Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, How Do We Jump In Again?

I'd like us to flex our collective writing muscles a bit. It hasn't been that long of a blog break, but it feels like an eternity. Not sure why. So I'd like us to kind of get used to each other again, throw a little bit of writing out there.

So let's do a little dialogue exercise. Admit it -- effective dialogue is challenging. Let's write a little and see what we come up with.

Your task: Write 6 to 10 lines (with "line" being one character's spoken text, regardless of sentence number) of compelling dialogue between two characters, in order to flesh out the scene below.

The scene: In the midst of a furious rainstorm, Prunella and Egbert reach the thick, stone doorway that leads to the Ruined City of Cliche. Prunella, who has secretly fallen in love with Egbert along the way, asks him to hand her the Secret Talisman that he has kept hidden in his sock in order to put himself at greater risk along the way. Unexpectedly, he turns to face her, his expression dark...

Remember, the POV is Prunella's, and the betrayal/moment of disclosure needs to unfold via dialogue.

DON'T EMAIL ME ANYTHING! (She screams...) Instead, post your dialogue in the comment box below. I will check the comments periodically over the next day or two and create a new post for each excerpt, so that readers can leave feedback/critique.

Your goal: Effectively flesh out a pivotal scene using strong dialogue and a minimum of narrative. Beats and internal dialogue are encouraged.

And feel free to continue along my sardonically spoofy vein...or to create a completely serious scene. Let creativity reign!

Have fun...


  1. A Question for clarity, please.

    Does Prunella want him to take the talismen out of his sock, because taking it out will put him at greater risk? (Which makes no sense, if she loves him.) Or did he put it in his sock in order to put himself at greater risk? (Which invites a huge why-in-the-world-would-he-do-that?) And if the second, was it keeping it hidden that put him at risk? Or was simply having it putting him at risk? (Or are we supposed to make that part up?)

  2. You can make that up yourself--whatever works best. Sky's the limit! =)

  3. "Did you really think I'd relinquish the talisman to you?" Egbert laughed and stepped away from Prunella. "What right do you have to wield the talisman?"

    Prunella stared at Egbert in horror. Who was this man with the hard, cold eyes? Where was the man she fell in love with over the last few months as they made their way to the Runied City of Cliche? "What right? The right of birth! The women of my family have always wielded the talisman."

    "Only because your ancestress seduced my ancestor many Ages past." He grasped the knob of the door.

    "Seduced?" Her breath seemed to come in harsh, ragged gasps. "They loved one another."

    "And yet she so easily left him to marry into power."

    "She married to end the war that ravaged our land. She poured all her power into the talisman to bring about peace."

    "Perhaps peace was not what all the people wanted."

    Prunella inhaled deeply. The fate of the Land was in her hands. She would not let her heart - broken, shattered - stand in the way of the greater good. She could cry another day. Here and now, she must reach past her pain, her hurt, and take the Talisman from her beloved. "So all these months," her voice was steady, calm, a reflective surface "you planned to steal the talisman, to use it to wage war upon the Land."

    He laughed. "Yes. Did you really think I cared for you? You were nothing but a pawn in a greater game."

    Prunella brushed back a strand of her wet hair. "Never underestimate a pawn, dear Egbert." She spoke the next word softly, a bare hint of sound. She watched as the tendrils of light arced out from the talisman and wound themselves around Egbert's suddenly prone body. His eyes widened in pain and surprise. She spoke another word. The talisman ripped free from the sock and floated through the air toward her outstretched hand. She turned, leaving Egbert bound in tendrils of light, and walked back into the driving rain.

  4. “This is it,” Prunella says, examining the door. “Hand me the Talisman.”

    Egbert turns to her, expression dark. There was no hint of the light in his blue eyes that Prunella had come to know and love. “No.”

    “Come on!” Rain runs down her face and soaks through her clothes. “I’m sick of this! Let’s get it over with.”

    “No.” His voice deepens, becoming almost mechanical.

    “Fine then, you do it.”

    Egbert nods and takes off his shoe and sock. The talisman, a gold orb on a black chain shaped like a snake, dangles from his hand as the sock drops to the ground in front of his bare foot. He holds it up and the door opens with a loud screech. Before Prunella can react, Egbert’s inside and the door is closing again.

    “Wait!” Prunella calls.

    “It’s too late.” Egbert frowns, turning around to stare at her with almost black eyes.

    “But I love you! I thought you loved me.” Prunella tries to start forward and make it through the door before it closes, but no luck.

    “That was your first mistake,” Egbert says coldly and the door slams shut.

  5. Egbert turned to Prunella. A burst of lightning illuminated his stoic face.

    “Egbert? What is it?”

    He took a steadying breath. “Prunella. I have a confession to make.”

    “No. No. Don’t tell me you lost the talisman. We can’t go back through the Jungle of Orly. The howling owls will be waiting, they’ll kill us –“

    “I haven’t lost it, darling. I have it here with me right now.”
    “Oh.” She cocked her head. “Then what is it?”

    “I told you I tucked the talisman in with my sock for safekeeping.”

    “I don’t wear socks on my feet.”

    She stared at him a moment then let her gaze lower. “You mean –“

    “It’s in my pants.”

    Prunella covered her mouth with her hand. “That’s why the Cats of Lol assaulted you so, and – dear God – you fought the goat on your own as I secured the rope. Oh, Egbert, darling, why? And knowing what awaits us in the city!”

    “There’s a reason I carried the talisman on my person, Prunella. I couldn’t have made it if the nefarious creatures had ripped my foot off, but other things, other parts...”

    Her tears fell in a torrent. “You’re so brave, Egbert. But the centipedes are next and -” She couldn't think on it. It was too horrible.

    “I love you, Prunella,” he said, clenching her hand.

    “You will always be a man to me,” she whispered through sobs.

  6. “I don’t have it.” His tone was unreadable. Prunella peered through the rain seeking what she could not hear.

    “Of course you do. Not the time to play with me Egbert. I cannot see your jest nor hear it.” She reached out, expecting him to drop the silver coin in her hand so she could pin it to her cloak.

    “I am not joking. I left it on the trail in the forest, secure in a tree. More secure there than we would be if you used it as you intend. I’ll be no part of that crime. Nor will you.” The square set of his jaw was revealed in the lightening. Thunder rumbled as Prunella gathered her temper in her gut.

    “You do not decide for me what I will or will not do. And now you no longer decide for yourself.” With the side of her hand, she struck him hard across the neck and dropped him to his knees. Braced on all fours he gasped for breath and waited for a killing blow that she withheld.

    “Get up and retrieve it now. I’ll be in the tavern drying off and drinking. I am not pleasant to be with when I drink. I will be less pleasant if you return without the Sacred Coin. There, see that rider approaching? Take his horse. You have little time to waste.” She saw him hesitate to steal the horse and undo the rider. She kicked him hard to insure his obedience. Pity. He was a lovely man as men go, but now he had made himself her dog.

    “As you will, my Lady,” Egbert whispered rising up from the ground. He was in pain but not in fear.

    “Ho! Rider. A word!” Prunella watched Egbert stride to the horseman who had reined in at the gate. In a swift graceful arc, he reached up and pulled the fellow off the horse, letting him fall on over the bridge to the river below. It was a short drop. If he could swim he would live. Egbert mounted the horse and turned back toward the forest as Prunella reached for the bell pull that would bring the guards and admission into her father’s city.

  7. She raised her hand to his lips. "Don't. You can't keep hiding it forever. We need to talk."

    "I know." He sighed and drew in all the dignity his magnificent three-foot-tall body could muster. "Plumella, what we've shared was fresh and original. But we've reached Cliche now. 'Twill never last."

    The rain abruptly stopped. Plumella's eyes glistened with unspent tears, and she was thankful for the low light. The moon was half-lit, and the stars shone like diamonds.

    "This trip, I know we haven't exactly been in clover, but you have my heart, and you always will. This isn't about us, though. I need the Secret Talisman."

    "What?" Egbert said. "You're always after my lucky charm." But he bent and retrieved the Talisman from his sock.

    She had heard of it, of course, every schoolgirl had, but she'd never seen it before. The ages-old Doughnut of Power. Egbert reach out his hand, and there it sat. White, fluffy, frosty.

    "Magically," she said, the awe creeping into her voice, "it looks delicious."

  8. Prunella placed her hand against the curving, cold stone. Raindrops curled around her wrist, trickling down her forearm.
    “When do you think it’ll let up?” She glanced at Egbert as she let her tongue catch moisture that dripped down her skin, and hoped he’d notice.
    “Who knows?” He stared at the downpour, but his eyes were somewhere far away.
    “Eg?” She moved away from the stone arch, taking a tentative step towards him. “Why don’t you give me the talisman now? We’re stuck here anyway.”
    She glanced outside again. The rain and heavy fog would make the marsh impassable, quicksand traps lying hidden and deadly along the already hard to mark game trails.
    He didn’t look her, but shifted his weight. He’d rolled his jeans up when they waded to the shelter and she could see the outline of the talisman through his wet sock.
    She took another step forward, this time stretching her hand out. “The talisman. I need it back.”
    His gaze moved as slowly as the drifting fog outside, at last settling on her face. “I’m sorry Pru.”
    She froze. A heartbeat passed. Another.
    “Sorry about what?” The words wanted to stick in her throat. She had to force them out.
    She watched as he licked his lips and remembered their warmth against her own.
    “I’ll be leaving you now,” he said, his eyes flint hard. “And the talisman is coming with me.”

  9. Egbert's hooded eyes stopped Prunella, her breath caught. "Egbert?" her voice wavered.

    Stretched between them was the stoccato of the rainfall and in the stark light, the drops clung to his lashes. "We have a problem."

    Arching a manicured brow, Prunella felt a rush from the heated look as the man who was little more than enigma gazed at her. "You lost the talisman?"

    He pulled a face and Prunella's panic bled into a ruefulness as his annoyed look suggested he thought her daft. "Of course not, woman."

    A chill marched down her arms. All those nights of shared laughter and double entendres blinded her from the thousand-yard stare he now gave her. "Excuse me?" She tried for grace, reached for laughing indifference at his harsh words and deadly glare, but Prunella realized she was seeing Egbert for the first time.

    "This is where your adventure ends, Pru," he whispered barely above the patter of raindrops, a wicked gleam in his eye and mirthless smirk on his face.

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  12. He turned, and she shrank back before she could stop herself.

    "Shut up! Do you want every Rhykir in the city to know we've got it?"

    "No, but isn't it time for me to--"

    "No," he said as he jerked the door open, flinging water into her face.

    She dashed a hand across her eyes. "Egbert!"

    He turned again and let out a sigh that was even louder than her perfectly reasonable request had been. So much for keeping their whereabouts a secret.

    "You agreed that it was better if I use the talisman," she said. "I'm the one--"

    "I changed my mi--."

    "I'm the one who has Lysdarian blood flowing through my veins."

    He eyed her silently.

    "I can do it! I won't fail our people."

    He shook his head and came to stand just inches away. He took her hands as another sigh moved the shoulders she loved so well. "Don't you remember the prophecy?"

    Of course she did! But neither of them had Nysian blood, let alone both blood magics. Surely her Lysdarian would be enough. It had to be. Unless--

    "My mother was Lysdarian," he whispered. "And my father was Nysian."

    He didn't explain any more. He didn't need to.

    Her knees started trembling as the implications shot through her. Then her breath caught, and she realized just who it was she'd been foolish enough to fall in love with.

  13. Sorry, mine should have read "Prunella," not "Plumella." I guess with all that rain, I didn't picture her so dried and wrinkly.

  14. He turns to face her, his expression dark...

    "Prunella, I have to tell you, I've got my back against the wall. I'm the low man on the totem pole, and I'm afraid you're too hot to handle." He stared her down with a smoldering gaze.

    Prunella clasped her hands to her chest and threw herself toward her love. "Oh, Egbert. Did the earth move for you, too? I knew this was the real McCoy. I love you, Eg."

    "No, Pru. No." Egbert put both his hands firmly on her upper arms to push her away. "Read my lips. The Talisman was just a red herring. My bosses want the Ruins of Cliche torn down."

    "Then," Prunella gasped, "You must work for..."

    Egbert nodded grimly. "Yes. The publishing industry."

    "No cliches? Egbert, think of all the editors who will be out of jobs."

    "I'm afraid it can't be helped," Egbert said sadly. He pulled a stick of dynamite out of his sock. "It cuts the bottom line. Law of the jungle, and so forth."

    "It takes two to tango." Prunella's voice lost its syrupy tone as she sneered at her companion. "You idiot. Do you really think you knocked my socks off? That I was pining tragically for your love?" She pulled a pistol from the front of her cleavage.

    "Prunella, no." Egbert panicked. "Let's take the Publishers' money. I'll split it with you."

    "I'm no bleeding heart. And the Editors pay better," she mutttered under her breath as she pulled the trigger. "Don't worry, Eg." She looked down at him as blood pooled underneath his body. "I never kiss and tell."

  15. "I can't do that," replied Egbert.

    His pained expression tugged at Prunella's heartstrings, but only for a fleeting moment. "What do you mean, you can't? Give me the damn talisman."

    "Look for yourself," said Egbert. He stripped off his sock and held his huge foot up to her face. "I didn't realize the asphalt was so hot. The heat from the talisman has caused it to become imbedded into my flesh. We'll have to find a physician to remove it, I'm afraid."

    Prunella blinked several times to clear the raindrops from her lashes. Then she grabbed Egbert's ankle and studied his foot a bit closer. She loved the man, but he was proving to be like all the others - concerned only with his own perceived needs and disregarding her own. She wasn't about to delay her use of the talisman so that the baby could go find a physician.

    "Could you stop squeezing my ankle quite so hard?" asked Egbert.

    Rather than loosen her grip, Prunella squeezed just a tad harder, and watched him wince. He needed to understand just what the talisman meant to her. "Do you have a pocketknife?" she asked.

    "Sure, let go of my - - -" Egbert gave a mighty tug and wrenched his bare foot from Prunella's grasp. "I mean, no, I must have left it in my other pants." He scooted a little further from her. "Why?"

    A mad gleam gleam filled Prunella's eyes, like that of a junkie anticipating his next hit, which, in a way, she was. "Look, Egbert, I'm having that talisman. And it won't hurt that much, I promise. It can't be in there that deep. Besides, what's a little blood between friends?" She batted her wet lashes at him. "I'll share."

    When Egbert finally relented, Prunella wasted no time digging the talisman out of his tender flesh. Egads, she thought, who would have guessed he could scream like such a girl? Once the talisman was in her grasp, she tossed aside Egbert's bloody foot like a dirty rag, and ran to the brightly lit machine beside the ancient doorway. She dropped the talisman into the opening, listening as it clinked its way down into the receptacle. Then she pushed against the glowing button. She fairly danced with impatience and anticipation while she waited for the aluminum can to roll into the dark recess near the bottom of the machine. She flipped the top and filled her mouth with the bubbly, rejuvenating liquid. "Ah, it's the real thing, baby."

  16. “Take the talisman, Prunella.” Egbert thumped down into the dirt under the Arch of Adage, his expression dark. “It’s given me a nasty blister anyhow, and I have risked much gangrene.”

    Prunella reached out to stroke his rain-slicked cheek. “Why didn’t you just wear it around your neck?” She tried not to fantasize about the secret talisman nestled in his manly thicket of black chest hair. Or to think about running her nubile young hands through said manly chest hair. Or to remember that recurring dream she had wherein he spanked her upon the Altar of Aphorism inside the Ruined City of Cliché.

    He held up the shining necklace and grimaced. “It’s in the shape of a cat. It has googly eyes. And a pink ball of string. Who the hell designed this thing?” Shaking his head, he muttered, “I don’t even know why we agreed to come here anyway. I do not believe the talisman will reveal to us the ways of the Lost People of Platitudinous.”

    “You should not speak so of the secret talisman! It has untold powers!”

    “What powers?”

    “I don’t know, they are secret!” Prunella furrowed her porcelain brow and took the grinning, rhinestone cat in her hands. “We must learn the ways of the Platitudinans in order to save our own people from certain destruction.”

    Egbert lifted one perfectly arched eyebrow. “We could just find the nearest inn and I could reveal to you the ways of the flesh. After a bath, of course. We’ve been traveling for three weeks and, while you’re pretty cute, you smell like a stable.”

    “Oh, Egbert!” Prunella went momentarily blind in a wave of unladylike lust. After the blood rushed back up to her head, she asked, “Can we come back here afterwards, though?” She took his grimy hand in hers. “You know, certain destruction to our people and all that?”

    “Yeah, sure, baby. Whatever you say.” Egbert winked and goosed her.

  17. "It's odd but Darth Mall keeps finding us," said Prunella, repacking the saddle bags because, someone- and who could that someone be???- had but the clean laundry next to a leaking water battle. " It's as though he has a map right to where we are. And I wouldn't mind so much, but you're not a very good hero. You can't use a sword, you don't have any magic powers, hell you can't even wash dishes or skin a rabbit. I keep having to save your astrix and do your laundry it's getting old, Egbert. Old. It's time you man up or get out.... What the bleepity bleep is this."

    A talisman dangled from Prunella's hand. Egbert snatched it away.

    "It's just a thing," said Egbert and he stuffed into his boot.

    "So that's why you've been limping," said Prunella. "I've been carry your astrix across this country because you can't walk. Who is she?" Prunella grabbed Egbert's leg. "Who is she!"

    "Give off," he said trying to shove her off.

    "Don't you dare," Prunella through him to the ground, removed his boot, and held up the talisman. There was an inscription on the back: To my darling Mrs. Darth Vader. So I'll always know where you are. "What are you trying to do. Get us killed? This is just rich. Let's go on a quest you say. We can get rich you say. And here I am standing in the middle of a furious rainstorm, next to a doorway that leads to the ruined city of Cliche, and I find out your got a little something something on the side."

    "You got it all wrong," said Egbert. "I'm not cheating on you. I'm trying to get you killed. Why do you have to be so bleepity bleep capable?"

  18. Egbert blocked her way by thrusting his arm across the door. "You didn't really think I'd be that stupid, did you?" he asked.

    "What are you talking about? Give me the damned talisman and let me go on in. I'm getting drenched out here."

    "You'll survive, which is more than I'd do if I gave you the thing." His eyebrows crowded together over his nose. "That's what hurts the most, Pru. Knowing you'd gut me for a single gem, much less the tons of them inside, that really tears a man apart."

    Prunella glanced up at the sky. All she saw was water. She lowered her face and wished it was dry enough for her to fire up a smoke. Nicotine always helped in moments like this. "Why would you think I'd do that?"

    "What happened to Professor Quinlan convinced me. You put the asp in his sleeping bag. Nobody else could have, or would have. You'd already disposed of Lady Dromond with that clever trap you rigged from her tent stakes, and that ridiculous reporter was off in the brush looking for the cigarette case you claimed you lost." He dipped his free hand into his pocket and extracted the platinum and ebony case. "I found it under my cot, after I recovered from the Mickey Finn you slipped me after we, you know."

    Prunella laughed. "You are so Victorian, Egbert. We made love, and you fell asleep. Why does it so offend your masculine sensibilities to think that you wouldn't be like every other man on Earth, and drift off after sex?"

    "I don't usually wake up with a headache, unless I've been helped to sleep." He tossed the case over the cliff to his left.

    Prunella heard it clickety-click down the rock face. She didn't hear it splash into the river below. She reached behind her and pulled the tiny automatic from the secret holster in the small of her back.

    Egbert stared down the hole at the end of the barrel. He smirked. "It's come to that? Very melodramatic." He laughed. "Very Victorian."

    Prunella smiled. "It is, isn't it?" She tossed the pistol after the cigarette case. They did hear it hit the water. "Are you convinced now that I mean you no harm?"

    "You could have a knife," he said. "Or another gun."

    She unbuttoned her blouse. "It's a little cold and damp out here for a strip search, but if that's what you want, I'm willing."

    Egbert dropped his arm. "I wish I'd known that a moment ago."

    Prunella continued stripping. "Why?"

    "I wouldn't have tossed the talisman over the cliff. I transferred it to the cigarette case while you were decapitating the reporter."

    She stopped undressing. "Oh. I see. I'm not sorry I didn't shoot you, Egbert. I really am much too fond of you to do that."

    He stepped forward and took her in his arms. She pressed her half-naked body against his and said into his chest, "Will they hang me, do you think?"

    "Probably," he said.

    She threw back her head and closed her eyes. Rain flooded her face and ran down her throat to her bare chest. "I don't think I'd like that," she said as she pulled away from him.

    "I wouldn't like to have to watch it," he said.

    Prunella nodded and stepped to the edge. "Let's just avoid that whole scene."

    "Let's," Egbert agreed.

    Prunella stepped over the edge. She splashed into the river a few seconds later. Egbert grinned and reached down to his ankle and into his sock. He pulled the talisman out and waved it over the cliff. "Sorry about that, baby."

  19. “Purnella,” Egbert whispered. “We need to talk about what happened. Maybe I should apologize.”

    I touched my finger to his lips.
    “Shh. We’re safe. Give me the Talisman, I can open the gate and get us through.”

    He shook his head. “It’s not that simple. I fear I may have misled you.”

    I knew it couldn’t have been this easy. Nothing with Egbert was ever easy. I folded my arms across my chest. Waiting.

    Running his fingers through his dripping blond hair, Egbert gave me a half grin. “The Talisman won’t open the gate. I might have fudged that part a bit.”

    I wanted to slap him. How could he have lied to me? How could I have fallen in love with him? How could I have been so stupid as to kiss him?

    “Well, thanks for the three near-death experiences. For six weeks of sleeping on the ground. Peeing in the woods. The poison ivy that’s just now clearing up. And…” I stared at him and couldn’t even go on. I screamed.

    Egbert grabbed me around the waist and pulled me into him. He covered my mouth with his hand. “This wasn’t for nothing, Purnella. What I didn’t tell you was that who holds the Secret Talisman, is the leader of Ruined City of Cliché. The Talisman has been in my family for seventeen generations, and each of us have had to take this journey.” He leaned down, removed his hand, and kissed me. “I wanted to take this journey with you. I want you to be my queen.”

  20. “Hand me the Talisman.”

    “The Talisman?”

    Prunella turned from the keyhole. Egbert towered above her. His dark hair, unruly as always, rain wet and dripping onto his face. “Yes, you have the Talisman,” she said.

    “But I thought you had it.”

    “Nooooooooooooooo.” Prunella’s voice was low, dangerous. “You were supposed to put it in your sock. I locked the windows and sent you to get the Talisman. It was the only thing I asked you to do.”

    At the moment she was talking to his crutch. Now was not the time for contemplating any crutches but the good luck crutch, the Talisman. She rose, almost forgetting the dark enemy lurking beyond the keyhole. “Don’t tell me you don’t have it.”

    “Okay I won’t.” Egbert’s handsome dark eyebrows rose. They did that. They crinkled the forehead and blue glittering eyes would raise her blood sugar levels, send the pheremones flying, and set common sense into freefall, like a Dow Jones crash.

    “But I thought you said put the Tali’s on.” He lifted his trouser legs. “And I can’t wear socks with them.”

    Prunella looked at the black Talis sports shoes with horror. “Why the hell would I worry about what shoes you’d wear?”

    He shrugged. “If the shoe fits, wear it. You know how they say in the Talis advertisement. Put your best foot forward saves you from having to make a decision. I thought you had a plan. You always have a plan.”

    “You never struck me as one slice short of a loaf of bread. Now we have to go back to Cliché.” Prunella pouted. She pouted well. “Egbert…”


    “Between you, me and the fencepost… If you expect to soar with the eagles by day, you can’t hoot with the owls at night.”

    “I guess now we’re in a no-win situation.”

    “You got it Eggie baby. My goodness but you are as sharp as a marble.”