A short dialog exercise.

I went to a Brian Henry workshop on Dialog last weekend, and I’ll be seeing him again tomorrow for a workshop on Plotting a story. Last Saturday was a great experience, despite the somewhat trying weather – there was just a small group of us at the Saint Catharine’s library, and I learned a lot of useful tips, as well as being able to talk with some other aspiring writers.

Since sharing the ‘Devin’ short story went over well last week, I think I’ll post the dialog writing exercise that I typed out on the Alphasmart Dana for that workshop. Again, this is copyright Chris Kelworth, and I’d love to hear your opinions on it:


“Okay, come on, give me the details.” My brother Derek pulled out his android phone and sat down on the couch, ready to thumb-type, with the corners of his nose wrinkling slightly.

I fiddled with the little pasteboard card that I’d been holding for the past few minutes. “Okay, it’s at the YMCA on Jackson street in Brantford, at ten-thirty AM on Sunday morning.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No, that’s all I need.”

“All right.” Now Derek’s eyes started to stare at my face. “So you expect me to get up at some ridiculous hour on my weekend…”

“You’ll need to leave your place at maybe ten minutes to ten, and I don’t care if you’ve even showered first!”

“Still, I like to be in bed at ten on a Sunday.” Derek got up and walked around his living room as he pretended to think. “And all of this is just so you can play some basketball?”

“It’s the one on one district finals.”

“And none of your gym buddies can give you a lift?”

“No, I told you. Jerry’s mad that I was the only one who qualified, so he’s turned the rest of the gang against me.” I paced next to Derek for a few laps of the room. “There’s something you want from me, isn’t there?”

“Do you know, there is something that I’d like you to do – for yourself, not for me. Well, it impacts on me insofar as it relates to you asking me favors like this.”

“Okay, what?”

“Buy your own car.” My mouth might have dropped open. Derek turned around and pointed a finger at the collar of my shirt. “I’m serious. You’ve had your G2 licence for three months now – why did you get it, if not to use it?”

“I let you talk me into taking those lessons in case I needed to…”

“And you really need your own car,” Derek insisted. “Or else you wouldn’t be asking for the use of mine.”

I took a deep breath, avoided saying the first two things that occured to me, and considered what he was suggesting. “With what money? Are you going to lend me a down payment?”

“You’ve got your share of Grandfather’s inheritance, unless you’ve spent it all on Nike clothes.”

“No, but that’s all in the tax-free bonds.”

“So take some of it out – a car is an investment too.”

“A car is a giant pit that sucks money out of your account and your life!” I insisted, sitting down in the wooden armchair.

“Okay, well, sometimes. But it’s also a very convenient thing to have when you want to get someplace that the buses won’t take you, as I think you’d agree just now.” Derek’s tone became softer, and I realized that I was getting the true sales pitch. “You don’t have to use it for getting to work and to the store if you don’t want to – you’re right that it’ll be cheaper to keep using public transit when you can, as long as you’re willing to put up with it. But that’s part of the point – it doesn’t cost that much to have a car if you don’t use it that much.”

I hesitated, and tried to hedge, shuffling my feet to hide my nervousness. “Okay, you’ve made some good points, and I’ll think about it…”

“Don’t just think about it. This will be the last time – or no, okay, not quite the last. I’ll drive you to the YMCA on Sunday, and one more time sometime soon – to visit car dealerships. No arguments. Do we have a deal?”

I considered, and squirmed a little before giving in. “When do you have time in your busy schedule to take me shopping?”

One Response to A short dialog exercise.

  1. Donna Hole says:

    Sorry; I have to start at the end. That last line was too much – – fun. Just the right twist to this excerpt.

    The story started in one area, took on a whole new life, and ended so unexpectedly. I was riveted from first line to last.

    Can’t say I’m sure of what you learned in Brian Henry’s workshop. From all the other excerpts I’ve read, dialogue is a writing strength for you Chris. You’re very good at integrating description with dialogue; and moving plot along.

    This is sharper than the serial; but it also isn’t trying to progress a story plot in a concise manner, so you can take time to focus on character motives.

    Now, the setting did drop out of this dialogue a little, but the setting didn’t seem necessary. There was interraction with the environment (I fiddled with the little pasteboard card; I paced next to Derek for a few laps of the room) that anchored the characters in a “place”. I don’t think the anything more was needed in this, so you did really well putting the reader in the room, without having to describe the room.

    There was also a sense of “time” b/c of the need to get somewhere at a specific time, and you had valid conflicts that heightened the tension, the urgency of Derek’s decision. There was “mental” movement instead of “physical” movement. Very well excuted.

    The dialogue built on character development, and scene plot. You had a specific goal in mind – Devin needs his own transpsortation – and the dialogue built on that necessity throughout the scene. It moved the scene plot forward at a steady pace.

    And while the scene felt complete in itself, I was eagerly looking forward to the next. And that, of course, is what you want in your novel – to draw the reader on, scene by scene, chapter by chapter . .

    You learned your lessons well, and showed them off skillfully in this excerpt. If you don’t mind; I’ll suggest you check out the Duotrope.com site and search for flash fiction publications for this. Even if it is a part of a larger work, you would of course be sure to retain your publishing rights to the scene after a certain time . .

    This is some of the best writing I’ve seen you produce, and that’s saying a lot since your stuff is so well written.

    I can’t wait to see what you write after the plot workshop.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: