Last week I spoke about background or context to a line of dialog and how that background can define the meaning behind the dialog. What if there were no background. What if, you could only write dialog and nothing else? There is a writers contest with just such a requirement: http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/contests.htm How do you do that? Let’s try an example:
“Jim, you pick up that gun and march yourself out that door. Your friend needs your help. Friends are the next closest thing to family.”
“Now just you wait a cotton pickin’ minute Momma. Billy Joe ain’t never been no friend of mine. He only hangs out here ‘cause you give him food. Besides he’s got a right smack bad habit a getting’ hisself in all kinds a trouble. He ain’t got a lick of sense, and I ain’t about to jump into a pit of snakes for the likes of him.”
From these two paragraphs, I have established three characters: Jim, his mother, and Billy Joe along with an unidentified but intense situation. From word choice, and dialect you can easily see two different speakers. (Besides, I’ve named them) You get an impression of the type or relationship that exists between Jim and his mother. She is used to ordering him about and fully expects her son to follow her instructions. Jim on the other hand is willing to stand up to her, at least on this issue. He believes Billy Joe to be reckless and a trouble maker and will let Billy Joe face the music of whatever he’s found himself in this time. With Jim’s word and phrase choices, I’d place him either in the “deep south” anywhere from Texas across to Georgia, or with an upbringing in that area and I would assume he’s poorly educated. Billy Joe, who hasn’t spoken a word for himself, we can infer is in a big bind, probably something outside the law if it’s going to take someone with a gun standing with him to pull him out of it. However, we haven’t a clue what the trouble is. Nor do we know how Momma knows about Billy Joe’s trouble or even why she cares enough to send her own child into harm’s way. But we can see that Momma feels duty bound to help.
The story can go in many directions from this humble start and that is the subject of the next challenge.
Write the next hundred and fifty to two hundred words to my two paragraphs. What is Momma’s response to her son’s refusal to take up a gun and stand with Billy Joe? Requirements: Stay with the idea of nothing but dialog and maintain the separate voices of the characters. If you have Billy Joe or any other character speak we must recognize their voice as a separate distinct voice. All must be revealed through the words spoken by the characters (no tags such as he said or she replied. Good luck.