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A Character Study through Dialogue (aka, Got Weekend Plans?) | #amwriting #writingchallenge

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading the Dear Prudence advice column on Slate.com for many years now—mainly because it’s a great outlet for story/character/conflict ideas.

This week, one of the contributors came through for me in a big way—it’s the first time in forever that I’ve read one of the letters and thought, I need to use that as an example on my blog.

Here’s the post:

Q. Co-workers asking about outside life: I am one of, if not the lowest paid low-level grunts in a large corporate law firm. Well-meaning co-workers often ask, “Doing anything fun this weekend?” The answer is always “No,” because I am paid so little that I have no money to play with on weekends. Every time I get that question, it’s like a reminder that most other people have both the money and an answer to that question. And in the unlikely event I do have plans, it’s always personal and cannot be shared.

A few times I have responded honestly, saying something like “You know, I don’t like that question and the answer will always be the same.” My co-workers have pushed back immediately, suggesting that I am being antisocial. How do I politely tell my co-workers to stop asking me about my weekend? I have long since stopped asking about theirs.

The only real advice needed came from the first couple of sentences of “Prudence” (Daniel Mallory Ortberg)’s response:

A: There are a number of inappropriate questions co-workers can ask that require pushback, but I don’t think that “Doing anything fun this weekend?” is one of them. It falls under the umbrella of pleasantries that are customary to exchange at work, and requires no more than “Oh, nothing much” or “Getting some rest, I hope” or “I might see some friends” in response.

But half the fun of reading this column regularly is reading the inane (and insane) comments from other regular readers and comment trolls that frequent it. So you can imagine what kind of reaction this one got!

Then I got to thinking, as I read the onslaught of increasingly ridiculous suggestions of how this person should respond, that a response to a “socially neutral” question like this can tell us a lot about someone who doesn’t give an expected “socially neutral” (acceptable) answer. Whether it’s their sense of humor, their social anxiety, their desire to flirt with the asker, their annoyance with “socially neutral” small talk, or—like this person—their paranoia that this question is actually a means by which everyone they work with can rub their higher-salary-status in their face.

How Would Your Character Answer?
To keep dialogue from being boring, you can use an interaction in dialogue like this to show something of your character’s personality.

For example:

  • “Got any plans for this weekend?”
    “I’ll tell you, but first I need you to take a blood oath that you’ll give me an alibi.”
    .
  • “Got any plans for this weekend?”
    “Yes—I just got the shipment of seeds and the new seedling starter I’ve been waiting on. I plan to spend all weekend up to my elbows in the dirt!”
    .
  • “Got any plans for this weeken—”
    “No.”
    “I was just asking—”
    “And I was just saying no.”

And so on.

Your turn—what can you tell us about a character just by the character’s response to the question: “Got any plans for this weekend”?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, September 6, 2018 7:09 pm

    “Yes, I’m going to bring home the three-foot pile of papers I need to correct, and then I’m going to ignore them and go water skiing.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. taylorsl83 permalink
    Saturday, September 8, 2018 3:14 pm

    “I’m hosting a small garden party Saturday afternoon, if you must know. As your presence here was unannounced, I would appreciate it if you made yourself scarce and didn’t interfere.”

    Liked by 1 person

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