Writing Etude #3: You Are What You Say

Well, the writers I live with and I tried out the last writing etude I posted, and the results were really quite interesting, but I’m going to update that post sometime with results and thoughts.

When we concluded our discussion of that etude, we decided to try another one, suggested by the inimitable E.G. Cosh. She wanted to work on dialogue, and on revealing things through dialogue–especially things like character motivation and and the nature of two characters’ relationship. She suggested the twist that we work on dialogue-intensive (or dialogue-only) scenes, and write the same scene twice, with the same motivation driving each character, but changing the nature of the two characters’ relationships when we rewrite the scene.

(For example, writing the scene where one character wants to get high and fool around, but the other character wants to go home; the first time you write it, the two characters might be co-workers at a crappy McJob, while the second time they might be, say, divorced exes, or fellow members of the PTA, or people who used to date in high school, or maybe a boss and an employee… endless possibilities.)

But riffing on one insight from our discussion–that externally-determined constraints (external to the text, or external to the writer) can be very useful for freeing a writer up–we felt it might be good if we introduced a little of constraint here too, plus perhaps (I thought) some randomness… so I suggested  determining the character relationships using the basic mechanic from the RPG game Fiasco, and it seemed to interest people, so we went with that.

In case any writers out there want to try it, I’m attaching the text of the Etude here, formatted so it should work for practically anyone (though, if you’re not writing speculative fiction, you might skip the sixth set of Relationships: just reroll if you roll 6+6, otherwise choose whatever your other option is). Alright, here’s the PDF:

It’s marked Etude #2 because its the second one our group has attempted, though of course it’s the third one I’m posting on this site. (Here’s a link for the first–another Fiasco-inspired one–and here’s a link for the second one.)

Unlike the earlier two etudes, I don’t yet have a theoretical framework on which to base this. I’ll be trying to develop something, but I’m not sure I know how or where to start in on that… we’ll just have to see.

By the way, we also rolled up the relationships together. I got:

  • Relationship: 3:6 — Criminal: Kidnapper / Kidnap Victim’s Family Member
  • Need 1: 1.2: To Get Out… of Town
  • Need 2: 1.5: To Get Rich… and pay off that debt before things get really bad. 

Which makes me think maybe I’ll end up retelling Fargo or something. The funniest thing is, the combination of rolling a 3 and a 6 was the example I used in the document… before we rolled up our own etude constraints. (And two of us rolled 3 + 6 for the Relationships roll, too. Weird…)

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