Writing Idea Using Dialogue: dm June 07

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Writing Idea - Using Dialogue: dm June 07

Write a poem or 1 page story, relying heavily on the power of dialogue and narration to convey dramatic and emotional impact. Think of Hemingway's story, "Hills Like White Elephants" and Frost's poem "Home Burial" - the dramatic situation between characters is conveyed through what they say and what the narration tells the reader they are doing. For instance, in "Hills," the way the girl looks down at the ground, or the detail about the stickers on the luggage and all of the places they have 'spent nights.' In Frost's "Burial" the dialogue takes us deeper and deeper into the emotional and psychological wounds the couple has suffered from the loss of their child. In "Elephants" the dialogue takes us into the same emotional territory as a result of the impending crisis the couple is facing.
For Your Writing:
Use dialogue in a compressed scene that takes the characters and their story some place significant. It can be a quick flashpoint exchange - like a quick outburst between brothers, or something that evolves more slowly.
This assignment is a culmination of the skills from the 1st three writing ideas. The dialogue is limited to a frozen moment in time. As in the character sketch, what the characters say and how they say it will reveal aspects of their personalities. The conversation occurs inside a psychological and emotional “place” that the characters inhabit.


Examples in this Packet:
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (Short Story)

Home Burial by Robert Frost (Poem)

Hills Like White Elephants


Ernest Hemingway

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

'What should we drink?' the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

'It's pretty hot,' the man said.

'Let's drink beer.'

'Dos cervezas,' the man said into the curtain.

'Big ones?' a woman asked from the doorway.

'Yes. Two big ones.'

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

'They look like white elephants,' she said.

'I've never seen one,' the man drank his beer.

'No, you wouldn't have.'

'I might have,' the man said. 'Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything.'

The girl looked at the bead curtain. 'They've painted something on it,' she said. 'What does it say?'

'Anis del Toro. It's a drink.'

'Could we try it?'

The man called 'Listen' through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.

'Four reales.' 'We want two Anis del Toro.'

'With water?'

'Do you want it with water?'

'I don't know,' the girl said. 'Is it good with water?'

'It's all right.'

'You want them with water?' asked the woman.

'Yes, with water.'

'It tastes like liquorice,' the girl said and put the glass down.

'That's the way with everything.'

'Yes,' said the girl. 'Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe.'

'Oh, cut it out.'

'You started it,' the girl said. 'I was being amused. I was having a fine time.'

'Well, let's try and have a fine time.'

'All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?'

'That was bright.'

'I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it - look at things and try new drinks?'

'I guess so.'

The girl looked across at the hills.

'They're lovely hills,' she said. 'They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.'

'Should we have another drink?'

'All right.'

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

'The beer's nice and cool,' the man said.

'It's lovely,' the girl said.

'It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,' the man said. 'It's not really an operation at all.'

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

'I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in.'

The girl did not say anything.

'I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural.'

'Then what will we do afterwards?'

'We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.'

'What makes you think so?'

'That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy.'

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.

'And you think then we'll be all right and be happy.'

'I know we will. Yon don't have to be afraid. I've known lots of people that have done it.'

'So have I,' said the girl. 'And afterwards they were all so happy.'

'Well,' the man said, 'if you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple.'

'And you really want to?'

'I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to.'

'And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?'

'I love you now. You know I love you.'

'I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it?'

'I'll love it. I love it now but I just can't think about it. You know how I get when I worry.'

'If I do it you won't ever worry?'

'I won't worry about that because it's perfectly simple.'

'Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me.'

'What do you mean?'

'I don't care about me.'

'Well, I care about you.'

'Oh, yes. But I don't care about me. And I'll do it and then everything will be fine.'

'I don't want you to do it if you feel that way.'

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.

'And we could have all this,' she said. 'And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.'

'What did you say?'

'I said we could have everything.'

'We can have everything.'

'No, we can't.'

'We can have the whole world.'

'No, we can't.'

'We can go everywhere.'

'No, we can't. It isn't ours any more.'

'It's ours.'

'No, it isn't. And once they take it away, you never get it back.'

'But they haven't taken it away.'

'We'll wait and see.'

'Come on back in the shade,' he said. 'You mustn't feel that way.'

'I don't feel any way,' the girl said. 'I just know things.'

'I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to do -'

'Nor that isn't good for me,' she said. 'I know. Could we have another beer?'

'All right. But you've got to realize - '

'I realize,' the girl said. 'Can't we maybe stop talking?'

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

'You've got to realize,' he said, ' that I don't want you to do it if you don't want to. I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.'

'Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along.'

'Of course it does. But I don't want anybody but you. I don't want anyone else. And I know it's perfectly simple.'

'Yes, you know it's perfectly simple.'

'It's all right for you to say that, but I do know it.'

'Would you do something for me now?'

'I'd do anything for you.'

'Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?'

He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.

'But I don't want you to,' he said, 'I don't care anything about it.'

'I'll scream,' the girl said.

The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. 'The train comes in five minutes,' she said.

'What did she say?' asked the girl.

'That the train is coming in five minutes.'

The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.

'I'd better take the bags over to the other side of the station,' the man said. She smiled at him.

'All right. Then come back and we'll finish the beer.'

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

'Do you feel better?' he asked.

'I feel fine,' she said. 'There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.'


Poem with Dialogue: Home Burial by Robert Frost

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs


Before she saw him. She was starting down,


Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.


She took a doubtful step and then undid it


To raise herself and look again. He spoke


Advancing toward her: 'What is it you see


From up there always--for I want to know.'


She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,


And her face changed from terrified to dull.


He said to gain time: 'What is it you see,'


Mounting until she cowered under him.


'I will find out now--you must tell me, dear.'


She, in her place, refused him any help


With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.


She let him look, sure that he wouldn't see,


Blind creature; and awhile he didn't see.


But at last he murmured, 'Oh,' and again, 'Oh.'


'What is it--what?' she said.


'Just that I see.'


'You don't,' she challenged. 'Tell me what it is.'


'The wonder is I didn't see at once.


I never noticed it from here before.


I must be wonted to it--that's the reason.


The little graveyard where my people are!


So small the window frames the whole of it.


Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?


There are three stones of slate and one of marble,


Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight


On the sidehill. We haven't to mind those.


But I understand: it is not the stones,


But the child's mound--'


'Don't, don't, don't, don't,' she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm

That rested on the bannister, and slid downstairs;


And turned on him with such a daunting look,


He said twice over before he knew himself:


'Can't a man speak of his own child he's lost?'


'Not you! Oh, where's my hat? Oh, I don't need it!


I must get out of here. I must get air.


I don't know rightly whether any man can.'


'Amy! Don't go to someone else this time.


Listen to me. I won't come down the stairs.'


He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.


'There's something I should like to ask you, dear.'


'You don't know how to ask it.'


'Help me, then.'


Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.


'My words are nearly always an offense.


I don't know how to speak of anything


So as to please you. But I might be taught


I should suppose. I can't say I see how.


A man must partly give up being a man


With women-folk. We could have some arrangement


By which I'd bind myself to keep hands off


Anything special you're a-mind to name.


Though I don't like such things 'twixt those that love.


Two that don't love can't live together without them.


But two that do can't live together with them.'


She moved the latch a little. 'Don't--don't go.


Don't carry it to someone else this time.


Tell me about it if it's something human.


Let me into your grief. I'm not so much


Unlike other folks as your standing there


Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.


I do think, though, you overdo it a little.


What was it brought you up to think it the thing

To take your mother--loss of a first child

So inconsolably--in the face of love.


You'd think his memory might be satisfied--'


'There you go sneering now!'


'I'm not, I'm not!


You make me angry. I'll come down to you.


God, what a woman! And it's come to this,


A man can't speak of his own child that's dead.'


'You can't because you don't know how to speak.


If you had any feelings, you that dug


With your own hand--how could you?--his little grave;


I saw you from that very window there,


Making the gravel leap and leap in air,


Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly


And roll back down the mound beside the hole.


I thought, Who is that man? I didn't know you.


And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs


To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.


Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice


Out in the kitchen, and I don't know why,


But I went near to see with my own eyes.


You could sit there with the stains on your shoes


Of the fresh earth from your own baby's grave


And talk about your everyday concerns.


You had stood the spade up against the wall


Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.'


'I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.


I'm cursed. God, if I don't believe I'm cursed.'


'I can repeat the very words you were saying.


"Three foggy mornings and one rainy day


Will rot the best birch fence a man can build."


Think of it, talk like that at such a time!


What had how long it takes a birch to rot


To do with what was in the darkened parlor.

You couldn't care! The nearest friends can go

With anyone to death, comes so far short


They might as well not try to go at all.


No, from the time when one is sick to death,


One is alone, and he dies more alone.


Friends make pretense of following to the grave,


But before one is in it, their minds are turned


And making the best of their way back to life


And living people, and things they understand.


But the world's evil. I won't have grief so


If I can change it. Oh, I won't, I won't!'


'There, you have said it all and you feel better.


You won't go now. You're crying. Close the door.


The heart's gone out of it: why keep it up.


Amy! There's someone coming down the road!'


'You--oh, you think the talk is all. I must go--


Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you--'


'If--you--do!' She was opening the door wider.


'Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.



I'll follow and bring you back by force. I will!--'


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