I have a couple of Mr. Maass's craft books, and a lot of the exercises we did that day were from his workbook, but there was something different about taking the class. Something about sitting in a room with 300 other writers, my head full of my manuscript, and Mr. Maass challenging the heck out of me from the stage. If I could take that class every time I started a new project, I totally would.
One of the things he did with us that day was having us find a conversation in our manuscript that we felt needed improvement. He then had us rewrite the same conversation using several different styles. First he said to us, "Rewrite the conversation using all insults. Start now. Go."
I just stared at my page. Insults? I was thinking. Chase wouldn't be insulting Gabby right now...
But even as I thought it, I realized that Chase did have a little anger bubbling inside him. As did Gabby. This is what I jotted down:
C: Why are you acting like this? Why do you insist on ignoring what's really going on?
G: Because - nothing is going on. This isn't going to happen, Chase. Not now. Not ever.
C: Why are you afraid of this? Because of where I live? Because of Frances and Marco?
After a few minutes of letting us write, Mr. Maass made another suggestion: Write the dialogue they'd like to be saying. His example was when you're at a restaurant and your food finally comes. The waitress says to you, "So sorry about the wait," and you say, "It's fine." But that's not what you want to say, is it? And that's likely not even what she wants to be saying.
The next time we rewrote the same conversation with a "Rat-a-tat" style. Short sentences, small words. Like:
C: What's with you?
C: You look weird.
G: Uh, thanks...
C: I meant strange.
G: That's not better.
The last exercise he had us do was to write the same conversation, but with just one person speaking, with the other not responding.
After the conference, when I tackled that conversation with Chase and Gabby, I ended up kinda combining the different styles, and I was really pleased with the results. The exercise pushed me deeper into my characters thoughts and emotions, and it also pushed me out of my same-ol', same-ol' dialogue routine.
Question for you guys: How often do you pull conversations from real life and put them in your manuscript? Do you have people in your life who provide you with more "gems" than others? (Whether they intend to or not!)