Writing and Shit – part 22 – Ignoring Dialogue

‘I’m usually waiting for you to stop talking, so that I can.

Concerning two-way streets I have to say that I am not a fan.’

The American songwriter, John Grant, nails Ignoring dialogue in his song ‘GMF’. GMF stands for ‘Greatest Mother Fucker’ – and this is also helpful to me in defining Ignoring conversation, because a version of it would be to have each person in the dialogue silently singing along to the rest of the words in the song:

‘I am the greatest mother fucker what you’re ever going to meet…’

Exercise: Write a dialogue in which two people are having a conversation but neither of them is giving the other more than a small fraction of their attention.

Explanation: You can make the not-listening as total as you like, but you still need to make this a believable conversation. In other words, although neither of the two people is really concerned with what the other is saying, they are not allowing their lack of attention to become so obvious as to cause the conversation to break down entirely.

Six minutes. Go.

And how did Ignoring dialogue feel, when compared to Winning and Hiding? Did it feel more real? Did you find yourself writing in a more comic way? Were you reminded of any particular people you know? Did the scene pick up or lose energy as it went along?

What lies beneath Ignoring dialogue is the belief that all human speech is ultimately to do with ego.

If you’d like to, you can now do some variations on the last three exercises – or keep these variations in store for the future.

Variation Exercise: Redo the Winning dialogue but change the two people from a man and a man to a man and a woman, or a woman and a woman. 

Variation Exercise: Redo the Ignoring dialogue but make it so that both people have something they are trying to keep secret from the other.

Variation Exercise: Redo the Ignoring dialogue, but have one of the two people begin to make an effort an effort to break through to the other by really listening to what they are saying, and replying to it wholeheartedly.

Also, now a little time has passed, go back to your Winning dialogue and write a single line to follow on from the final line, a new line that somehow manages to turn things around and win the entire conversation. What could they possibly say, your person, to absolutely rule? Let’s call this the power reversal.

More to follow.