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Writing challenge

Stuck in an elevator? Lawrence Hill on writing your way out

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who sent us their stories! Here are some of our favourites:

    "Dialogue is about giving the reader a window into the way a person’s heart beats." - Lawrence Hill 

    Canada Writes has teamed up with award-winning author Lawrence Hill, this year's Massey lecturer, to bring you a series of writing prompts designed to get your creative juices flowing.

    Last week’s prompt was about convincing details in fiction and nonfiction. This week Lawrence Hill wants you to work on your dialogue.

Lawrence Hill says: In fiction, the most interesting dialogue is when people talk around things, when they don’t deal with them head-on Writing Prompt #2
Put two people in an elevator. It is stuck on the 31st floor of an office tower. It has been stuck for 20 minutes and there is no sign of help yet.  Begin the scene with a conversation at Minute 21 in the elevator. A page will do. These two people do not like each other. When they speak, their dialogue should be indirect. They talk around the thing that is bothering them, rather than tackling it head on. This is often the way with good dialogue in fiction.

Once you’re done, send us your story!
. We will publish some of our favourites here on our site and enter the names of all participants into a draw for a signed copy of The Book of Negroes (CBC contest rules can be found here). You have until 10 AM on August 21st to get it in to us. A new prompt will be revealed at that time.

Send your text in the body of an email to canadawrites@cbc.ca

Tips on writing dialogue from Lawrence Hill

Have you ever been stuck in an elevator with someone? What happened? 
Yes, I have! I was in Calgary and was stuck with four Calgary Stampeders in an elevator in the Southern Alberta Institute for Technology. I was 19 years old and taking a course there and I was going up to the cafeteria. We were stuck for 15 minutes! I’m 5’9 and a half and these guys were twice my size and three times my weight. It was a really weird situation and we were in there for some time, so we got to know each other a little. They were very nice.

What can good dialogue do to a story? 
Developing writers seem to misunderstand the purpose of dialogue. They seem to think you use dialogue to give the reader a bunch of details. But dialogue shouldn't be used to convey fact; it should be used to create character. When you use it to convey fact (“I’m going to the store to buy a turkey, it should be under ten pounds”) it seems phoney. Who cares!

Dialogue is about giving the reader a window into the way a person’s heart beats. It’s about their character, rather than factual information which is delivered through standard narrative. Dialogue is a fantastic way to share how a character sees the world. And also, it’s often better when it’s indirect. In fiction, the most interesting dialogue is when people talk around things, when they don’t deal with them head-on. Maybe they’re afraid, or maybe they’re just Canadian. Indirect conversation is often very revealing and very satisfying for a reader. 


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