I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had trouble writing believable dialog. In fact, I have trouble speaking believable dialog myself at times, since English was not my first language (I’m one of those!). I once took an amazing course in Dialog facilitated by the wonderful Kate Billings at Vancouver Film School, and was totally blown away. One of the exercises she used to have us do was to sit somewhere in a public place with a little notepad and pen and notate (quick notes) the conversations of nearby people, i.e. ‘listen in’. You would be surprised at some people’s conversations! This was to teach us to think and write natural and believable dialog. Then she had actors cold-read our work, which was truly one of the peak experiences I’ve ever had! (I love actors!)
I think I’d like to turn the Writer’s Prompts I have here, in to Dialog exercises as I’m not sure if anybody else is doing it; so, from here on in let’s do dialog!
Word of the day is: ”hopeless“.
Now, let’s read your “hopeless” too!
Three people in a very small, old watchmaker‘s shop somewhere in a crowded modern city. The shop is obviously and literally ‘stuck in time’, that is, it’s about as old-fashioned as you can get. In the small display window are some cases with old analog watches and not a digital one in sight. Two customers come in–sisters.
Older Sister: (Talking to her sister in an agitated way. ) “Where did you last see it? Are you sure you brought it with you? For God’s sake we came all the way downtown to have it appraised and you forgot it! I mean, what a freakin waste of time, Linda!”
Younger Sister: (Rummaging around in her oversized handbag) “I know I put it in here.” (Still digging deep in to her trendy bag, taking out things one-by-one and laying them on the glass counter.)
Older Sister: “Really, (sarcastically) I sure hope so…”
Old Watchmaker: (In a heavy Swiss/German accent) “Can I help you?”, he says sarcastically as he looks up from behind a his workbench behind the counter where he is busy working on an old pocket watch beneath a bright lamp in his quiet shop. A cuckoo chimes 3 o’clock…
(Both of the sisters ignore the old man.)
Younger Sister: (Takes out miscellaneous and very random items from her purse: a balled up Kleenex, a multi-colored and gaudy rhinestone covered cellphone, a rather large and bulging wallet, 2 hair brushes full of hair, curling iron, a ratty wool beanie, a pair of well-worn flat shoes, a large and bursting makeup bag stained with mascara and lipstick, a crumpled gossip magazine, small collapsible and broken umbrella, a rolled up pair of used socks, a pack of opened Cheezies, a small bottle of half-used mouthwash, 2 packs of opened gum, numerous scraps of papers and folded notes, and a bottle of half-finished pop.) ”I know it’s in here.”
Older Sister: (Sneering and huffing and sighing and glaring at her sister.) ”Yeah, oh I’m sure it is.”
Old Watchmaker: (Looks up above his glasses) “Tut-tut-tut. You two should be more organized.”
Younger Sister: (Looks at Older Sister and rolls her eyes.)
Older Sister: (Looks back at her and opens her eyes wide and exaggerated.)
Younger Sister: (Starts giggling quietly at first, embarrassed, her body starts shaking; then her laughter gets louder as she has to turn her back to the counter trying hard not to burst. She’s obviously trying to contain her laughter but starts snorting and gurgling; her body continues shaking even more.)
Older Sister: (She can’t help but start as well now that she sees and hears her sister uncontrollably stifling her laughter. She starts grabbing at the stuff laid out on the counter, and jams each piece in to her sister’s handbag but first she dangles each piece in front of her sister and opens her eyes wide exaggeratingly, which makes them both laugh even louder. Younger Sister is now crouching down and doubling over in fits of laughter. Both of them now, loudly hooting and snorting as the older sister stuffs the items madly in to her Younger Sister’s bag.)
Younger Sister: ”I gotta get outta here!” (As she bursts out the door still almost unable to walk as she’s doubled over in fits of laughter.)
Older Sister: ”Sorry.” (She manages to say to the Old Watchmaker between outbursts of laughter, as she barely makes it out the door. Once outside she has to kneel on the sidewalk because she’s laughing so hard. Her Younger Sister is hanging off the parking meter doubled over. People walking by sneer in disgust at this casual display of silliness and very loud uproarious noise.)
Old Watchmaker: (Back inside, he has gotten up from behind his desk, walks to the door where he turns his ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed’. “Hopeless”, he mutters.
[As an aside to this dialogue sketch, I want to say that I've always been intrigued by what we women keep in our purses and handbags. Once I was driving towards London on the motorway and was listening to an intriguing BBC Radio 4 program where the interviewer was asking a famous English comedian/actress (I think it was Ruby Wax's show but who she was interviewing I can't remember) what she had in her handbag, whereby she promptly started to describe all the items, including the story of the handbag itself. It made for some great radio: Good old BBC Radio is the best! I think one of the fashion magazines also does this now, is it "Style" magazine? Maybe it's a woman's thing, but I just love the idea of hearing--and seeing--what's in other people's purses!]