Caravans & Cubicles: In Which I Shamelessly ‘Ear-wig’

I read something the other day that I’d never really thought about before: we all spend most of the time trying to hide how we’re really feeling.

It’s so true!

Think about it. Even when you’re with your nearest and dearest, you do it. (Otherwise, we’d all be saying things like, “Do we have to? Your mother/sister/auntie Doreen bores me to death!” or “Oh, are you back already?”).

When we’re writing dialogue, it’s worth remembering that most people don’t say what they’re really thinking, most of the time.

Let me give you an example:

I was at the swimming pool earlier this week and I deliberately chose a changing cubicle next to a chatty woman (whom I shall call ‘Linda’*) because I thought I might overhear something interesting.

She was talking to another woman – her friend, presumably, whom I shall call ‘Daphne’* – in the next cubicle along and the conversation went like this:

Daphne: Linda? Er… just out of interest, do you rent out your caravan?

Linda: (coldly) Yes, we do.

Daphne: Oh, right. (Pause) Erm… and do you still go to it yourself?

Linda: Well, we didn’t go much last year because Mike was ill and we haven’t been this year yet because there’s so much else to do. We’re renovating the cottage in Cornwall and we’re going on a cruise in April.

Daphne: Oh, really? Lovely! Where are you going?

There then ensued a long and complicated tale of where Linda and Mike were going on their cruise (the Med, incase you’re interested), the terrible problems they’d had getting insurance cover, because Mike had been ill.. and so on.

Never again (or at least, not in the time it took me to get dressed and pack my stuff away), was The Caravan mentioned but it was perfectly clear to me that a) Daphne was interested in going to the caravan and b) Linda had no intention of letting her.

Why didn’t Linda just say ‘No, we don’t rent it out’? Or ‘We do rent it out but only to family.’? Because, if she’d been happy to rent the caravan to Daphne, surely she’d have said,”Yes, we do! Are you interested?” So, she just pretended not to get the hint. And, clearly, Daphne had got the message that this wasn’t something to be pursued, so had happily engaged in the change of subject (when what she really wanted to say was probably, “Would you rent your caravan to me?” or – more confrontationally – “Is my money not good enough for you?!”).

When we’re writing dialogue, what’s NOT said is as important as what is said.

I am still worrying about Daphne. Maybe she’s a single mum and a trip to a caravan – particularly if she thought she’d be getting ‘mates’ rates’ – is all she can afford.

LINDA – (who’s not actually called Linda) – if you’re reading this and you recognise yourself, don’t be a meanie! (After all, you’ve got your cruise and your cottage in Cornwall! How many holidays does one person need?). LET DAPHNE GO TO THE CARAVAN!

(But, on the other hand, perhaps someone else rented their caravan to Daphne one year and she trashed the place? There are, as they say, two sides to every story).

*Names have been changed to protect the ‘innocent’.

Talking of stories, the Writers & Artists’ short story competition results are now up on the website.

I really love the winning story, ‘The Colour Forty’ by Lucy Grace.

It does all the things that, I think, a ‘literary’ short story (ie: the kind that win short story competitions), should do:

1. Has an intriguing title
2. Sets up a mystery/question right at the start, which isn’t answered until the end of the story.
3. Beautiful writing
4. A main character that you’re rooting for
5. Lots of ‘space’ for the reader to fill in the gaps: it doesn’t tell us what or how to feel.
6. It left me thinking about it, long after I’d finished it

Read it yourself here and see what you think. The runners-up are on there too although I haven’t had time to read those yet.

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12 Responses to Caravans & Cubicles: In Which I Shamelessly ‘Ear-wig’

  1. I’m trying to learn when I’m writing how to have characters respond to what’s not spoken. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll keep trying! Thanks for the post!

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Thanks for your comment, Priscilla! Yes, it’s quite tricky, isn’t it? It seems to me that we’re all pretty good at just ignoring comments that we don’t want to respond to, so you could bear that in mind when you’re writing dialogue.

  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    This is the reason my friends and I have an agreement that I’ll never ask them about a particular magazine story I’ve written (I buy a copy that is passed around the group). I once asked, “Did you read my story about the…?” The reply was, “Yes.” We then talked about my dog.
    The unspoken conversation was – Me: “Did you enjoy my story about…?” Friend: “No it bored me rigid and I’d rather have eaten mud. Let’s talk about your Dog,”

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Yes, exactly, Wendy! (but ouch!). It’s a bit like when people say, “Oh, you’ve had your hair cut.” And then NOTHING more..! I’d rather they said, “Your hair looks nice – you’ve had it cut!” or, if they don’t like it – say nothing! When I published my first e-book of short stories, I mentioned it to the lady I used to go to for a massage (because she was always asking me about my writing and what I was up to) and the next time I saw her she said, “I read your book of short stories.” “Oh, good!” I said.. and then I waited for the next bit but it didn’t come. (She just pummelled me a bit harder!) Awkward..!!

  3. juliathorley says:

    I recently overheard an incredibly detailed gynaecological conversation while I was having my hair cut. There were two things I wanted to do: reach for my notepad, and tell the stylists not to turn on the dryers until I’d finished listening. Naturally, I didn’t do either, but as soon as I got back to my car I scribbled furiously.

    • Ooh, the mind boggles! It is amazing what people will confide to their hairdresser, isn’t it? (probably the same for masseuses and chiropractors. I suspect it’s something to do with not having direct eye contact BUT don’t they consider the other people around them, who can also hear?!)

  4. pennywrite says:

    Thanks for pointing the way to the competition winners. They made interesting reading!

  5. GeorgieMoon says:

    Hello, I’ve just found your blog, via a reference in the new issue of Writing Magazine. I’ve decided to write a letter to the magazine, related to the article in which I found your name, about how to fill your quiet time between writing jobs. I’m hoping your blog will inspire me to motivate myself to get my fingers on the keyboard, I’m the world’s worst procrastinator…. I was wondering if you consider blogging to be a legitimate form of writing? I seem to spend most of my time reading other blogs, or editing posts for mine. I’ve just started the April A to Z writing challenge, so I’ll never get that memoir written now……
    PS – I’ve had an article published in Your Cat magazine too! (Don’t ask…..) but the offending cat was the subject of one of my recent blog posts – letter A in the aforementioned challenge!

    • Hi Georgie! Thanks for the comments and for following my blog! Interesting question, about whether blogging is a ‘legitimate form of writing’? I would say it most definitely is but it’s easy to spend an awful lot of time on it (especially if, like you, you add lots of lovely photos to your posts)! I put it in the bracket of ‘social media'(along with Facebook and Twitter – I know there are other forms but I’m not tech-savvy enough to use those. Probably just as well!), so what might help with your ‘procrastination’ is if you treat blogging as an ‘extra’ and not your main form of writing. I’ve fallen out of my usual routine just lately but for a while I only ‘allowed’ myself to post once a week, on a Monday. If there wasn’t time to do it then, for whatever reason, then it had to wait until the following week. Having a routine like that really helped, as it meant I usually had an idea for a topic by the time Monday came around, so the post was fairly quick to write. As for reading other people’s blogs – I think that’s important (and commenting), especially if you want them to reciprocate but again, limit yourself to a set time/day for doing so. Perhaps an hour once or twice a week and don’t dip in and out of them at other times? Hope that helps! And good luck with your writing!

      • GeorgieMoon says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply, it was extremely motivating to get a comment from a ‘real’ author! I know that blogging is taking over my day and that I must put it aside so I can do some ‘proper’ writing. I have thought of another thing which might help me – it’s too easy to sit on a comfy sofa with an iPad on your lap when you want to write, then easily get distracted by social media, etc, so I’ve decided that I must sit at my desk and use a proper keyboard when I want to write seriously. I’ll let you know if this works……

  6. Helen Yendall says:

    Ah, bless you Georgie – not sure if I qualify as a ‘real’ author but it’s very nice of you to say so. Something that works for me (but needs a bit of will-power to get into the habit) is to forbid myself to go on-line until 4pm. You can get so much more done if you’re not endlessly checking emails, Googling stuff, sending tweets and so on. Give it a go. Once you reach 4pm, your reward is as much internet as you like! (I don’t always manage this by the way but when I do, I feel very virtuous and pleased with myself!)

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