Writing Excuses 10.19 Exercise: Intrigue and Cross Purposes

Posted: May 19, 2015 in writing exercises
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bookdesign346Writing Excuses continue to provide excellent writing advice and interesting exercises through their podcasts. And so I keep beavering away at the exercises, and where possible using them for work in progress. This week, I’m working on book three of the Epiphany Club series, Aristocrats and Artillery, using the exercise from episode 10.19:

Write dialog in which each of the speakers has a different subtext and motive. Without explicitly stating those, try and make them clear to the reader.

This dialogue is between Isabelle McNair, adventurer and scholar with the Epiphany Club, and Louis, the King Under Paris. Prussian forces are invading France, Napoleon III has been overthrown, and the war is approaching Paris…

The Dialogue

“Your Majesty.” Isabelle curtsied before the King. “So good of you to see us again at this difficult time.”

“Indeed.” There was a secretive little smile at the corner of Louis’s mouth. “The Prussians draw ever closer, and we both know that a republican government cannot stop them.”

“A situation which only makes my plea more urgent.” She rose and looked him in the eye. “Paris is full of priceless artefacts, sources of knowledge that might be endangered by the war.”

“Or by the ignorance of the Prussians.” Louis nodded. “Take this for example.”

He drew back the cloth on the table next to him, revealing a stone tablet. A tablet like the two in Isabelle’s room back at the hotel, packed and ready to depart. This time he favoured them all with his knowing smile.

“To some it just looks like a rock.” The King ran a finger across the engraved surface. “But to persons of learning it could be a source of great knowledge.”

“Indeed.” Isabelle’s voice remained remarkably calm. “We should ensure that it is safe.”

“We should ensure that the whole city is safe from the invaders. And for that I need all the support I can muster.”

“You will need supporters abroad.” Isabelle made a small gesture with her hand, taking in all three members of the Epiphany Club. “People with influence in foreign governments. Respected organisations that can quickly win diplomatic support for your regime.”

“And I would reward such friends greatly.” The King smiled and pulled the cloth back across the stone. “Once my city and my country are secure.”

Did It Work?

So, readers, what did you think the characters’ motives and subtexts were in that conversation? Is it clear, incomprehensible, actually a little too obvious? Please let me know how I’ve got on.

  1. Clear in an interesting and convincing manner, nicely applied exercise, Andrew 🙂

  2. It tends to more explicit conversation IMHO. It seems to me that subtext would be more akin to them discussing a different matter, but having the topic of the art always skirting the edges. Ex: “Milord, perhaps troops would be better placed near the square.”
    “It isn’t a section of the city I’m terribly worried about. All that is there is the museum.”
    “Well, yes, it is there isn’t it.”
    To me that strikes me as subtext, where the concern is beneath the words. Just my two cents.

    • Cool, thanks for the suggestion.

    • glenatron says:

      I concur – maybe more allusion and less direct interaction in this type of situation. I would expect French aristocracy to be very subtle and quite indirect in this kind of matter, although they may need to tone it down for crass foreigners…

      “Madame, our enemy seeks to conquer the known world, like a new Alexander, but the name of Doktor Karter will remembered for ruin and destruction alone, not great cities or grand libraries.”

      ( I don’t actually know who is in charge of the Prussians so I chose a likely-sounding name… )

      • That point about French aristocracy’s a particularly good one. Will try to refine this further.

        (I really should make that machine for crushing enemies beneath a thousand footfalls, possibly from Lego)

  3. Sheila Thomas says:

    I think Isabelle wants the stone, and Louis knows that.
    Louis wants any back-up he can get through Isabelle and the others to help repel the Prussians.
    But these come across very clearly so maybe there is something more subtly expressed that I have missed.

    • Thanks Sheila – that’s exactly what I was trying to get across. I wasn’t trying for uber-subtle, just not saying it straight up, so it’s good to know that it’s clear.. Will try for a little more subtlety when I re-write it though.

  4. This post made me think of a very interesting exercise in a drama class I once did. We had a scene which was a conversation between a man and a woman, but both roles were double-cast, so there were four people who were very familiar with the scene. One couple did the lines from the scene as written, and their doubles stood behind them and had to say the inner monologue that would bring them to their next line. It was a really interesting way to explore the feelings and motivations behind what was actually being said out loud.

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