Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Picturebook Prompt ~ Dialogue is Sriracha Sauce

Howdy, Campers, and welcome to another of our occasional Wednesday Writing Workouts!


Next Monday is the last class of this quarter for my Picture Book course...and on Saturday, January 26th, I begin my 20th year of teaching in UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. (HOW CAN THAT BE when I'm only 26 years old?)

We're trying something new next quarter: 10 Saturday classes beginning January 26th from 10am-1pm. (I'm already dreaming of less traffic on Saturdays! Please spread the word to your friends in the LA area: here's the link)

In last Monday's class, we talked about the use of dialogue in picture books and how much fun it is to read these books aloud. I learned early on that including dialogue is like pouring Sriracha sauce on oatmeal

image from Pixabay

My first book, To Rabbittown, written in free verse, contains no dialogue. But my second (The Night Horse), third (It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma!), fourth, (Girl Coming in for a Landing ~ a novel in poems), and fifth books (New Year at the Pier) do.  

I needed a writing exercise to reinforce my lecture. Creating it was like putting together a two-piece puzzle.
image from Pixabay

Here's what inspired this exercise:
1) I heard an excellent presentation at SCBWI's conference in L.A. this August by the always wonderful Candace Fleming about how she wrote the multi-award winning book, The Giant Squid.  One of the things that struck me was that she chooses a word or phrase as her guiding light before she begins researching or writing any book. She calls it the Vital Idea. This isn't a new concept, but the way she presented it helped me understand how crucial this is. The Vital Idea she chose for The Giant Squid was Mystery. Every page, every verb reflects this idea.

2) My friend Ellen recently took an improv class. She reminded me that every idea in improv is answered with "Yes, and..." (For example, if someone is pantomiming and says, "I'm carrying my mother's alligator." the response must be, "Yes, and..."  It's never "No, but...").

So here's my DIALOGUE IS SRIRACHA SAUCE exercise:
1) come up with a Vital Idea (the guiding principle of the story).  
2) write a story completely in dialogue
A further suggestion, which you can take or leave, is to have one character always start by saying "Yes, and" or "No, but."

As my students settled down to write, I wrote, too. The Vital Idea I chose was: This world is not safe. (That was the first thought that came to my mind...which is just sad). Here's my very raw draft:

by April Halprin Wayland
A: Never go to Z Street: there are tigers.
B: Yes, there are tigers and lobsters with ginormous claws on Z Street.
A: Lobsters with ginormous claws?
B: Yes and poisonous carrots!
A: Poisonous carrots?
B: Yes and they kill you after six bites!
A: Couldn't you just not eat the poisonous carrots?
B: No—poisonous carrots sing to you and you can't help but sit down and lean against them and then they encircle you and all is lost.
A: All is lost because they make you eat them?
B: Yes.
A: They want you to eat them?
B: Yes.
A: Okay. Never go to Z Street: there are tigers and lobsters and poisonous carrots.
B: Yes and also there is a little kid with dangerous and sticky fingers who takes your hand and is forever glued to you.
A: Forever?
B: Yes, except when you're eating a poisonous carrot.
A: Okay, so: never go to Z Street, for there are
B: tigers
A: and lobsters
B: and poisonous carrots
B and a little kid with sticky fingers
B: like mine
A: forever glued to mine.

poem (or whatever this is) © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

if you
just use a
teeny bit

or if you use
too much
of it
poem © 2018 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Try this exercise, and if you have any suggestions on how to make it better, please let me know! 
April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

LOVE this exercise, April, and your fun example using it. I definitely want to give it a try!

April Halprin Wayland said...

thank you, Carmela ~ this means a lot to me. Let me know how it goes!