Category: research

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20 ¬†minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the ¬†topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

Research is Awesome

SO I’m researching 1920’s hair oils for men (because OF COURSE I am). I found the best article in the Art of Manliness blog. This guy is excellent. But the comments. Guys, the comments. I couldn’t stop reading. These men are so sincere about their love for Vitalis and Bryllcreem. It’s adorable how much they care how their hairdo looks after a day of fedora-wearing or biking or (imagine) working in an office.

Spend time here today. (Sheesh. I’m growing so bossy. Sorry.) (But really. You’ll love this.)

Taking a tiny break

Well, okay. I finished a draft of a very small thing. I sent it out to three fine readers and to Husband, who is very busy cursing the rain in Hawaii and probably won’t be able to read any sort of early-reader chapter books any time soon. And yesterday I took the draft (which I had “finished” and printed that morning) to Kid 4’s class. It was my turn to come in and read to the adorable first graders, so I went ahead and asked Mrs. Patterson (teacher of the decade, at least) if she objected to giving the kids a totally new reading experience.

Of course she did not object. Because she’s awesome like that.

I started by telling the class a little about the characters. Just a tiny introduction, because really, this was research and I wanted to know if they could keep the characters straight. I told them that this character talks all the time, and we did the open-shut-open-shut fingers (that thing you might just possibly do when someone won’t actually ever shut up). I told them that this other character almost never talks. We held our fingers shut. Like that. So when one of those characters came on the scene, the kids held their hands out, either flapping or shut depending who we were talking about. See? Normally I wouldn’t need to give them any clues like that, but this book is made to be illustrated. And I so don’t illustrate.

So I read the first chapter. Two kids laughed out loud. I asked a few questions at the end of the chapter, and they responded as though they were following me. (*relief*) I read another chapter. Two more kids laughed. By chapter 3, the group was totally engaged, and that was a huge shot of joy for me. After chapter 4, I asked them if they wanted a little more. Huge shout of “YES.” Oy, the joy.

So by the time they needed to get in jackets and “crash hats” (this is what their new principal calls helmets – is that strangely fatalistic to anyone else?) we had read half the manuscript and many of the kids asked me to please come back tomorrow. I know, right?

*sigh*

It’s good to get some happy feedback from the target audience. I think I’ll go back next week and read some more to them. But today I’m taking a tiny break. I’m cleaning the house. (1 load of laundry, dishes, and a family room carpet down, lots to go.) And making more bread. White, this time. Naan and pita. Mmm. And I think I’ll do a little Christmas shopping online. These are some of the little things that bring me some more of the joy.

And for the gratitude today:

* Fresh snipped Rosemary (I think, deep down inside, that this is what pine trees must taste like – but don’t worry, I don’t eat the trees; just the Rosemary)

* Lawnmowers with bag attachments (for leaf “raking” activities)

* Wrapped packages filling a space in my closet

* Clever musical theatre

HELP! I’m Shamelessly Exploiting YOU!

So I need to know: If you could have written a letter to an advice column in High School* what kinds of things would you have asked about? (My concerns may not have been entirely, um, of general interest.)


*Bonus points if you’re actually IN HIGH SCHOOL. Use LOTS of CAPS in your COMMENT, and then I’ll KNOW.)

Good Morning

It is. A good morning, I mean. One thousand words down pre-Kid-wake-up. Plus some research. And do you know what I am finding? In that research? That symptoms of just about any disease or emotional disorder or abuse can be confused with all the others. Which is good for purposes of this novel, but tricky in life.

For instance: Do you know a kid who has shown sudden changes in eating habits? Well, that could be Anorexia, Depression, Drug Abuse, Bulimia, all manner of Cancer, or Puberty. Or nothing. Comforting, right?
But adding all this unclarity (the computer thinks that is a word) makes my characters able to reach all manner of wrong conclusions. Which, of course, makes Good Story. And that is what we are after.
Today I will try to write another two thousand words, and also to make it to the shower. (I think that is a good goal for me every day, and usually it happens. I’m just saying.) Since tomorrow is a be-at-the-elementary-school-most-of-the-day sort of day, I want to get a jump on what I may not be able to finish in my short bursts of computer time tomorrow.
On a totally unrelated note, is anyone else still waking up at 4:30? I can only blame the time change, and I’m not complaining, but it’s a little weird that this body would think that 4:30 is a decent time to get out of the bed. But, hey. A thousand words before Kids wake. Not too shabby.