Monday, January 28, 2013

Talkin' Heads #48

TITLE: Dear Oprah
GENRE: Upmarket fiction

Jessi has sent her mother a letter recounting abuse from her childhood. Her sister calls to confront her about it and her mother's claims that she will sue Jessi for visitation with the grandkids.

“Hi Jasmine, wassup!” I said beaming

“Hey,” she responded sounding kind of dry.

“Okay, what’s wrong? Is there something wrong with your car, did something happen at your apartment?” I asked with a little panic in my voice.

“Why did you send mom that letter?” Jasmine asked.

“I thought it was time for me to stop being scared and to realize how I was feeling,” I said trying to add strength to my wavering voice.

“Well, she is barely talking to anybody and she missed church today - and she never misses anything at church!” Jasmine said. “Was it really necessary after all these years to write that?”

“She was threatening to take me to court for visitation,” I nearly shouted. “Am I supposed to continually let her bully me and get her way, for the sake of keeping the peace? I'm sorry if that's what you do but I refuse to keep quiet any longer - especially when I'm being threatened.”

“Dang, Jessi you know she wasn't gonna sue you!” Jasmine shouted back.

“Um yes she was, her lawyer called me!” I said. “Look, we had it bad and many would argue that I got it a heck of a lot worse than you. I am not cowering in a corner anymore. I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of being bullied. Maybe you need to feel some of the sadness she inflicted.”

Jasmine was silent before sighing and hanging up.


  1. This isn't bad, but I think it could still use some work. I'm not sure if we're supposed to comment on the tags as well as the dialogue, but I found the first three tags were a bit excessive. I don't think you need "beaming" in the first line. The third tag would sound better if, instead of saying "with a little panic in my voice" you said something like, I could feel panic begin to bubble up, or something a little less tell-y and more show-y.

    Also, I think Jessi's last bit of dialogue sounds awkward as speech. "...many would argue that I got it a heck of a lot worse than you" - I think it would sound more natural just to say "I had it a lot worse than you." Also, I didn't really get the line " need to feel some of the sadness she inflicted" - sadness doesn't seem like the right word to me. Maybe pain, or trauma (depending on how dramatic Jessi is).

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

  2. I agree with the above comments about the dialogue tags being excessive. I suggest trying to simplify and not rely on dialogue tags so much. The dialogue should convey (more naturally) a lot of what you are choosing to "tell us" in the tags.

    I was also a little thrown right off the bat with Jessi asking Jasmine so quickly if everything was alright with her car and apartment. Seemed forced.

    Keep at it and good luck!

  3. I agree with removing some of the tags and showing the action and reactions. You can show her panic, for example her voice raising an octave, or straining etc, rather than stating panic is in the voice. The "nearly shouted" tag didn't quite mesh with what was being said, and later there is an exclamation used, which shows a shout; so, if this conversation ends up that heated, you could use some of the spots in between the dialogue to show it heating up and escalating:

    "x dialouge" I was shouting now, unable to control (x=name emotion).

    Or instead of the nearly shouting, what is going on inside her, the internal struggle, that you could describe how she's feeling as she's saying it, then you don't need to say "shouted" since the intensity is implied.

    This line I think would be stronger without the second half:
    “I thought it was time for me to stop being scared,” I said, trying to add strength to my wavering voice.

    That's a good example of showing her trying to control her voice, too.

  4. I agree with the above. There is a lot of telling and not enough showing.

    I also didn't understand the "sadness she inflicted" line. I agree that maybe sadness is the wrong word, but I also wonder if the if could be cut completely as "I'm tired of being bullied." is a really strong message.

    I really got the sense of strength in Jessi - you can make it stronger by changing her dialogue from past continuing tense to past tense. Example: change "She was threatening.." to "She threatened..."

  5. I think perhaps you need something after “Why did you send Mom that letter.” The MC has been upbeat so far, and then that comes at her, and she carries on chattering like it’s nothing. Maybe add a line that shows how that line affects her, how her attitude and demeanor change, how a pleasant conversation with her sister has suddenly taken a turn.

    And at the end – the ‘sadness’ she inflicted. I think sadness is too weak a word. Maybe pain, terror, fear – something stronger. These kids weren’t feeling sad when Mom did whatever she did. They were feeling something much worse. The sadness would have come after, when the abuse was over.