Lesson 12: Dialogue as Action

Writing Exercise

Any time two people talk, they are both exchanging information and doing stuff to each other–that is, affecting each other, either intentionally or unintentionally.

You can think of that mixture of information-exchange and “doing stuff” as occurring on a spectrum. At the “information” end of the spectrum might be a conversation in which you call the Home Depot to find out whether or not they have a power-washer to rent. At the “doing stuff” end would be two adversaries insulting one another or two lovebirds baby-talking one another. In those cases, the interlocutors aren’t really trying to convey actual information so much as trying to make the other person feel a certain way (or possibly to express their own feelings–but not information).

Almost all dialogue occurs somewhere between those two extremes: there is usually both an emotional and an informational component, in varying mixtures. And furthermore, the people in the conversation often don’t have the same understanding of where the conversation falls on the spectrum. You’ve experienced this before…you thought you were just asking a question, and the other person thinks you’re launching a personal attack.

Your writing exercise for this lesson is to write a scene of dialogue in which two interlocutors have a different idea of where their conversation falls on the “information-exchange”-to-“doing-stuff” spectrum. 

It might help to review Atticus’s questioning of Mayella Ewell. He gives the impression that he is just seeking information, and she assumes he’s mocking and attacking her.