Dialogue Challenge

In same vein as the previous post, I once posted a challenge. “Propose a dialogue.
(A blank between a blank and a blank about blank)” I got some unique prompts.
Try to think how you would construct a dialogue from these prompts before reading my responses.

The first one posted was “A conversation between a dolphin and a junky about the fate of humanity.” But the poster’s connection was glitchy and “about the fate of humanity” did not appear on the screen. He added that later but by then I had already finished and posted the bit of dialogue which went like this:

“How do you smoke this shit?” said the Dolphin taking the hookah out of its mouth. “You have no class.”
“Says the fish that never pays for the hash.”
“Don’t call me fish. You know I’m not a fish.”
“You oughta be grateful I even tolerate you.”
“Haha. Like you have anyone else to talk to. You should be glad I tolerate you.”
“What did you just say?”
“Shut up and pass the pipe.”
“Seriously dude, you need to score better shit.”
“Yeah, the expert knows all.”
“You’re talking to a dolphin, dude. Think about that.”
“And the moral is?”
“You need to detox, dude. This shit is messing with your brain.”

I had minutes to make up my answers because the proposals were coming in very fast.
The next prompt was “An argument between an admiral and a lumberjack about vector calculus.”
This was my response:

“You sure you want this for the garboard?” said the wood seller over the massive Douglas fir board.
“What business is that of yours?” The admiral had an New England accent that the Alaskan lumber man mistrusted.
“When you’re close-hauled on a long keeled boat you don’t want wood grain turbulence on the keel.”
“What do you know about sailing?” said the admiral indignant. The lumberjack’s mistrust went up a few notches. Everybody sailed around here and he felled trees specifically for boats.
“You see the current vector around the keel, unless you have a Scheel keel…”

“I don’t think you know what you are talking about.”
“Displacement needs to follow a cosine curve…”

The admiral was suddenly attentive.
“Are you a submariner?”
“Served eight years.”
“I do have a Scheel keel.”
“Why don’t we look at some yellow cedar I have over there.”

Then there was this prompt “A request from a father to a son about his drug habit”
This was my response:

“Will you sit down, Harmon?”
“No dad, I don’t think so.”
“There was some money missing from your mother’s purse.”
“Look, I… Why don’t you have it right out?”
“I’m not accusing you of anything. I want you to sit down.”
“I’m not sitting down. And you are accusing me.”
“This is about your habit, Harmon. You need to break it.”
“I don’t know about mom’s purse. I had nothing to do with it.”
“I don’t care about that right now.”
“No. You don’t care about ME right now. You never cared.”
“I care about you. That’s why I want you to go into rehab.”
“It sure won’t look good in front of your country club friends to have a user for a son.”
“Will you sit down?”

Other prompts tried to be clever. “A theological debate between a carrot and a potato.”
I responded thus:

“How many angels do you think…”
“What kind of angels? There are serafs, cherubs, thrones…”
“Are you judging angels by their rank? You are not even an aspirational vegetable.”
“You grow downwards too. At least I have a pigment.”
“I’m down-to-earth.”
“But you are discussing angels in the eye of a needle.”
“On the point of a needle. There’s a difference.”
“And what difference is that?”
“The eye of a needle a symbol of impossibility. The point of a needle is the symbol of a ultimate perfection.”
“And that’s down-to-earth? You’ve had your head in the ground too long.”

Another prompt in this vein. “A dispute between a squirrel and a polar bear about economics.”
My response:

“Are you skimming off my meal again? That kibble is mine you know.”
“Let the little guys wet the beak a little. It’s the trickle down economy.”
“Shouldn’t you be collecting nuts from trees or something? What you are doing is theft. You’re not contributing to the ecology.”
“That’s pretty thick coming from an animal in captivity who hasn’t hunted all his life. You’re a taker on welfare”
“I’m a mascot of the zoo. It’s an honorable occupation.”
“Well, I’m hustling for food. And if I didn’t clean off your left-overs the rats will, so it’s a kind of contribution.”
“I can take care of the rats myself.”
“Oh, so now you’re the self reliant one. You’re living off a public program. I’m an independent entrepreneur.”
“Wanna trade places?”

Another one. “A debate between my dog and I about her new kibble.”
My response:

“Look what was on sale today!”
“Am I supposed to eat that?”
“It’s made from Pacific sword fish and soy flour. It’s super healthy.”
“The soy better not be genetically modified.”
“It’s low cholesterol too.”
“It smells like they made it out of fish guts and blood after using all the good meat for Chicken of the Sea.”
“You’re going to get a nice sheen on you.”
“Then feed it to your husband. God knows he needs help with his hair.”
“Look at this package. This picture is adorable!”
“It says ‘Made in China’. I’m not eating that. It probably has paint thinner in it.”

Making up dialogue from wacky proposals was not nearly as educational as writing first lines to story premises. It was mostly wild flights of imagination, although sometimes all you had to do was follow an established template. Such as this prompt. “An explanation between a superhero and an arch-villian about the villian’ diabolical plans.”

“Blame yourself Falcon-man. It was your mistake to disengage the energy pod.”
“Stop! You’ll kill hundreds of people!”
“Hundreds? Yes, for starters. But this is not the only bomb that will go off. In fact six hundred of the world’s largest silicone kilns will be demolished simultaneously. The world’s production of solar panels will come to a screeching halt.”
“For what? The money your oil baron friends will pay you?”
“Bus fare, Falcon-man. Mere cookie money.”
“Then why?”
“The moment I receive confirmation that the silicone kilns have been destroyed, I will release the nuclear atomizer into low Earth orbit permanently altering the spectrum of non-visible light to enter the atmosphere. The only solar panels that will be of any use will be mine, and nobody will be able to retool fast enough to stop me from cornering the energy market. And, yes, I also plan to disrupt the pipelines, so the oil supply will be reduced to a trickle.”
“And that’s all I wanted to know.”
“You thought I couldn’t break those chains because I disengaged the energy pod. Well, my auxiliary pod had enough power to break your cheap steel chains.”

In a similar vein, here was another prompt for a dialogue that practically wrote itself. “An awkward conversation between a husband and wife about malodorous body parts.”

“What’s this for?”
“Nothing? It’s twenty eight dollars. We don’t need to buy this.”
“We need this.”
“We have several brands of deodorant at home and there are other cheaper brands.”
“No. We need this.”
“Yeah, why?”
“We are not going to discuss this in public.”
“Okay, we can talk about it in the car, but this is going back on the shelf.”
“No. It is not.”
“Because… nothing else has worked.”
“Worked for what?”
“Oh, you have no clue do you?”
“Give me one good reason. Why can I not put this back on the shelf?”
“Okay. If you put that back on the shelf, I am never going to walk within twenty feet of you ever again and I will not go to any more social gatherings with you and I am going to file for divorce. Is that good enough reason for you?”
“Do I offend?”
“We’re checking this out.”

None of these are master courses in writing, but I had to respond to these prompts in ten to twenty minutes to keep the posters engaged. That was quite challenging. Especially since the posters were trying to make this as difficult as possible. But injecting craziness did not deter me.

“A shouting match between an evangelist and a conspiracy theorist about the purpose of the armrest between aeroplane seats.”
My response*

“For the last time, this armrest is mine! Keep your fat elbow off of it!”
“Son, I rest both my elbows on armrests because Jesus told me to.”
“Oh, so Jesus specifically told you that you could use two armrests on an airplane? You know there were no airplanes in Bethlehem in Jesus’s time, don’t you?”
“God gave me two elbows and that’s enough evidence for me!”
“Do you even know why you are only supposed to use the armrest on your right side? All the controls are on the right side because the government wants to train everybody to be right-handed. That way they won’t have to spend extra issuing left-handed guns to the military. You’re past fighting age so you have no right to armrests at all!”
“God gave me two elbows. I’m keeping both armrests.”
“Well news flash I got two elbows too. And you ain’t got no right to one.”

“An argument between a flat earther and a moon landing skeptic about how the government is trying to control squirrels.”
My response:

“Don’t eat those nuts.”
“They’re mine. I’ll do what I want with them.”
“They’re laced with hormones. They make you sick, and when you poop they come out undigested. They are meant to, so that the squirrels will pick them out and eat them along with all the other hormone laced shit. Make them grow six feet high.”
“Never seen a six foot squirrel.”
“You will eventually. See those people? They weigh three times their natural weight. Do you know why? Hormones! It’s all a part of a greater plot. They’ve been working on it ever since they brought those radioactive rocks from the moon!”
“They never went to the moon.”
“Of course they did. The moon is just a flat disk in the sky. You can climb up with a ladder if you had the resources.”
“That is totally uneducated.”
“Don’t eat those nuts, I tell you! You’ll trigger a squirrel-pocalypse!”

“An argument between a king and a peasant about the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow” was a proposal I did not take seriously. (I has already been done.) I did not respond to “A discussion between Greg Maddux and Cristiano Ronaldo on the merits of their respective sports” because I do not follow sports and I cannot get into the minds of these people, and I have never known how these people speak. (I’m more familiar with Ronaldo but I’ve never heard him speak English). For the same reason, I gave up on “Justine Bieber debates Taylor Swift about the the philosophical writings of Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the younger)” not because I was daunted by Metrodorus but because I did not know enough about Justine Bieber or Taylor Swift to reproduce their speech. Real people, in short, requires research. (Although I did respond to “An argument between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump about the size of their nuclear buttons.”) Pre-existing idiosyncrasies of speech do not make it easier to write dialogue unless you have spent some time trying to imitate them. That is why the last proposal that closed this thread was “A love-hate, will-they-won’t-they exchange between Marie Curie and Harry Potter” to which I replied “You’re breaking my brain”.

Dialogue is a second draft issue. In the first draft, you can simply insert “dialogue between Kevin and Carl about backstory on Linda” and move on to the next scene, then figure out the dialogue later. It is easier to make each character’s voice sound consistent after you have finished the story. By then, hopefully, you have become familiar enough with your characters to know how they would talk to each other on a given situation.

And finally, I would like to recognize this creative prompt. “A sexy conversation between an ice-cream man and a dictator on how New York coffee contributes to de-facto racial segregation.” How would you respond, within limited time, to this proposal?
Here is my response:

“Banana ice and whipped cream on a mocha grande for…”
She looked at the name on the paper cup.
“… Herr Furer!”
A man in a tailored suit raised his hand straight up and… did he say “Here” or “Heil”?
“Here you go. Would you like a little sprinkle on that?”
“Yes, please.”
“Love your mustache.”
“Thank you. You don’t think it’s too… economical?”
“It’s a lot better than those hipster beards, if you know what I mean.”
“You don’t like hipsters?”
“I detest the coffee shops they hang out at. Ice cream parlors are a lot better. Lots of different people.”
“I’m sure there are a wide variety of people in coffee shops.”
“Not like here. I don’t think I’d ever meet you in one of them. Hold still.”
She pulled a smartphone and took his picture.
“What are you doing?”
“You look so cute with that foam and sprinkles on your lip. Makes the mustache look like an upside-down umbrella. Do you have social media?”
“I want to send you the picture. Email? Phone number?”
“Are you trying to hook up?”
“Oh, don’t swipe left on me.”
“Never left.”

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