July Writing Challenge Day 8: Talking Heads and Tasting Failure

Welcome one and all to the beginning of week 2 of my July Writing Challenge, where each day I spend a solid hour doing writing exercises in areas that I think I need improvement on.

Today I decided to tackle a dialogue, something I generally shy away from in my fiction and could definitely use some improvement on. The exercise I chose today is a bit of a classic. I’ve always heard it called “talking heads”. Basically I wrote a short little scene between two characters using only dialogue. Only the words that came out of their mouth. No descriptions, no setting, not even any “he said/she said”s. Then, I went back and added all of that stuff later. I’ve included both of them here, the talking heads portion and the full scene.

If anyone would like to offer criticism (always welcome), I would really like to hear your thoughts on the characters. Where they distinct. Could you tell things about them (general age, age relative to one another, personality traits)? Were these things apparent in the talking heads section, or did you need the added information of the full scene. And, of course, does the dialogue sound natural?

This is a pretty lighthearted scene, so there’s nothing too deep going on. I think that maybe I should have tried for something a little more…polar? Maybe in a future attempt I’ll go for something a little deeper, have a higher contrast between the characters, both in their backgrounds and their goals/desires in the scene. Definitely need to work on character vs character conflict at some point.

Which reminds me, and if anyone has any ideas for future writing challenge days, be it subject matter or exercises you think I should give a try, let me know. Always looking for good ideas.

As always, thanks for reading.

Talking Heads and Tasting Failure
By E W Morrow
Word Count: 984

What are you doing?
What does it look like I’m doing?
It looks like you’re just dumping flour in a bowl.
So? It’s what it calls for. Look.
I know what it calls for. It calls for three cups of flour.
And?
And you’re just dumping it in?
I know what three cups of flour looks like, okay. This’ll be close enough.
Close enough?
Dude, chill out. I do this all the time. Hand me the eggs.
How many.
A couple. One more.
You said a couple.
That’s not a couple.
Yes it is. That’s two eggs. That’s what a couple is.
Well give me another one.
That’s not a couple, that’s a few.
Oh my god, who cares?
Well, maybe if you used actual numbers instead of being so vague, I might actually know what you mean.
Okay, fine. Why don’t you do the measuring then.
Works for me.
What’s this?
Um, salt.
Yeah, no shit Sherlock. What am I supposed to do, dump the whole thing in.
No, it says you need a dash.
Oh now who’s being vague.
A dash is a unit of measurement in cooking, moron!
Jerk.
Asshole.
Dude, stop. Dude, fucking stop.
What the hell man!
I told you to stop!
Shit.
Um…so.
Lemme guess, we’re out of eggs?
Yeah. Guess we’re buying Mom a cake then.

The kitchen was a mess. Mixing bowls and measuring cups cluttered the most of the counter tops, and every bit that wasn’t was covered in a fine layer of sugar crystals and specks of flour. Mike hated clutter. He wanted to take a fire hose to the whole thing and be done with it. Casually he looked over his brother’s shoulder.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” his brother answered. Mike took a moment before answering, in case it had been a trick question.

“It looks like you’re just dumping flour in a bowl,” he said.

“So?” asked Pete. “It’s what it calls for. Look.” He held a faded recipe card up in front of his brother’s face.

“I know what it calls for,” Mike said, brushing the card away. “It calls for three cups of flour.”

“And?” Pete asked

“And you’re just dumping it in,” Mike said again. Pete scoffed.

“I know what three cups of flour looks like, okay?” he said. “This’ll be close enough.”

“Close enough?” asked Mike incredulously.

“Dude, chill out. I do this all the time. Hand me the eggs.”
Mike sighed and moved to the fridge. “How many?” he asked.

“A couple,” replied Pete. He dumped a little more flour in the bowl as Mike placed a pair of eggs on the counter beside him. “One more,” he said.

“You said a couple,” Mike said flatly.

“That’s not a couple,” Pete countered.

“Yes it is,” Mike replied. “That’s two eggs. That’s what a couple is. Two” He let the last syllable drag out.

“Well give me another one,” Pete said, ignoring his brother’s sarcasm.

“That’s not a couple, that’s a few.”

“Oh my god, who cares?” Pete growled.

“Well,” Mike said “maybe if you used actual numbers instead of being so vague, I might actually know what you mean.”

“Okay, fine,” said Pete. He set the bag of flour back on the counter. “Why don’t you do the measuring then.”

“Works for me,” said Mike. He and Pete switched places, and then he began measuring out careful amounts of all the ingredients: two teaspoons of vanilla, two and a quarter cups sugar, one and a half cups milk, and on down the list. He put them into separate little bowls and arranged them neatly for his brother. At the end of the line he placed a container of salt. Then he swapped places with Pete again and his brother started mixing.

“What’s this?” Pete asked, holding up the container of salt.
“Um,” Mike said, again wondering if this was a trick question. “Salt.”

“Yeah, no shit Sherlock,” said Pete nastily. “What am I supposed to do, dump the whole thing in.”

“No,” said Mike, “it says you just need a dash.”

“Oh!” Pete said, his own voice dripping with sarcasm now. “Now who’s being vague.”

“A dash is a unit of measurement in cooking, moron!” Mike yelled.

“Jerk!” countered Pete.

“Asshole!” Mike grabbed the salt from his brother and poured some into his hand. Then he dashed it on his brother’s shirt.

“Dude, stop,” Pete said. Mike dashed him with salt again. “Dude, fucking stop!” Pete yelled as Mike dashed him a third time. He grabbed the bowl of nearly three cups flour and emptied the contents onto his brother’s head.

“What the hell man!” Mike screamed.

“I told you to stop!” Mike picked up one of the more than a couple eggs and threw it straight at his brothers face. Pete ducked and the egg splatted against the door to the refrigerator. Then both brothers picked up one of the remaining eggs and the pair fell to the linoleum in a tangled mass of flailing limbs and sticky, goopy yolks.

When the wrestling match ended, both brothers stood and surveyed the kitchen. What had once been a mess was now a disaster area. Mike decided that his previous fire hose idea might not be so crazy after all.

“Shit,” was all Pete could bring himself to say. Mike touched a string of yolk sliding down his the side of his brother’s head, and started to laugh.

“Um….” he said in between giggles, “so…”

“Lemme guess,” Pete said, staring at his brother. “We’re out of eggs?”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “Guess we’re buying Mom a cake then.” And they both started to laugh.

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