Monday, February 27, 2012

More Afraid of Saying No

One thing I need to work on in my writing is dialogue. If a writer is really good, a reader can tell who is speaking just by the way the character talks. You never want your character to sound more grown up than they should be, more moral than they should be, more feminine than they should be, etc. I’ve come up with an insane challenge for myself. If my blog is about me both entertaining readers, and learning at the same time then I need to do writing challenges. This is really scary, because I don’t always have time to make the posts as perfect as a novel will have to be. So be forgiving. I’m going to do something I dare say few if any have EVER tried. I wrote down a whole bunch of different types of characters. I put the girls on pink paper and the boys on blue. I folded them up and put them in a jar.
Every once in awhile, I’m going to draw out a boy and a girl and put them in a closet together and make them talk to each other. I’m going to test my writing of dialogue this way. I’m calling it the Seven Minutes in Heaven writing challenge. I have no personal experience with the game, but it’s pretty perfect for throwing two people into a boring little setting together, so that you can just focus on what they would say.

I was really scared to try this, and felt a little ill when I drew out the first two this morning. But when I got started writing…. Yee haw! It was pretty fun. If you have suggestions for me on how I could make the dialogue more believable let me know! Or if you just want to tell me that I should go ahead and publish a novel right now because you loved it so much then I suppose that would be pretty okay to read in my comments section as well. 

The setting: A comfortably warm closet, big enough for two people to walk in. Its contents are plush, clean carpet, an armful of coats hanging on plastic hangers and pushed to the sides, and one bare light bulb which can be turned on by pulling a string. The noise of a party can be heard faintly from outside the door.

Seven Minutes In Heaven Experiment Number 1

“Well, hi.”
Molly looked up at the tall, lean boy as the door closed behind him, taking the light with it. Her eyes were wide with fear.
“What?” he asked. “You never heard a southern accent before?”
“No,” her voice came out quiet and timid. “No, it isn’t that.”
“You want to hear less of the accent and get right to the kissin’?” James grinned into the darkness.
Molly stumbled back against the closet wall. James, with the dexterity of someone who’d been in the saddle on a bucking horse, with a lasso in one hand and his life in the other, reached out and caught her elbow. He steadied her and pulled the string between them, clicking on a single light bulb. “You okay?”
She shrugged as though she’d like to shrink right into herself, her elbow pulling away from his hand. Intentionally, this time, she fell back against the wall as though she couldn’t trust her legs to hold her up.
James could see that she was shaking. He reached out to her, but thought better of it and held his hands up instead, reassuring her with the sight of them as he backed up two steps and leaned against the opposite wall. He plunged one hand into his hair as he realized this seven minutes wasn’t going to be as heavenly as he was hoping.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t pretty. She was really something with her wide eyes, looking up at him like he was the ruler of her fate. Those eyes begged his understanding even now as he could only see the top of her head, her hair the light orange color of a Tennessee sunset, smooth and soft and undemanding.
“Hey. You wanna sit down?”
“I think I better.”
“Okay. You sit right on down over there, and I’ll sit here.”
She slid to the floor like her whole body was exhaling, but she curled her legs up tight against her. She stared at her knees as she tugged the bottom of her t-shirt down over the exposed skin at the back of her waist.

James thought back to a movie he saw once, where a policeman had to talk a girl off the edge of a tall building. He was that same kind of careful, not moving a muscle from his safe distance across the small space, and he kept his voice gentle as he asked, “You ever had a boyfriend?”
Her head snapped up and he saw a flicker of fire in her eyes, he saw that they were a shade of dark green that was awful complimentary to that light orange hair before she dropped them back to the floor.
“Gee, is it that obvious?” she asked into her knees.
“I didn’t mean anything by askin’. I can just tell you’re nervous.”
He was kind of glad the question ticked her off because it made her talk, and her voice was as nice as her eyes were.
“I’ve never kissed anyone before,” she said, “I don’t know what I’m doing in this stupid experiment.”
“Maybe you just wanted to get to know somebody that you wouldn’t normally.”

"Start with tellin' me your name."

"It's Molly."
“Well, Molly, you can get to know me. I’d like to know you.”
She looked up again, with the same surprise as the times before.
He caught those eyes with his own this time, and willed them not to run off again. “I bet boys have tried to be your boyfriend.”
It was the wrong thing to say if he wanted her to keep looking at him, but he guessed he couldn’t resist.
“Sorry. We can talk about anything you want. What do you like to talk about?”
“I’m not very good at talking. I’m shy.” She cringed as she said the word. She hated it, he could tell, but there weren’t many words she could use to describe the way she felt.
“I rode a bull for the first time last week.” He didn’t know why that had just popped out, but the way she was shaking had reminded him of it.
Her eyes landed on him again, her interest outweighing her self-concern.
“I haven’t told anybody this, but I was scared. I haven’t been that scared, maybe ever.”
“Come on. Anybody would be scared riding a bull! That’s one of the scariest things anybody can think to do.”
“Doesn’t matter. It might scare everybody, but nobody’s supposed to show it.”
“If it scares you, why do you do it?”
“The thrill, I guess. When you walk into somethin’ scary and you come out the other side? There’s no feeling quite like that. Maybe you knew that when you agreed to come in this closet.”

“I guess maybe it’s about the same thing. I just got tired of trapping myself. I wouldn’t ever have volunteered, but maybe when Dr. Amie asked me to do it I was just as afraid to say no.”
“So what happens if we just sit here like this and we talk for the next, oh, three minutes or so and then you get on out of this closet and you go back to your life just the way it was? You gonna have regrets?”
She thought for a couple of seconds and then he could see little pools of tears in eyes. “I’m used to regrets.”
“I’m not. So I’m thinkin’ maybe I oughtta come over there and sit by you.”
She shook her head, but he was already in the crawling position and he plopped himself down close enough to her that their upper arms were touching.
“Don’t worry. I’m just gonna sit here. Okay? I do like you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“You’re a nice person. Do you have friends?”
Again he’d offended her. “You’re not at all sensitive with the questions you ask, you know that? Yes. I do have friends, but clearly that’s hard for you to imagine.”
“Nuh uh! I was gonna say I knew you had friends, cuz you’re so nice. I bet you’re a really good friend. You wanna be my friend?”
She looked at him out of the corner of her eyes, a smirk on her lips, like she doubted whether he’d really want her for a friend or she doubted it could ever work out that way.
“Of course I’d be your friend,” she said, and she leaned over and bumped him just a little with her shoulder. It was strange the way that little bump felt more exciting than half the kisses he’d had.
“How did your bull ride go?” She was playing with a little piece of string she’d pulled off of something now. Twisting it round and round like it was really important.
“I didn’t get killed, so that was a start.” He laughed a little. “Bull ridin’ kinda runs in my family, so I know it’ll come pretty natural.”
“Do you ever get scared just talking to people?”
He tossed his head back and blew air through his teeth. “Crud yeah! Do I seem like I’d be all that impressive in conversation? It’s not really my thing. You’re smart though. You gotta start believin’ that people are gonna like what you have to say.”
“Oh no. People would much rather hear what you have to say. You do things that are interesting. Tell me more about riding that bull.”
“Well, they have you in this stall. Hey! It is a little like this closet! Anyway, your team helps drop you down so you’re sittin’ right on the bull and the bull starts to get real angry. He starts to grunt and paw at the ground and the adrenaline is just pumpin’ through you! Any thoughts you had of turnin’ back are long gone by then. You just figure you have to go for it.”
She was looking at him like he was describing the day he’d saved a room full of nuns from a fire. He liked it. He took his jacket off, threaded the sleeve between his hands.
“There’s a bull rope. It’s tied to the bull, and you have to wrap it around your hand.” He reached out nice and slow and took a hold of her hand. She tensed, but tried to hide it. He watched the little string she’d been playing with drop to the floor as he wrapped the sleeve of his jacket around her hand, touching her fingers and palm with his more often than he had to. He pulled the jacket tight, and kept her hand in both of his.
“You hold on with just this one hand, you use the other one for balance.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to have your hand wrapped tight in the rope? What happens if you fall off?”
“You have to get your hand out real quick as your fallin’.”
“That’s awful! You could get stuck! Get your arm ripped off!”
She had become adamant enough that her face had gotten closer to his. He let the jacket uncoil from around her hand and let his hands coil around it instead.
“There are a lot of things that could happen. That’s the challenge and the thrill.”
She shook her head, “It’s way too scary.”
“I think you oughta try something scary, Molly. I think you kinda want to, and that’s why you’re here.”
He reached up and touched just the end of a lock of that sunset hair. It was just as soft as he’d imagined, and it smelled nice. She didn’t even back away when he did it; she just blinked and kept on looking at him.
When you’re in that stall, getting’ ready to ride? You gotta be the one to tell ‘em when to open the gate. You gotta yell out that you’re ready.”
“I’d never be able to get a sound out.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t be able to volunteer, but like you said, maybe when it came right down to it, you’d be more afraid of sayin’ no than sayin’ yes.”
It was barely a nod. It’s a good thing he was looking for it, or he would’ve missed it for sure. It was a nod he wouldn’t have wanted to miss. He moved his hand further up that lock of hair, until it wrapped around the back of her head and he pulled her forward. He put his lips on hers. It was gentle as could be, not rushed and desperate like a bull ride, but there was trembling thrill that raced through him. She opened her lips just a little, inched closer to him and he knew she felt it too.
A bull ride last eight seconds, that’s about how long the kiss lasted before the closet door opened. James pulled back and looked at Molly to see her reaction. She looked at him with wonder in her eyes, and not regret. He smiled, and for the first time she could see the deep dimple in his right cheek. He stood up and reached out a hand to help her up.
The question he asked was just for her and not for the onlookers, “You wanna, maybe, face some more fears together sometime?”
She looked terrified again, the real world washing her out like the harsh light from outside the closet. “Come on, Molly. You’d rather say yes than say no.”
“You’re right,” she whispered.


Melanie Fowler said...

This was a super fun exercise. But I have to tell you couple things I noticed.

I couldn't tell whose point of view it was from. I thought it was from Molly's at first. You describe him through her eyes and all, but in the middle of the passage you start showing James' feelings and his point of view.

It seemed like you were doing an omniscient point of view where you can see inside both characters mind. If you are, then you need to put both of their feelings in their dialogs tags or actions and intermingle a little better. You separated their point of views a lot and it just gets too confusing. Stick with one point of view, or input their thoughts or feeling while each is talking.

Great story though. Their conversation was fun, and I'm excited to see what else you are going to do. Keep it up, you're doing a great job!

Amie said...

Thanks Melanie! You're right! I realized that after I'd spent about 2 hours on the story and neglecting my children, so by the time I impatiently posted it I decided I didn't care enough to fix it! My hardest challenge with writing right now is justifying spending the time on it, and prioritizing it in the right place! Thanks for the advice! See you at critique group!

Melanie Fowler said...

haha, that happens when you write. I really did love you story. Your dialog was great. :) See you soon!!!

SANDERS said...

You are so fun!!! I am no critique I just love everything you write!! I get excited over it all!! Thanks for doing this!! Its just so FUN!!

Ryan said...

Sheer genius!!!

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Amie,

Just read your comments on Mel's blog (re. the sewing) and laughed like a gurl :)

I'm a new follower, and a stay-at-home dad to three boys, so I feel your "pain" at trying to write and parent (I use my blog to vent with humor :)