When I was in middle school, I read all the girly series books like Baby-sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Pen Pals. I also read the Girl Talk books by L. E. Blair, which were somehow related to the Girl Talk board game (a glorified version of truth or dare, but if you refused to answer the question or perform the dare you had a wear a red zit sticker for the rest of the game). Ahh, the early 90’s…
The Girl Talk series was about four friends: a bubbly redhead, a bookish Native American, a preppy blonde hockey player, and the new girl in school who has a punky style. The thing I remember about the books is that some of the chapters were literally just phone conversations between two of the girls. If I still own any Girl Talk books, they’re in a box in my mom’s attic, so I’ll have to make up an example. A chapter might look something like this:
Sabrina: So, are you going to go to the school dance?
Allison: I don’t think my parents will let me.
Sabrina: Ally, come on. You have to! We’re all going!
Allison: Well… What if no one wants to dance with me?
And it would go on like this for four or five pages. Not exactly high-quality writing, but I didn’t seem to mind as an eleven-year-old.
I thought of the Girl Talk books when I was at my “craft book club” meeting on Monday. We meet once a month to discuss a book on writing, and this month we read Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft.
Steering the Craft is compilation of ten writing exercises (most with multiple parts, so it’s more like 15 or 20), along with explanations and examples. A few of the exercises were frustrating (perhaps that’s a good thing, though?), and the examples were somewhat antiquated for my taste (Dickens, Austen, etc.), but overall it was fun and interesting to sit down every other morning and play with elements of storywriting like point of view or sentence structure.
Some of the exercises Le Guin recommends for groups, so my book club chose to do Exercise 9 Part 1 together.
Exercise 9: Part 1: “The goal of this exercise is to tell a story and present two characters through dialogue alone. Write a page or two… of pure dialogue. Write it like a play, with A and B as the characters’ names. No stage directions. No descriptions of the characters. Nothing but what A says and what B says. Everything the reader knows about who they are, where they are, and what’s going on, comes through what they say.”
In a way, it’s like writing a Girl Talk phone conversation!
I thought this was a useful exercise because I’ve been struggling lately with the dialogue in both of the novels I’m working on. I worry that my characters all talk in the same way. I worry that the dialogue sounds strange or stilted. These are both things Le Guin tells writers to watch out for. In Exercise 9, she suggests asking questions such as, “Could we tell the two voices apart without the A and B signals, and if not, how might they be more differentiated? Do people actually talk this way?”
Without further ado, below is my attempt at Exercise 9, which I wrote in about fifteen minutes at the Dunn Brothers coffee shop while my fellow book club members wrote theirs. And now I dare you to try the exercise for yourself. If you don’t, you’ll have to wear a red zit sticker for the rest of the day!
Eva’s Attempt at Exercise 9, aka “Girl Talk”:
A: OK, so who’s going to do it?
B: Duh. You are.
A: Why do I have to?
B: Because. You have a bigger bag.
A: Yeah, some people actually bring backpacks to school.
B: And some people aren’t nerds. Anyways, if I go in there, the dude at the counter will watch me the whole time. He won’t notice you.
A: What’s that supposed to mean?
B: Nothing, god. You know guys stare at me. They can’t help themselves.
A: OK, look at what you’re wearing. Maybe if you didn’t put your boobs out on display.
B: My boobs are what got us beer last time.
A: Yeah, and we had to sit that creepy guy’s apartment and drink it.
B: He was harmless.
A: It was stupid of us. He was creepy and old and we’re lucky we didn’t get raped.
B: He weight like a hundred pounds. I could’ve taken. Easily.
A: We’re getting our own beer from now on.
B: Exactly. So go in there and get it. It’ll be totally fine. Just walk back — you know where it is, right?
A: OK, but you’re coming in, too. Go talk to the guy at the counter. Distract him with your boobs or something.
B: OK, whatever, fine. Are you ready?
A: Yeah. Let’s go.