her actions as well as her words.

 Doing this now gives your main character something to react to, instead of keeping all of the motivation within Ramon, you’ve begun to treat each of characters as a whole person.

  • The pieces of narrative here and there can serve to either slow down a quick start or speed up a slow pace.
  • You may have also noticed that Ramon has no answers for his Mother. Just like in real life between any two people.
  • The dialogue Ramon keeps in his head may now serve as a ticking bomb that can explode elsewhere, and with greater effect.

 With Ramon silent during this roughing up of his lunch we can reveal his emotions and his tensions without too much narration. Showing, not telling.

Example Toggle

Example:

Here’s a quick sketch of a teenage boy with problems at home and at school. Just under 100 words. This writer didn’t start writing about him from purely his side of things. To show who and what he is up against she began the piece this way, with Ramon’s mother speaking first. 

“What does she mean by this?”

“I don’t know Mom, she just wrote it.”

“You’re in her class. Who should know? Me?”

“No—”

“—Damn right, no.” Mom bends, reaching into the fridge, “So what does she mean—” Slap. “In spite of yourself?” The lunch-meat hits the table. “Is that a crack, Ramon?”

“I don’t know, Mom.”

“Well, we’ll see about this. You can bet on it mister.”

There are things I’d like to say to her. But I kept quiet. Ducking the sounds of Mom roughing up our lunches as she stuffed them into little brown bags.

 As far as story telling goes:

  • Did you notice that Ramon doesn’t have the best lines in this exchange?
  • That there are none of the usual ‘He said, she said, I said’ attributes here?
  • That action is intermixed in the Mom’s dialogue to convey her state of mind and mood?

Let’s move on to the exercise page for this topic and work on Dialogue that centers on what someone else, besides the main character, has to say.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Ramon’s dialogue, out of that 100-word example, is here, by itself. It’s a total of 14 words.

 “I don’t know Mom, she just wrote it.”

“No—”

“I don’t know, Mom.”

 You can see that less of the main character’s dialogue still makes a very strong scene. So work on Dialogue that centers on what someone else, besides main characters, have to say.

Here’s how.

Part one: Write four arguments between characters who don’t like each other. These should equal about 2 minutes each of reading time.

  • A nanny and her employer, a big brother and tag-a-long sibling, mismatched car-poolers, etc.
  • A fan meeting a preoccupied idol face to face.
  • A grocer arguing with a customer whose daughter the grocer is in love with.
  • A driver telling a DMV clerk, “It’s not my fault.”

You’ve probably taken the side of one of your characters over the other. That’s a normal thing for a novice to do.

Part two: Re-write your four dialogues as Interior Monologue where the person who didn’t win (in Part one) is your Main Character. That character is now thinking all that they didn’t say and how the other character would reply.

The purpose of this exercise is to cure lopsided dialogue. Use your own work with this exercise to reveal how both characters may have their own thoughts.