No one is harder to empathise with than people who claim to love school. I hate it here. I stare out of the window, while Mrs. Waugh drones on about… something. It’s a beautiful day and the sun glints blindingly off the waves on the sea. I would love to go for a swim, but the beach is off limits.
“Miss Webb, can you repeat the last word I said?”
“Said,” I say.
“Sometimes I think you enjoy provoking me,” says Mrs. Waugh.
Jack, sitting next to me, mouths the words along with her, unconsciously. He’s working out his latest plan on paper. There’s a timeline along the top edge of the page, and it’s cross-referenced with a detailed map of the school below it. I don’t think anyone has ever put so much effort as he has into escaping.Read More
One area that writers most frequently ask me to help them with is writing dialogue. Specifically, I get asked how to write “realistic” dialogue. I agree that it’s important for dialogue to sound “natural”, so that the conversation doesn’t appear contrived and conveniently planted to please the plot.
But in my humble opinion, I don’t think “realism” is something you need to aim for in writing dialogue. “Real-life” conversations tend to be haphazard, fragmented, and… boring. Fictional dialogue always has a purpose to fulfil, and information to convey. The dialogues I admire most involve characters using words in clever and succinct ways that in fact more closely resemble an idealised conversation than a realistic one.
That being said, becoming a better listener of messy real-life conversations can make you a better writer of fictional ones. It can also make you a better person!
What are people really trying to say to you?
Use this worksheet to…
Think back to a conversation you had recently and consider how well you listened to and understood the other person.
Write out and study a short dialogue from a book or film.
Write your own fictional conversation. You might like to use the speech bubbles to note down each character’s goals for the conversation
What do they want the other person to do?
What do they want to say?
What do they want to hide?
What are they unaware of (in their own or in the other character’s speech)?
Separate the speakers of a conversation (by folding over one side of the worksheet) and study them separately.
How easy is it to tell the voices apart?
Who is in charge of the direction of the conversation?
Is it possible to fill in the other side of the conversation?
Are there any utterances that don’t convey any information?
He had heard many of his fellow officers complain of homesickness, but as William Parker sat on the port gunwale of the Nephele and watched the coast of Lemnos drift slowly below them, he could not imagine such a feeling himself. That morning he was assisting Mr. David with the spyglass. William’s task was to spy out shoals and coves and other geographical features that could prove useful to the Admiralty, while Mr. David, looking through the gridded scope, copied the shore’s outline onto a roll of paper. Mr. David had himself designed the small table which sat on his lap and allowed him to feed blank paper and roll up used paper as required, through the use of a hand-crank on one side. William greatly admired Mr. David for his ingenuity, and offered to help him as often as his midshipman duties allowed.
“Possible site for landing C1,” William reported, lowering the spyglass and pointing to the corresponding spot on Mr. David’s chart. The gentleman duly noted this in his precise hand.
Their progress was leisurely. The wind had carried them almost to the southern tip of the island when the lookout called. A ship had been sighted due west, and William regretfully left Mr. David and joined the officers on the poop deck to await orders. The Captain was inspecting the ship through his glass. William trained his own borrowed glass down to the western horizon. It was difficult to make out much about the ship at this distance, but it was one of theirs – probably a 36 or 38-gun frigate – and it was lying at anchor with its sails furled.Read More