Thoughts On Dialogues | both the fictional and non fictional kind

On Monday I shall present for my class by memory a Socratic dialogue I have written.

I have always found writing new things interesting, whether it be puzzling over a new poetry forms, reorganizing preexistent phrases as seen in bookbinder poetry, or experimenting with different point of views and tenses in a scene.

Writing a Socratic dialogue was one such challenge.

As a novelist, I have written many exchanges of various lengths between various characters in various situations. I have, in fact, written literal thousands of conversations.

In my opinion snatches of dialogues are some of the most enjoyable things to write towards a story, because there are often many layers to them, even the type of dialogue which is nothing more than a mere polite formality to the participants. A remark on the weather, a inquiry of health, and a couple other statements of the obvious.

You see there is the type of dialogue in which people actually say what they mean, then there is the type of dialogue in which people do not.

There are the tense dialogues, the kind filled with conflict, the confrontation type. There is the simple exchange of information. Bits like “There is leftover pizza from last night in the fridge that you can warm up for lunch,” or “This is an algebraic problem that should be solved for the variable ‘x’ by factoring,” or “They have twenty night guards you can take them out if you sneak around the back wall and use your bow.”

There is flirtatious banter and cruel banter and nervous banter, the kind involved before a big game or operation by waiting parties.

There are conversations centered around get-to-know you questions, the large, prying, silly ones like “What is your greatest fear?” or “What is your least favorite subject?” or “What is the color of your toothpaste?”

There are conversations that hinge on stories, whether they be those bragging claims between kids, comparing their favorite unbelievable I-heard-from-my-friend-that-their-friend stories, those personal stories and testimonies told on dates, or those hardship tales told to friends who are willing to listen.

And there are the conversations in which involved parties disagree, agree, and disagree again, laying out opinions and statistics they heard somewhere on any given topic under the sun.

And finally, some of the most intriguing, dialogues that end with the question, instead of starting with it.

Overall, there are many types of dialogues. Many kinds I have played with as I manipulate characters through their mazes.

But this was new.

I had never written a full boiled-down, simple, back and forth exchange, absent of speaker tags and the context of body language and the descriptions of the words being barked, growled, grunted, yelled, whispered, whimpered, stuttered, pronounced, smirked, or sneered.

As I point nervously to the universal truth that plays itself out every day in millions of households, on millions of streets, in millions of school and office buildings, tone is everything and they were stripping away the safety cushions that my dialogues fit in so comfortably.

If it were that alone, it would be a simple matter of hammering out the specific words and phrases to precision, charging them with the electricity and energy that would show there was no reason for signposts.

But not just that, I had never before tried to copy the eloquent style of a Greek orator mildly, condescendingly, sarcastically, philosophizing. Specifically: leading along his poor victim, tearing down said victim’s every argument, until there is nothing left to do but arrive at the obvious conclusion from the presented problem.

Which meant I needed a clear argument, lots of big words on hand, and a big conclusion with a clear definition for some vague and mostly abstract idea like “color” or “hero” or “knowledge.”

As I do with many assignments, I spent some time mulling it over, brainstorming, and thinking up a plan to execute. After a couple days of still being unsure of what to write on, I explained to my dad the basic idea (that of a conversation between a ‘teacher’ and a ‘student’ exploring a topic and trying to define something) and then asked for ideas.

He laughed and said: “Define good art.”

Once he said it, I realized that I should have guessed what his answer would be. I don’t remember the first time he told me his definition of good art, and I couldn’t say how many times we’ve conversed over it after watching a movie as a family or reading a book. Neither the amount of times I tested have it and threw things at it to see if it would shatter.

In essence, I realized that my family has had many Socratic dialogues; that they aren’t a foreign concept in the end. They are quite simple. All you need are at least two interlocutors – that is two people ready to take part in a conversation – and a place to begin: a question.

Like: What is the worth of investing in a personal library?

Or: Do you think Bilbo is a hero?

Or: How do you think communities form?

After I had written the entire dialogue for the assignment, printed it out for my parents to proofread, it came up at dinner. I explained the concept and the topic I had decided to write on to my siblings who had not heard about it yet.

“When did you write it?” one of my sisters asked.

“It’s been in the works for the past couple years,” my dad said.

“Really I just asked the question during a conversation and secretly recorded what everyone said and wrote it down later,” I joked.

Except, as with every joke, it’s partially true.

Even though everything up to the final conclusion on page three of my dialogue is original and completely thought up by me over the course of the last couple weeks, it all felt familiar. This, I thought, is well trodden ground.


One well-known element of a dialogue is style: the way it is cushioned comfortably. Sometimes by witty side comments, as if the narrator is watching a romcom and calling out jokes. Other times it’s a more scrutinizing approach where the narrator comes across as a critic at the movies taking notes for an upcoming review and picking apart everyone’s responses. “No, no, he must be lying. Ah she is scared! I know it. And he, he’s just a jerk, pay no attention to him – at least not more than necessary. He does have a point there on that topic…”

Or maybe the prose is penned by a Charles Dickens, springing up an essay for each sentence on the effects of studying afterhours, the different ways one can cut bread, or a history lecture on the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

And then there’s the occasions where an author steps back and leaves out everything to make a point. Going from scrutiny, rants, opinions, second-guessings, to one simple fact and letting it hang in the air. Hang in the white space all alone.

Just one thought.

And that was what the Socratic dialogue made me think about. When is less more, and when is silence louder than words? How much of a story could you tell with just the tool of dialogue? What if an entire conversation was void of commentary? How would that go in a novel?

Open a story, copy and paste a chapter in a new document, delete everything outside of quotation marks.

How does it stand?

It’s an interesting experiment to be sure. It lives along the lines of artistic boundaries, as mused on last week, that push your assumptions, that force you to get creative, that aid you in the end.

Like when you look at a friend across the room and smile, or give them a hug, sometimes it’s not what is said, but what is left unsaid that is most powerful.

Context is everything.







Student: What is good art?

And so it started.

Teacher: Meaning what differentiates art that is bad or mediocre to art that is "good"? 
Student: Yes.
Teacher: Excuse me for answering your question with another question,
 but what makes anything good?
Student: I'm not sure what you mean.
Teacher: Let me rephrase...

I lied earlier.

Okay not exactly, but I said that Socratic dialogues are easy.

After I had already said it was challenging. Here’s why: I found out quickly that, though I knew my father’s definition I would use as the conclusion, it was only an end goal. I had no idea how to arrive at the conclusion. I had to lead up to it somehow.

I did eventually, strangely enough, find some premises to the argument, but again, it was a puzzle.

Not only that, I earlier participating in dialogues isn’t that complicated. And yes while it isn’t in essence a complicated idea, it can be hard. Yet over the past year through a look at Socratic dialogues in my class and comparing it to my experiences, I’ve realized there are definite ways not only to kill a conversation, but that there are ways to kindle it too.

So I’ve come up with five observations about what it means to converse intentionally, kindly, and thoroughly.


5 Ways to Cultivate a Healthy Dialogue

#1. Be present

Don’t get distracted, don’t be doing something else, don’t be on your phone, don’t be reading a book. Be present mentally and be willing to take part in the conversation even if it means some work.

Simply put… care about the conversation.

Value it. Value the people. Value the people through valuing the conversation.

#2. Listen | everyone brings their own expertise to the table

Conversations in our household vary in topic. From old Greek epics (“should I read the Iliad or the Odyssey first?“) to scientific discoveries (“what would happen to earth’s orbit if the sun suddenly disappeared?”) and so on. So while I am not very knowledgeable about Greek epics, and don’t know scientific terms by name or the mathematical formula for gravity memorized, I can still ask questions. I can still listen. I can give a perspective if called for. And if we veer into the topic of literature trivia, I can aid with facts there.

Don’t assume you are an expert at the topic at hand. Instead listen to the perspective of others, give them the chance to speak up. Ask specific people if they are silent. They probably have something to say.

And on the other hand don’t assume if it’s a topic you don’t know much about, that the conversation is a waste of time.

#3. When testing definitions, being willing to offer one yourself

Another facet of being willing to take part in the conversation. Be willing to put things out for people to tear it down. It’s might be the reason no one else is speaking up. In my experience people don’t speak up because 1.) they don’t care. 2.) they think the answer is obvious and feel stupid pointing it out, or 3.) they are worried about sticking their head out there to be target practice for the others.

Even if you don’t know a definition, make one up for the sake of testing it and say things like “Let’s try this definition. Where does it fall short? How can we change it to be more accurate?”

#4. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or examples | relate to your experiences and the experiences of others, chart out things if called for, etc.

This is very important. Often conversations go for over an hour only to end with people realizing they agree, they were just wording it differently. It’s important to strive to understand other people’s stances, experiences, and thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “what do you mean by that?” Don’t be afraid to say, “What about this what happened to me… how would you classify that on your list?”

#5. Let it flow naturally | know the difference between forcing direction and listening

This is part of point 2, but, as my debate coaches drill into my stubborn head, listen and respond off that. Don’t assume people want to talk about this exact take on this topic, this exact issue, this drilled-in specific question. Don’t check off boxes. Let the conversation flow, new ideas will come in, new perspectives.

Don’t sound like you’ve planned the entire conversation out.

If that’s your plan then you don’t understand what a conversation is.


In conclusion! from this rambling post about my Socratic dialogue ordeal:

  1. Dialogues are fascinating. (Mostly because people are fascinating.)
  2. It is once again true that boundaries help creativity.
  3. Conveying emotions of a person merely through exactly what they say – the bare bones plain ole black text of their dialogue – is difficult and near impossible. (When do characters, or people, ever actually say what they mean?)
  4. Once you start being intentional about conversations, it makes a difference.

There.

Your thoughts?

Why not… you know… start a conversation about it? 😉

(Okay sorry that was a pretty stupid joke but it was only natural. xD)

What do you like about writing dialogues? Have you ever read a Socratic dialogue? What are some conversation techniques you use a lot?

Until next week!

~ evelyn ~

7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Painting {aka what I have learned in the last couple months}

It all started with Shakespeare.

I know, I know.

It’s a strange place to start but that’s where it all began.

For almost five years I had not touched my painting supplies, partly out of fear and partly out of busyness, but in March my co-op class was studying The Taming of the Shrew, and were assigned to pick a topic of interest of the Elizabethan era and report back on it with physical props.

Cue the brainstorming.

Originally, I thought I might study the fashion and show up, with the closest example of an outfit from that time period, but that had been my sister’s choice a few years earlier. Next idea was to write a Shakespearean monologue from the point of Queen Elizabeth and perform it, but I had never even succeeded in writing even just a sonnet, much less an entire monologue. Besides, I had enough things to memorize already.

A third thought was to study Shakespearean embroidery and replicate it, but I wasn’t sure I could finish it in time.

With some more brainstorming, my mom then came up with the idea.

Why not study art from the era and creating a slide-show presentation of Elizabethan paintings?

Cha-ching!

Perfect.

I had (and still have…) this strange (then new-found) obsession with creating PowerPoint slides and I find art very interesting. Put them together?

Just makes sense.

I began researching and making notes, learned so much, and picked out three different pieces.

There. Done.

But wait…

At the next class, my tutor explained this project would be presented in a different room in front of the younger classes, meaning I couldn’t use the projector.

So my mom suggested that I just take one of the paintings I had picked out and reconstruct it.

Except I had never painted with oils before and never ever painted a person.

So yes.

I decided to pick up painting for the first time in about five years and use a medium I had never used before to paint a subject I had never even attempted before under a deadline.

At least Hobby Lobby had all painting supplies half off that week.

…except that deal ended the next day.

So I convinced a sibling to take me and bought the supplies.

Thankfully, the following afternoon when I unpacked my new paints, I decided to mess around with them before starting the project on the canvas.

I pick out a red and squeeze it out of the tube onto my palette. I take the brush and paint a simple rectangle. And then another.

And then I go for a circle.

But the paint won’t spread out right.

I dip my brush in the water and try to thin it.

It doesn’t work.

For at least five minutes, I sat there in growing frustration as my paint refused to move or spread.

It was after I filled have the page with strange shapes, that it finally hit me.

Duh.

Water doesn’t mix with oil.

I call the piece “Ignorance.”

img_0466-e1562180498393.jpg

Isn’t it beautiful? ðŸ˜›

I guess all those repeated experiments about trying to mix oil and water on a plate as a kid didn’t stick. (Sorry Mom!)

Well, this story has a happy ending: I discovered the substance called “paint thinner” and went on to paint the portrait, and though it doesn’t look much like the original, it definitely looks like an Elizabethan painting.

Over the following months, I have continued to paint and have learned more about it… often learning the hard way.

Here I have compiled a list.

If you have a time-machine, feel free to take this back in time and shove it in my face. 😉

With that, let us begin…


#1.  How to take care of tools {especially the brushes}

One thing about my ten-year old painter-self: I had no idea how to keep tidy and clean, whether it be my palette, my easel, my table, my clothes, my brushes or my hands (though to be honest, I don’t care much about that one…)

This was very evident when I finally unpacked my supplies after a couple years of almost-moving.

Exhibit 1:

Oh look at me fine brushes… notice especially the forked blue one.

Gorgeous am I right?

When I was ten, I didn’t know simple rules like, don’t store brushes on their bristles, don’t leave in the jar of water, or even the importance of cleaning them as soon as I’m done with them.

When you have tools, research how to take care of them! Whether it be through Google, a library book, or someone you know, discover proper ways to treat them well: how to store them, how to clean them, how to use them.

#2. Plan ahead

I have this awful habit of being terrible at making decisions when I really don’t care.

You know that friend who is that person who is always the one to say when hanging out, “Oh I don’t know… what do you want to do?”

Yeah… well that’s me and it comes across in my paintings.

Here is one of my first paintings.

img_1528-e1562371435457.jpg

I specifically remember painting this… originally it was to be a field filled with flowers beneath a huge mountain range.

But then the mountain wouldn’t corporate and decided to be a scrapped blob of blue. I tried to fix it, but with little experience or knowledge failed. So I decided it was a rain pour in the distance and decided to paint a forest.

I wanted it to be a great, thick forest, but I had already made one of those and so wanted it to be different.

So I made the trees small and spread apart…

And then, I thought it looked weird (a very justified observation…) and so decided to add a creek. But something was still missing so I decided to add a rabbit. And then a butterfly. And then another one. And then a log.

And so this piece came to be.

Even if I had had the talent to make the trees look like trees and the grass look like grass and so on and so forth, it has terrible composition.

So now to try to avoid that I think ahead. Maybe sketch out a plan or follow a picture.

As beginner, especially, I wish I had picked more subjects I was familiar with.

#3. Research techniques & practice

Study paintings! Watch videos! Read books!

As a beginning painter I’ve found it so helpful to do all of the above, but then also to practice the techniques.

Otherwise it would be like trying to read a math book but never doing any of the problems. 😉

Right now for me it’s those gorgeous watercolor moons I’m trying to learn. (keyword: trying.)

img_1477

#4. Always finish a project

Last week I decided to paint some pictures for some friends: an animal for each. The flamingo was pretty simple and straightforward, the koala was small and fun, but the puppy…

I spent literal hours on its coat of fur.

I wanted to give up through the entire process, beginning here:

img_1431

At that point, normally I would have given up, but for two things.

First: I was using a canvas and my guilty conscience would never have let me just throw it away, and then secondly I needed to finish it by the next day or pick a new subject and start an entirely new painting to finish by the next day.

So I kept going…

img_1432

And going…

img_1434

And going…

img_1435

Finally I was somewhat satisfied with the poor puppy’s blotchy coat:

img_1439

And in the end, I just added a bunch of flowers to cover it all up.

img_1440

Ta-da!

So it didn’t turn out too bad, and I learned a lot that I would not have learned if I had stopped when I first wanted to.

Like, don’t try to paint a puppy.

See? Lesson learned. 😉

#5. Don’t throw it away

When do we ever finish a art project and feel fully satisfied and proud of it? Do you ever want to rip up your page, burn its pieces, and throw its ashes into the wind?

I have. A lot actually.

Like with this lady…

img_1474
*coughs* only painted a couple months ago..? that must be wrong… 😛

Go ahead and shudder. I don’t mind at all, just don’t stare at it too long, please… for your sake.

The story behind this creepy face?

Well.

At the start of this year I was trying to use watercolors to paint a face and it turned out reeeally weird.

Yes, to be fair, I was going for a certain style.

But still.

Hideous, am I right?

The strange blotchy blush, the squinty right eye, the heart shaped head, and paper thin eyebrows, with absolutely zero eyelashes or forehead.

But the thing is, in another year or so I’ll pull it out and try again and compare.

Like I did with an elephant I painted…

Elephants compared

And a wolf I once drew.

Wolves_compared

Which is why everyone should also…

#6. Always date & sign the piece

And at this point I probably will remind you of your mother when you were in kindergarten: “Don’t forget to sing your name and put the date on it, okay honey?”

I’m sorry, but they were all right.

And I was wrong when I did not listen. 😛

And now I am left to wonder when I painted this little treasure and all it’s homeless buddies:

All I know about this little guy is that he was inspired by Monet (or at least created in the studying of Monet) and that it was a long, long time ago.

Besides, there’s something official and satisfying to signing one’s work.

And last but not least…

My frens.

Don’t drink tea or coffee while painting.

There have been at least five separate occasions where I found myself subconsciously picking up my painting water to drink from.

And many times I was inches away from dipping my brushes into my chai latte.

It just ain’t worth it.

Even if you avoid these tragedies, you will end up living long enough to see either your drink die and transform into tepid liquid or your paint dry on your palette and brushes.

You can’t always multitask.


So there we go. Seven brilliant gems I have discovered and am still trying to work out.

What are some things you wish your younger self knew?

~ evelyn ~

a little post named “random”

Have you ever just wanted to write for the sake of writing?

Nothing planned. Nothing plotted.

After a long day of pounding out papers and scratching out math equations, just you and your thoughts winding out slowly onto the page, forming little splotches of black on white.

The itch comes every once and a while for me. A little itch to be wild and dreamy with some prose; to make some words purr with my wandering ponderings and watch them stretch out and then curl up before the fire.

Maybe EvEn BREAK the RUles and cApitAlIzE in STRANGE wAys

like I use to get away with.

Well, the itch has come today, and I’m afraid I will indulge myself in satisfying it with a scratch.

I might ending up sounding a little philosophical. I might end up sounding a little poetical. Maybe silly. Who knows, but are any of those bad things?

Already I’ve made some alliteration for the sake of alliteration. I’ve sprinkled in some personification and metaphors, and stirred in a tasty verb or two.

Art is easy to compare to soup.

You dump in a little of this and a little of that, like Amelia Bedelia baking up her lemon meringue pie, and then watch the colors swirl. Add a pinch of seasoning, and take a deep breath of the spicy smell.

You make mistakes. You learn to differentiate the walnuts from the pecans, the salt from the sugar, and the vinegar from the water. You learn there’s a reason they tell you to stir your concoction and that there’s a reason they say to set timers on ovens.

There is something unmatchable about learning from trial and error. It is personal and it is physical, unlike that advice found on scraps of paper books. These lessons learned have scars to prove it.

Well this past month was Camp NaNoWriMo and I learned a few things.

When you have a complicated time-traveling plot that twists and turns on itself, you might want to plot it out in greater detail before diving straight in.

Who knew my six pages on the workings of time-traveling would not be enough? Maybe I should have written more than half a page on the actual plot?

I reached 23,000 words about two and a half weeks into April, but the story was falling apart. There was also a lack of unique creativity that I was trying to go for. Plus I had yet to discover how it would end. Though that is typical when I start a project, at 23,000 words in I usually want to know before continuing. I brainstormed and brainstormed and brainstormed, but I could not work it out.

At that point, I was going to essentially burn it to ashes and then throw those out the window, but my oldest brother was visiting for the week and we began talking about it. Suddenly, explaining the plot, I began questioning my decision: Wait, what am I thinking? I love this story! I love these characters! Why give up on them??

Well, thankfully, said brother came to the rescue and gave me a good picture of what happens in my story, giving insight and blowing my mind!

Yes… a picture. Literally.

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There, doesn’t that clear everything up?

One of my other brothers saw it sitting out the other day and asked, “Were you guys just destressing?”

No, I promise that graph makes sense to me.

Two words: Time travel.

So, at the moment, instead of throwing out the lovely, tangled manuscript, I will lock it up and wait for it to gather some dust, and until then I will work on fleshing out some timelines and charting the plot.

I also want to brainstorm different ways to tell the story. I was having trouble telling such a complicated plot through my third person narrative. (Maybe time to try the fun of rambling in my character’s personas?) Well, I have a couple ideas up my sleeves.

Beyond all that, I discovered that even the worst of times can be turned into great art!

Frantically finishing finals” is an amazing alliteration, don’t you agree? 😉

Now they are officially done! *throws confetti*

…but I have some math to catch up on. Sooo… *gathers up confetti to save until that glorious day of true freedom*

But! Tuesday was the one year anniversary of The Flabbit Room’s Ildathore project. *throws confetti again*

I might say something more about my writing family, but it would end up being a mix between sappy sentences and a incoherent jumble of inside jokes.

So, instead let me delight over my Google drive folders which I discovered can be colored!

ALL THE COLORS

Isn’t that just amazing??

Well, fare thee well, friends! I wiLL REturN neXt wEEk for mor chicken fun.

~ tA-Ta-fOr-NoW! ~