Friday, April 23, 2010

Body Language

To dialogue or not to dialogue... Okay, that's not really the question but still, it amuses me.

I am a dialogue writer. I have practiced it, taken part in dialogue only flash fiction contests on WDC, and sometimes will write full scenes of just dialogue and then add the other stuff later. So, when Harley posted a "no dialogue" blogfest I had my doubts. Sure, I think Harley is awesome and I love entering any blogfest that I can (though I'm not entering a few, shocking... I know). But at the same time how was I going to write this scene? I mean, no dialogue, or that was my interpretation of the rules based on the original post. The truth is I know most of my weaknesses at this point in writing. Dialogue is not usually one of them. Description and setting are both weaknesses.

So, what's the problem? A few but I'll list one here since I know not everyone is even going to read this. Yes, you! I know you don't read the whole thing because the comments prove it. The truth that I'm starting to realize is that I don't have a strong understanding of show versus tell. I know, I know. It's one of those big rules and Harley even has posts about it, but I still don't get it. To me, it feels like I'm telling, and sometimes I get reviews/critiques that mention it as being kind of tell too (though that hasn't happened too often) when I do many sections without dialogue. This means I rely too much on dialogue and need to work on that. Anyways, blah blah blah. Let's get to the blogfest.

Body Language Blogfest
Created by Harley at thelabotomyofawriter

Minor note: I'm still trying to figure out how to address parents in my novels. I've seen authors refer to them by their first names but it seems awkward with teens or young adults as the main characters. So, I use Father or Mother, or something similar for the time being. Any suggestions on how to address parent characters, what to call them?

This entry is from my YA novel involving genetic mutation though that isn't obvious or even seen by this particular scene. It's the source of the tension, however. Ephram is a mutant but his parents aren't. That's all I'll tell you about. Enjoy the almost 500 word, no dialogue scene.


Novel: Tattle Tale (from rewrite of chapter 3)

With a tremble of a yawn, Ephram makes his way down a set of hard carpeted stairs and heads for the kitchen. He pauses in the living room to listen for evidence of life but it's a Saturday morning and his mother always works on Saturdays. Figuring his father is asleep or out of the house, he enters the kitchen in hopes of finding juice and maybe something to eat. He stops after getting past the door and it swings shut behind him but he doesn't move further into the kitchen. His father is there.

Father is making breakfast, or at least he was. At the sight of Ephram, he stops mid-action with a black spatula in his right hand. He doesn't move, as if that makes a difference somehow.

Silence takes over as neither produces a greeting and the only noise heard is whatever might be cooking on the stovetop, which doesn't make much noise. Instead, both stand in their spots and stare at each other in obvious discomfort.

To end the stand off, Ephram nods his head a little to break the moment before moving to the refrigerator. He opens it in search of juice while his father goes back to cooking, though he glances at Ephram a couple of times. After pulling out a carton of pineapple-orange blend juice, he moves to the cabinet space that is located away from the stovetop. Luckily, the one with the glasses is the one furthest away, so he is able to get a glass without worry of spooking Father even more. The uncomfortable energy isn't unusual between the two, so it's a little easier to ignore but that doesn't stop its existence.

After Ephram puts the juice on the table, he grabs a box of cereal from a different cabinet and then gets a bowl out before sitting. Another glance at Father shows he's busy with his food and not quite ready to leave the kitchen. After considering taking breakfast to his own room he decides to eat in the kitchen, but fast. Figuring it best to ignore the issue, he avoids looking at his father again and focuses on pouring the juice in his opaque glass.

As he grabs for the box of cereal, it gets pulled off the table. He looks up at his father, eyes widened a slight amount.

Father puts the box away and sets down a plate of eggs, sausage and pancakes in front of Ephram. He takes another plate and sits across at the same table.

Still staring, Ephram doesn't know what to do next. The food smells good but this is almost too strange for him to handle. He can't even remember the last time Father had spent more than five minutes in the same room. But here he sat, eating almost as if everything was normal. The uncomfortableness still exists, but it seems lighter. After some trepidation, Ephram shrugs his shoulders back a little and then begins to eat.

12 comments:

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Ephram sounds like he has the kind of father I did. You did a great job of conveying meaning without dialogue. A real talent.

Come check out my body language entry at my blog. Tell me what you think. The words of others help me think outside the box of my own perceptions, Roland

Eric W. Trant said...

I have the same issue with addressing parentals. Dad. Pop. Papa. Father. Tough call. Depends on the POV, how deep you are inside the main character's head.

I like the tension. Subtle but palpable. Reminds me of my own dad. Pop was in the oil field and would be gone for weeks. We had breakfasts just like this when he'd come home and re-introduce himself to his sons.

- Eric

F and M said...

I could feel the awkwardness from here... I think you conveyed it well... This was a hard blogfest to enter; I am still unsure of mine as well... I liked this one, though.

Just Another Sarah said...

Showing and telling can be difficult for anyone, I think--especially when there's so much we want to convey. (See, I read the whole post!) I think this is a good practice in showing, and you did it very well. I like that the box is taken off the table as Ephram reaches for it.

The way the character address his parents is as telling as anything. If he calls him Father, it does seem very formal. This may work here, but it's a bit too formal for me; I always go for Mom and Dad, or once I had characters call their mother Ma.

Iapetus999 said...

I see what you mean about showing vs telling...this piece is mostly telling :(
It's really something that you can overcome with practice. Technically, all we do is "tell" stories, but there's a way to do it that connects with the characters at a deeper level.
It's a nice scene though. I get a good sense of who the characters are and why it's an awkward situation.
It makes me want to know what happens next. :)

Amalia T. said...

Your premise sounds very interesting!

I think that there were a few places here where Dad could have worked better than Father-- when Ephram is dealing with him directly. Like: Dad is making breakfast. Or: Dad puts the box away.

In regard to show vs. tell, it's a slippery eel. But prepositional phrases like "To end the stand off," are cues for telling. If you cut them off, does the sentence still convey what the prepositional phrase was telling? This is part of why adverbs are problematic-- they tell rather than show.

There is definitely a lot of discomfort in this scene between your characters, and I admire you for stepping out of your comfort zone to take part in the blogfest! Knowing your strengths and your weaknesses and jumping in anyway is the best way to conquer them!

Melanie Sherman said...

Every time I think I've cut out all the telling and just have showing, my crit group proves me wrong. It is so hard. But you do a good job conveying the tension and I love that it is lighter in the end. Good job.

The "Father" seemed a little awkward. I agree with the other comments that maybe "Dad" would work better.

And yes, I read the whole post. :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

I agree with Melanie that father seems awkward, then again, your scene is filled with tension right to the end. Maybe thinking of his dad as father is a way of distancing himself emotionally? I loved your entry.

KM said...

Good scene! I love that you're writing in present tense. That doesn't happen much.

I usually go with "Mom" and "Dad." Classic. Simple. And "Father" and "Mother" seems too formal to me.

Dawn Embers said...

Thanks everyone for the responses. It's not easy, changing to third person but I'm liking the outcome. Having his father in it more is going to make a difference, I think.

I kind of prefer father to dad. Not sure why, but it sounds better in my head.

Nice to see some people read the other portion of the post. Thanks for that too.

Mia said...

Well, I'm going to buck the trend and say I really liked the use of Father in this. I know it's not how I would refer to my own dear parent but I thought I emphasised the distance between them. He's not Dad to Ephram, he's Father. A Dad is somebody you really know, somebody who's close but a Father can be somebody you've never met before...

I really liked the tension in this piece. Great job :~D

Donna Hole said...

I've had a lot of teenagers - four of my own, one more on the verge, and loads of friends - and I find each one addresses me differently depending on both their personality, and what they want.

Most of the time it's just Mom. I don't think that has gone out of fashion. Mother or Father is just too formal, and they use it when negotiating, or showing me how grown up they are. They've never called me mamma; but I was Mommy until they turned about eight. Except my daughter, and this last boy. They call me Mommy when they're sugar coating something.

So, I think you just need to know your character, and what fits their personality, and their overal relationship with the parents.

I'm with you about the dialogue. It's some of my strongest writing. So I had a hard time with this blog fest too.

You did well to add the tension and discomfort. I'd almost to see a bit more foot shuffling on Ephrams part, and maybe them almost bump into each other.

But it conveyed the high emotional intensity you were looking for. Well done.

.........dhole

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