Writing Exercise – Dialogue

Posted by in Stuff About Writing

In one of my classes we were challenged to write a piece of dialogue where there was something brewing under the surface. Like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” something else is going on in the dialogue, which makes for an interesting read. This was my attempt:

The break room door slammed behind her like a prison cell. Nicole kicked herself. This situation could have been avoided by peeking through the tiny window, but now she was trapped. Florescent lights buzzed overhead. Avoiding eye contact, she made it to the cupboard and had a mug in her hand before he spoke:

“All your shit needs to be out of the fridge by three.”

She rubbed between her eyebrows with her thumb.

“This is my first cup, Jason. I’ll get my stuff after lunch.”

“It’s mostly yours. You should clear it out so the janitor doesn’t have to clean up your mess.”

“Fifteen people work here, and the shit in the fridge is mostly mine?”

Nicole poured her cup of coffee. The counter was covered in sticky rings and dirty plastic spoons. Her co-workers were pigs. If the plague ever re-emerges… She was glad that it was getting cleaned today. She turned to leave.

“I know you never finish your take out and you leave it in there, everyday. Your little half eaten yogurt cups too. The fridge is full of them, and they stink…stink.”

She’d managed to not look at him once, but now forced herself to focus on his face. His face that she’d once thought was handsome, boyish. Those big brown eyes behind the dorky hipster glasses. Soft lips.

“I’m sorry, Jason. I’m sorry my small appetite and intention of not wasting food bothers you.”

“You, you just start things and abandon them…lunch…yogurt…” His eyes red rimmed behind the Buddy Holly frames and he was tapping his plastic spoon on the table incessantly.

Heat rising up her neck, Nicole’s blood pounded in her ears. “I can’t help it, if I took a bite and changed my mind. You can’t force yourself to love something you don’t.”

Hands shaking she opened the door and strode to her desk with every ounce of dignity she had, before collapsing into her chair and staring blankly at the calendar on her blotter. Every Saturday for the last two months had a heart drawn around the date. She took a sharpie and scribbled them out.


I used a couple of writing techniques in this piece to convey the argument, both Nicole’s internal dialogue, represented in italics, and the actual dialogue in which I used some features that interrupt the normal fluency of speech: interruptions and pauses marked with ellipses, and false starts, to give an emotional feel. I also intentionally avoided dialogue tags because I don’t like them and I think that if the dialogue is written well, you don’t need them.

The “something else” is that Jason and Nicole were dating, and she broke up with him. He isn’t happy about it. I used tension to portray this, in a normal worker relationship, one co-worker wouldn’t be nearly this intent on avoiding another, nor would the second be so ready to jump down the first’s throat about food left in the fridge. It becomes clear that something else has happened between them based on their body language, and how Nicole sees Jason – he used to be handsome, but now his eyes are red rimmed. If one hadn’t figured out what happened between them, her action at her desk is telling.