Dialogue–Interacting Photos?

Today’s prompt for The Daily Post’s Weekly Photography Challenge: Dialogue 


“Dialogue is an engaging conversational exchange. When it comes to photography, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images. Placed next to each other, each photograph opens up to meanings that weren’t there when viewed alone. Each composition reveals the photographer’s specific sensitivity to certain content or visual elements.”

It’s your turn now: for this week’s challenge, bring together two of your photos into dialogue. What do they say to each other?


“For where your treasure is, there also is your heart.”  Mt. 6:21


Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: D. Slotto

Photo: D. Slotto

The Deli–A Short Story

deli lesters

Image by Magalie L'Abbé via Flickr

This rather irreverent story is true, except for the pick-up attempt at the very end. As a disclaimer: the very politically incorrect language is a direct quote. These are not words I would choose to use. This story was published in The MeadoW…a literary publication of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno/Sparks Nevada in 2003.

The Deli

I watch a middle-aged man staring out the window of the deli. His lack-luster eyes penetrate the bright desert landscape. The setting sun casts a glare on his countenance. It highlights his furrowed brow and weathered skin, accenting a scowl.

Does he see the purple and vermillion Lantana blanketing the median separating the four-lane boulevard? Or the mauve Santa Rosa’s hurtling shafts of light that pierce the smudgy pane? To the west the orb heaves a heavy sigh and expires.

I’m here for an evening of relaxation with my Mother who doesn’t get out often. She wants Matzo ball soup. “Comfort food,” she says.

The man turns to the woman sitting across from him. “If this government doesn’t wise up, I’ll damn well commit suicide.” His strident voice jolts the dull undercurrent of conversation.

Well, girl, you picked the right table, I tell myself. I taste his negativity. He’s obnoxious. O-B-N-O-X-I-O-U-S.

He startles other diners. Conversations halt mid-word. Some patrons sneak a glimpse of him. A few heads turn. An older couple hides behind their menu to further observe. Or, perhaps, in a futile effort to escape.

“Congress plunged us into debt. There’s no need for us to be involved in world politics. Our soldiers are just young kids. They’re fucking dying!”

He’s ranting now. I want to break away. I wince inside.

His companion looks away. Her face shows signs of once-upon-a-time beauty but wrinkles have etched a map across her skin. She nurses the last mouthful of red wine that appears to have been sitting in the glass for a while. Distinct burgundy-colored rings mark the stages of her discomfort as she’s let the potion rest between his tirades. She studies the ceiling tiles for a while and then closes her eyes. I imagine her thinking, Erase, erase! She frowns but says nothing.

The man shifts towards her and she meets his vision. Her eyes beneath arched brows take in his expression.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asks.

“Of course,” she whispers. “Of course I’ve been in love.” She looks away, scrutinizing a silver BMW convertible parked outside. Over-permed, color-treated blonde hair frames her face, backlit by the bronzed sky. Her accent’s foreign. French. Her heavy lids close, blocking him from her presence.

I wink at Mom ensconced in the booth across the table from me. She seems oblivious to the conversation and doesn’t notice me. She’s forgotten her hearing aids again. Good thing. His outburst would upset her strongly conservative sensibilities.

“Our environment’s gone to hell.” He lashes out again. “Nothing’s being done. Corporate America’s responsible for this. The politicians are in the pockets of the rich.”

You’re one of the rich, asshole. Your clothes betray you. And the pinkie ring. I can’t ignore him. I can’t not get involved. Damn! My stomach burns.

“Why don’t you move to Canada?” the woman asks.

“Too cold. That’s why I live here, for God’s sake.”

The man drones on. His tone of voice escalates as he consumes the rest of his wine.

“They’ve got to close the borders. We’re paying for these illegals.”

Hmmmm. There goes his political correctness.

“I’m here legally,” the woman says.

“I know that. I’m talking about the ‘spics.”

A knot forms in my stomach. My corned beef sandwich remains untouched as I cradle my glass of chardonnay.

The woman squirms in her seat.

“While they’re at it, they may as well deport the homos.”

Oh God, get him out of here.

They sit there, the two of them, with empty wine glasses. They share a space but lack of eye contact and her silence sells them out. They’re strangers! How’d she end up with him?

Servers seem anxious as customers queue up, waiting for an empty table. No one offers the couple a refill.

Mom says to me, “Do you and David talk together when you go out to dinner?”

“Of course.”

“What about?”

“Lots of things. Whatever’s going on at the moment, I guess. He likes to keep me up to date about sports. We share our day. Work. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it.”

“Well then, why don’t you talk to me?”

“Because it’s noisy in here and you’re not wearing your hearing aids.”


I repeated it.

“Oh. You’re right. I forgot them.On purpose. I hate them.”

I motion with my eyes to the table where the man and woman still sit, staring at each other now. Mom looks at them, and then turns to me with a quizzical expression. She hunches her shoulders and cocks her head, as if to ask, “What about them?”

I mouth: “I’m listening to them.”

She looks over at them. He’s peering out the window again and she’s resumed communing with her empty wine glass.

Mom nods and begins to watch the couple. I know she can hear if he speaks again and if she’s attentive. And if she wants to.

“I’ve been drinking beer all day. I’m drunk.”

The woman says nothing.

He blathers on. “If they want to get something done with the environment, they should bring in kike scientists. They’re the ones who can do it. They’re the ones who get all the Nobel prizes.”

“Oh,” she answers. She looks out the window as he reaches and takes her hand.She draws back a bit but he does not let go. Her face is pinched, etched in psychic pain.

“I like to touch you.”

Mom looks at me; she heard him. She says, “I’m going to puke.” I know she’s hooked. A good distraction for an eighty-three year old widow, I decide.

“I don’t have to work tomorrow. I can fix us breakfast.” He’s not looking at the woman.

“Oh.” She lifts the empty wine glass, focusing on the sediment.

He lowers his tone and drivels on for a few more minutes. His hand covers his mouth and I can’t hear what he says.

The woman gets up and brushes the crumbs from her white crinkled linen skirt. She murmurs something to the man and turns, walking slowly to the back of the restaurant, where the restrooms are located. Her calloused, cracked heels hang over the backs of her sandals.

She waits in a short line while he ogles her. When she enters the bathroom she looks back briefly in his direction. He gets up, pivots and walks to the front to pay the bill. Exiting through the grubby glass door, he glances back to where he last saw the woman, then stands waiting.

When they’re gone my Mom and I laugh. “He’s a winner,” she says in a tone a bit too loud. A couple at a nearby table looks at each other and nods.

A good five minutes later, Mom catches my attention with a gentle kick under the table. I see the man entering through the door. He walks at a clipped pace back towards the women’s restroom and stands at the door for a couple of minutes. He leaves abruptly, takes in his surroundings, goes outside again, and waits.

Mom covers her mouth and says, “She split.”

I nod.

I see him from the corner of my eye rapidly stepping to the phone booth outside the restaurant. He’s on the phone for a few moments, gesticulating as he talks. Then I lose him.

My Mom and I smile at one another. “You didn’t need your hearing aids after all. We had plenty of entertainment, Mom.”

“No shit,” she says. (She’s not that conservative.)

Finally I tackle my sandwich.

We leave thirty minutes after the mini-drama has unfolded. I pull her Mercedes around the back of the deli to exit the parking lot. There he is, loitering behind a seventies’ model long white Cadillac. A restroom window stands open behind his parking space.

The man’s talking to a waitress who’s just getting off work. She’s Latina.

I hear him pontificate, “I can’t understand why the government hasn’t given amnesty to you hard-working people. Would you like to go for a drink?”

We drive away giggling like teenagers.

“That blonde,” Mom said with a snort, “she’s one smart lady.”

Submitted as a response to my Wordsmith Wednesday prompt.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Snooping

People talking at Wikimania 2009 welcome dinner.

Image via Wikipedia

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the art of snooping as a source of inspiration, an adjunct to help you write effective dialogue and a source for story lines.

Yesterday while browsing poetry for dVerse Open Link Night, I came across a poem by Ravenblack that illustrates the effectiveness of listening in on conversations–whether in waiting rooms, restaurants, coffee shops–any place where people go to get together and chat.

Do you have places that you like to go where conversation and ideas abound? Have you written any short stories or poems that were inspired as a result of listening to conversations in public places?

If so, go ahead and post your story or poem on your blog, access Mr. Linky and share the link to your work with us here:

I was unable to contact Ravenblack to include her poem in this post but here is the link: http://theotherdayplace.blogspot.com/2011/10/coffee-thats-what-i-need.html

I am still unable to comment on most blogger accounts so look for my comments on your work in the comments in this post. Thanks, all.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Avoiding Cliche


Image by Sterlic via Flickr

One of the venial sins of writers is overuse of cliché. A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (Wikipedia)

I found a website that lists commonly used clichés: http://suspense.net/whitefish/cliche.htm
It doesn’t hurt to review them to see how many have become a part of your bag of tricks. It’s easy to revert to clichés because, for the most part, they make a point. They are so common we don’t even notice them in everyday usage.

There are times when a cliché may be appropriate. If you are writing dialogue, you want your characters to sound natural. That’s why it’s okay to use contractions, slang, fragments and the like. In everyday conversation, cliché is expected.

I’ve thrown in a couple of phrases in this post that are blatant clichés, and a few that are on the way to becoming overused. See if you recognize them. What I’d like to challenge you to do in response to this brief post is to take a short poem or a paragraph of prose that you have written and examine it for cliché. Perhaps you’d like to share your findings in the comment section. Is there another, unique way you can make your point? Alrighty then…let’s get it on!

Wordsmith Wednesday: Writing Dialogue – What People Don’t Say

What was I thinking?

Image by jasonEscapist via Flickr

For this week’s Wordsmith Wednesday, I’m pleased to introduce blogger Teri Montague who writes from England at http://bardicblogger.wordpress.com Teri will share some wise insights on dialogue.

About Teri

I grew up in an industrial town, located in a valley, in North-West England and have loved reading and writing since I learned to read at the age of four. I grew up with an interest in fantasy and sci-fi and started writing stories from the age of eight, completing my first full length unpublished novel at the age of fifteen.

After leaving school I went straight to college and then into employment at a large, local firm and it was at college that I began to experiment with writing poetry.

To date I have had two poems published, a writing portfolio at Writing.com, a creative writing blog and I’m revising a fantasy epic trilogy that I hope to publish. I still write occasional poetry but my passion is fiction and I’m going to start an English Language and Literature degree this September.

Writing Dialogue – What People Don’t Say

One thing that always stands out to me, in both fiction and television, is how the characters often outpour long reams of information about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.

This is okay in some situations but consider for a moment how people react in real life.

Do they tell those closest to them everything?

Do they share all their thoughts and feelings?


Do they keep their feelings hidden?

Some characters will verbally spill everything. It depends a great deal on what kind of character they are and what their motivation is but other characters may hold back from divulging their feelings or motives, especially if they’re introverted or secretive characters.

Sometimes it’s not what a character does say but what they don’t say that has an impact.

i.e. Picture a scene between two people in love who are both already involved with other people. One character refuses to consider cheating on their partner, while the other character’s willpower is failing as he falls more and more in love with her.

How do you show this in dialogue?

The obvious way is have them blurt out all their feelings in a big dramatic, romantic scene.

Another option is to have them avoid talking about it all together but write body language and actions that show their attraction to each other.

Maybe the scene builds and one of them does spill their feelings or maybe it turns into a scene where they kiss or nearly kiss, all the while trying not to.

The point is, it creates more suspense to be subtle, implying thoughts and feelings rather than using dialogue to express everything.

After all, how many people have you met that say one thing with their words but something else with their action?

Thank you, Teri, for sharing this bit of insightful information. While we’ve discussed various aspects of dialogue before, this is one point I hadn’t thought about. Let’s open this to discussion, now. I’d like to invite all readers to share anything they’ve found to help in creating effective dialogue. Include examples if you like. Please post your thoughts in the comment section of this post. Be sure to stop by Teri’s blog for more short tips that will help you to become a better writer.


Wordsmith Wednesday–Show or Tell?


Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps you’ve heard the axiom, “Show, don’t tell.” When I first joined a writing critique group, that was advice that I heard often–either directed at me or one of the other writers. At first, of course, I went ahead and diligently tried to make the changes. The result was stilted narrative, sometimes full of purple prose and oh-so-rambling. It just didn’t work. Little-by-little, I began to modify the “showing” and inserted bits of summary to aid in transitioning from one scene to another or one time period to the next.

What’s the difference? Scenes usually involve action and rely heavily on dialogue. They focus on the characters external action and interaction or on their internal dialogue. Summaries are primarily dominated by comments from the narrator and serve to move the plot forward in time, to set the stage for the scene that follows, to make generalizations or to analyze. Both summary and scene are most effective when they take advantage of sensory description that enhances the readers experience.

The key, when making a choice between showing (scene) and telling (summary) is to evaluate which device will be most effective in keeping your reader’s attention and moving the plot forward. As I mentioned previously, overuse of scene may cause considerable lengthening of your manuscript. Irrelevant dialogue–How are you? I’m fine, thank you–will bore the reader and stall the story. On the other hand, too much summary causes the reader to drop out of the picture. He will feel like he’s on the outside of the story instead a part of it. Chances are, he will close the book and not pick it up again (that just happened to me this week).

Here’s an example of summary from my novel, Winter is Past:

The month of May crawled along like a semi going over Donner Summit. Each day lasted forty-eight hours, or so it seemed. Kathryn went to the outpatient center three times a week for treatment. When possible, I stayed with her, remembering boredom, chills and the helplessness of it all.

Now, contrast this with a scene from the same manuscript:

“I understand now, Claire. I get how you felt when I offered you a kidney. You freaked, remember? You were sure something would happen to me. God, girl, I lie awake at night thinking of that. I think about it while I’m having dialysis—it haunts me. I worry about Josh the way you did about me.”

“I can’t talk you out of that one,” I admitted.

“Are you afraid something will happen?”

“I can’t be. Today’s all we have, isn’t it?” As I spoke the words, I only wished I felt the strength that they implied.

I hope this will help you when you muddle your way through your novel or short story. Don’t be afraid to use a blend of scene and summary, showing and telling.

Monday Morning Writing Prompt–Chat with an Author

Collage of photos of authors

Image via Wikipedia

Here we are, the last week of September. To help you get the creative juices flowing this morning, I offer you this prompt:

You are conducting an author interview. Your first question is simple–“Why do you write?” Choose one of the following authors, use your imagination and construct a brief dialogue with them discussing this topic.

  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Lee Child
  • or someone of your choice

Post your dialogue and add the link in comments. Have a good week writing.

Monday Morning Writing Prompt–Let Your Imagination Rule!

I find that browsing other blogs sets my imagination in gear. Especially those in which the “About” page is extremely vague. My imagination loves to divine a back story based on the blogger’s post and a physical description if the avatar is something cutesy or a photo.

So for this week’s prompt, choose a blogger friend about whom you really know next to nothing and take it from there. Write a description, or a dialogue, or a short, short story about someone who arouses your curiosity. A poem could work as well. Please, DO NOT identify the other blogger.

Now, I guess I’ll browse some blogs and see where my creative muse takes me. Please leave your link or your story in the comment section. Have a good writing week.

Wordsmith Wednesday–“Righting Wrongs”

Woodward’s History of Wales is shown open to t...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m reading the latest issue of “Writers’ Digest.” They have a top ten theme and in the tradition of Letterman, have compiled all kinds of top ten lists for writers, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Pardon the cliché. Because I’ve just begun to read it, I don’t know all that will be covered. How useful is it? So far, not too. I’m guessing that will change as I plow my way through the pages. But, it’s fun. For this week’s discussion, I thought I’d list five “wrongs,” that is, blatant errors, things that can turn off the reader, or writing faux-pas that will dissuade an agent or publisher from looking further.

Two disclaimers:

  • Writers have the right to break rules. It’s your work; you’re the creator. No one can really tell you what to do. (I believe this applies in a particular way to poetry)
  • The opinions I express are mine. They might not apply to the agent you’re querying or your target audience. So, “take what you like and leave the rest,” as they say in 12-Step programs.

Here are my thoughts/opinions:

  1. Purple prose. Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.  (Wikipedia)
  2. Frequent Point-of-View Shifts. Don’t confuse your reader by frequent changes in POV or by shifting POV within a paragraph. I suggest using a space for a scene change or starting a new chapter if you have more than one POV character.
  3. Long rambling paragraphs of description. Sure, John Steinbeck or Jane Austen got away with it. But today’s readers, with their ADHD wants a plot that moves. Don’t neglect description but intersperse it with dialogue or action.
  4. Long blocks of dialogue that give information dumps. See my previous blog on this topic.
  5. All showing. Okay, okay. I know about “Show, don’t tell.” And I espouse the idea wholeheartedly. But….there are times when you need a summary paragraph. Honest. If your novel covers months or years, we don’t need to know everything that’s happened from beginning to end. But we need to know enough to understand how the character got where he is. So, summarize!
  6. Characters who are either completely perfect or totally flawed. You want your reader to sympathize with you protagonist, but in order to identify with him, please give him a flaw or two. On the other hand, your antagonist should have a good trait or two, something that will help us understand him just a bit. Now, if you’re writing about Hitler….I don’t know.
  7. Lack of editing, revision or critique. Don’t send out those query letters yet. Spell check is inadequate. Read your manuscript aloud. Take it to a critique group and/or professional editor. I’ve posted a few articles on revising and editing. You may want to check them out.
  8. Blatant factual errors. Even fiction requires research. If there are too many factual errors, the reader will not be able to suspend disbelief. If you are writing a novel set in Chicago, you better know the place, visit it or research on the Internet. Get someone in the know to check out your facts. If you’re writing a medical thriller, know the basics. Even as a nurse and transplant recipient, I had to do more research on transplantation for “Winter is Past.” And I even ran a few things by my nephrologist.
  9. Obfuscation. I love that word. It’s got class. Basically, it mean anything that confuses the reader. Think of things like frequent flash-backs, too many characters, inconsistent point-of-view, switching from first to third person, too many adjectives and adverbs…you get the idea. Think: clarity and brevity.
  10. Finally and most important: giving up. Whatever you do, don’t say “The heck with it.” Keep on writing. Send out more queries. Try different genres. If you’re called to write, you gotta write or you won’t be happy.

Wordsmith Wednesday–More about Dialogue

I’m just completing a novel (which I will not identify) for my monthly book club meeting and have been trying to evaluate why it’s been a burdensome read. It’s a thriller, the kind of book that should keep you turning pages and reading late into the night. But that hasn’t happened for me. If I had to make a diagnosis, one symptom I’d target is the dialogue.

Consider the term “information dump.” Think of long, rambling paragraphs in which a character  exposes volumes of background data to enable the reader to understand the premise of the plot. To do this, the author has one character “teach” another. You’ll most likely find this in novels that require knowledge of a specialized field in order to follow the plot. These stories might involve science, medicine, government protocol or religion.

How do you achieve the goal of giving your reader what he needs without lectures? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Avoid long rambling paragraphs by breaking up dialogue into questions and answers along with interruptions or description.

Here’s an example from “Winter is Past.” I needed to give the reader some basic information about the kidney transplant procedure. Here’s how I could have written the scene:

“You must be wondering what the process is. Kathryn will meet with a pre-transplant nurse. They will draw her blood and test it for blood type and antigens that will tell us if the donor is a match. Then she will meet with a transplant physician who will do an examination. After that, she will have her blood drawn every month until the transplant to make sure that there is no change. They mail it to the transplant center in San Francisco. It takes a while before you will know if there’s a match. Then the donor has to go through a lot of testing to make sure that they are healthy enough to go through the procedure and live the rest of their lives with only one kidney. (The donor) has to go to San Francisco for some of the testing. Today Kathryn will meet with a social worker and (the donor) has to go through a psychological evaluation to make sure that they are making a free choice to donate and that there is no financial incentive…”

Kinda boring, isn’t it?

This is how I wrote it:

“You want me to explain how the whole thing works?” I asked Michael. Without waiting for his response, I dug into my own memories of the experience. “First of all, Kathryn meets with the pre-transplant nurse who’ll draw her blood. Then, the transplant center doctor will examine her.”

“What kind of blood test?”  Michael asked.

“Blood type and antigens, the proteins that the immune system builds up against foreign invaders. The same test they’ll do on (her donor) to evaluate their compatibility.”

Michael fixed his gaze on me, soaking in every word.

“While Kathryn’s waiting for surgery, they’ll draw her blood every month and mail it to San Francisco—sometimes things change.”

“How long before we know if (the donor) is a match?”

“I don’t remember.” I plumbed the archives of my recollection. “It seemed like forever.”

“I think Kathryn had to go through all kinds of poking and prodding,” Josh said.

“You’re right there were a ton of procedures. Didn’t she have to go to San Francisco for some of them?”

“I’d forgotten about that” Michael said. “Anything else?”

“Yeah.” I squirmed in the uncomfortable chair. “She’ll meet with a social worker today. I remember it well—I was so afraid something would happen to Kathryn but the counselor reminded me to trust, to leave it to them to keep her safe.”

Michael spoke up again. “Kathryn had a psychological work-up, too, didn’t she?”

I nodded and glanced at a couple entering with a teenage son, a boy the color of yellow chalk. “You bet. They’ll make sure (her donor) is stable and that there’s no financial incentive.”

The three of us watched as the young patient’s father helped him into a chair then went to sign in at the receptionist’s desk. A smile broke across the child’s face. He nodded in my direction and gave me a thumb’s up.

In this example I’ve deliberately obscured some of the information. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.

  • Another simple way is to include either a forward or a glossary that gives basic facts that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the story. In his novel, One Second After, William Forstchen explains EMP (electromagnetic pulse) with the help of an introduction by Newt Gingrich. That’s a thriller I found hard to put down (and thrillers aren’t a genre I usually gravitate toward).

I don’t want to ruin your reading experience, but take notice of how the authors you read give you the facts you need to know. Do you have other suggestions?