Another reader question popped up in the comments section concerning a writing topic that I might actually give advice about. Im–ma-gin-nat-tion . . . as Spongebob Squarepants would say to Squidworth in the empty box as Spongebob’s hands waved apart and a rainbow appeared (my nephews love that yellow cartoon sponge).
EVERYBODY HAS AN IMAGINATION! Sometimes it can just elude us when the reality of everyday life pushes in. In other words, we get the dreaded Writer’s Block! *SCREAM*
When this happens, we need to find something that sparks our creative fires. There are several places to look when trying to find this tinder. I would like to list the ways I come up with a plot and dialogue, but I cannot. I am one of those weird people who has the ideas crowded in the old noggin. But let’s see if I can help in another way.
List all the shows, movies, and books you have watched and read recently.
I like this idea because you can place yourself in the scenes. How would you have reacted in those situations? What would you have done? What would you have changed? It is incredible what your imagination can expand upon until you have made a story all of its own. And do not stop there. Write a journal of what happened to you today. Yet also add your own fantasies on what you might have wished happened. Change the dialogue you had with someone, but keep the rest of the scene. Then evolve from this by changing the mood, background, and adding characters.
Heck, you can even list what you ate for dinner last week just to get ideas. Hmm . . . let me go with the food topic and give a sneak peek on how my imagination works.
Chicken and dumplings
Pork and veggies
Sausage and pasta
Let’s stop there. I like that fish part. What words go with fish? Fish and chips. Fish fry. Fish store.
Oh! A fish store, or it could be a marketplace with fishmongers selling their catches. I like the concept of an open market, with stalls everywhere and people mingling. We have the makings of dialogue with this. I am going to stick with the conversation without any descriptive background.
Fishmonger: “Fresh fish! Fresh fish for sell! Right off the boat! You won’t find a better quality at a cheaper price anywhere else.”
Woman shopper: “I’ll take three pounds of shrimp, please.”
Fishmonger: “Here you go, ma’am. Anything else?”
Child: “I want to play with the squid!”
Woman shopper: “You can’t play with it right now. Mommy has to get home to cook for the dinner party tonight.”
Fishmonger: “And besides, you never know when a tentacle will grab ya!”
Fishmonger: “Okay, who’s next?”
Man shopper: “I’ll take a whole cod.”
Fishmonger: “Here you go, sir. Thanks for waiting.”
Let’s stop again. I am really enjoying this part. Most of the conversation is something you would expect to hear at any outdoor market whether you are buying fish, vegetables, or donuts (although I would shop somewhere else if they sold squid next to the chocolate eclairs). Don’t forget that you can go to a store and just listen at how people interact with each other. Great ideas and dialogue will come to you. Listen and watch everyone. Take notes.
Now I will get back to this scene. I need to give the characters, well, character. Physical attributes. Personality. Let’s use the dialogue above to help.
A smiling fishmonger with a pleasant attitude because he likes kids. This is the reason he jokes around and does not make any rude comments about the woman holding up the line.
An impatient mother who wishes she had enough time in the day to get everything done. I suspect she has been shopping for most of the morning, with hair strands starting to stick out and her face flushed. It is a very important party for her because she bought this much shrimp.
A bored child since he wants to play with the squid. Obviously this is an adult party. The kid would be dragging Mommy home if it were for him, and no one serves shrimp at a child’s shindig.
A male shopper who is patient with the woman and child because he did not interrupt or push to get his order in.
Okay, we have a little more understanding of the people and the dialogue. We have part of the background on where the dialogue takes place. Yet we still need background for the people. What actions are they doing while talking? What would you expect them to do from the information we already have? Ask yourself questions to paint a mental picture of the scene.
A little boy is pointing at the squid in excitement. His finger is about to poke the cephalopod.
A mother is trying to control her child, hold other purchases, and keep an eye on the time while digging in her purse for cash. She could be double-checking her shopping list to make sure she has everything.
The fishmonger is handling goods, joking with the child, and moving his attention to the other shopper. And the other shopper is studying the fish trying to decide what to purchase.
I need to have main character in this. The obvious one would be the mother because we know why she is there and lots of action is going on around her. Yet I never do anything predictable. Instead, I would pick either the fishmonger or the other shopper because I would feel more comfortable with them. I will pick the fishmonger. For me to connect with this character in so short of a time, I have to become him. There is no other choice for me to linger and watch his mood. So I will write the dialogue in first-person for the fishmonger. Third-person would feel too awkward for me in this situation. Also, I will not have to come up with names for the characters.
Mid-afternoon. The bendable metal shutter for the counter was still shut. I heard the voices rising in the marketplace, the buyers and sellers laughing and arguing and taken in with the life handed down as roles to play. Where should I be in this drama? How could I return my life to those days? What was my purpose in this stall and in this very existence?
Why could it have not been me on that bus?
My fingers wiped the drops of water from the photo. Then I shoved it into my shirt pocket. My apron helped to erase the wetness from my eyes, and a hearty blow from my nose dried up things there. I turned to the shutter, took three breaths, and slapped a fake smile on my face. My hands grabbed the handle. My ears listened to the clacking as the metal slats rose in the tracking. I gave myself no time to stay on depressed thoughts.
“Fresh fish! Fresh fish for sale! Right off the boat! You won’t find a better quality at a cheaper price anywhere else.”
My bellow drew the few stragglers left in the marketplace. The woman was the first to hurry over with a young lad in tow. A rolling huff blew from his chest. The poor thing. The marketplace held little excitement for a child of his age.
The woman banged her knees against the stall. Her eyes scanned the shelves. Before I could tell her the day’s specials, she had her order placed. “I’ll take three pounds of shrimp, please.”
I had worked this stall for three years and seen all types of people. I knew a harried person when I saw one without having to study the woman’s flushed face and tousled hair. The order sat on the counter and the cash register spat out the receipt before her shoe could begin to tap with impatience.
I said, “Here you go, ma’am. Anything else?”
“I want to play with the squid,” the little lad piped out. His finger pointed at the bin. His body bounced in place as if attached to springs. I had to give a real smile at him. My thoughts thanked the boy for his curious nature.
“You can’t play with it right now. “ The woman took out a notepad and a pen. She scribbled across the paper. “Mommy has to get home to cook for the dinner party tonight.”
I gave a wink at him. “Besides, you never know when a tentacle will grab ya!” My arms lifted and then swooped down at the boy in pretend.
His hands covered his grinning mouth. Yet not before I heard his, “Hee-hee!”
The woman grabbed her order and ushered her son away from the stall. I caught his small wave in goodbye. In return, I waved back. It felt so good to hear a child’s laughter again, even if it was for a moment.
I turned back to the gathering crowd, ready to face the world and all of its uncertainties. “Okay, who’s next?”
A man stepped forward. “I’ll take a whole cod.”
He had gestured at the smallest one. I picked out the biggest fish and charged him half-price. “Here you go, sir. Thanks for waiting.”
I hope this little peek into my imagination, and how to write dialogue, helps.