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Escalating Conversation to Literature

Fellow commuter Wayne Truax pointed out that we are privy to snatches of conversation we were not necessarily intended to hear.  Everyday I drive to a parking lot, catch the bus, take the subway with a transfer of trains from Orange to Red lines and walk a block and a half to my office. On the way home it’s the same thing in reverse. An hour and fifteen minutes of rubbing shoulders with the mass of humanity. An hour and a quarter of lives brushing up against one another and then moving on. Over an hour of walking through the middle of conversations not intended for my ears. Riding the escalator is where most of it happens:

“…can’t believe that she wore that to Kristin’s wedding. Gloria said that it was…” 

“…right in the middle of closing arguments. Everyone turned around and stared. I was sooo…”

“…pissed at Lisa that I went down to sleep on the…”

“…parkway. It was bumper to bumper and took me two hours to get…”

“…thrown in jail. His sister came and bailed him out…”


Okay, so I made those up but these are the kind of little snippets that one might encounter daily. Besides the escalator you can find them in elevators, in bank teller lines, while walking the hallways, pushing your cart through the grocery store, or waiting on the subway platform.

The question is what do you do with them? Snatches of conversation can be an interesting source of inspiration.  My mother-in-law is a master of concocting whole complicated scenarios and back stories based on a single overheard comment or observation.  I thought it would be fun to take up that flag and run with it for a while.

Below is a list of unconnected favorite (or famous) bits of dialogue (at least as close to accurate as my brain will allow) from a few various movies or TV shows intended to approximate the experience of walking by various bits of conversation. Your challenge is to pick two or more of the quotes and weave them into a story of 750 words or less. The chosen quotes can appear anywhere in your store and do not have to be physically connected.  Your story can be in any genre.  I’m not going to count words so if you go over 750 words I’m not going to delete your comment. Consider it a target. If you are not up to writing a story you are welcome to play the little name-that-movie/TV-show game.  Here’s the list of quotes:

A: “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”

B: “I said, ‘I had a bad experience.’”

C: “We thought you was a toad.”

D: “Luke, I am your father.”

E: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

F: “Any man who falls behind is left behind.”

G: “Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity.”

H: “What do you mean ‘who’s flying the plane?’ Nobody’s flying the plane.”

I: “Words like ‘swell’ and ‘so’s your old man.’”

J: “An African or European Swallow?”

K: “Oh, God, don’t smile at her.”

L: “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

M: “They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.”

Here are the 600 words that I came up with using quotes I and L:

It was a much easier time.  It was a time when men wore hats. It was a time when women’s bra straps never showed in public. It was a time when words like “swell” and “so’s your old man” were part of the vernacular. It was a time when Ottie Marks, a little urchin of a kid, frequently found himself by the pier. The Marks family numbered seven kids all under the age of 11.  Ottie was second oldest at age eight. Needless to say it was easy to get away undetected, but he often paid for it with a whipping upon his return.

Ottie liked watching the old men fish and listen to their lies told in voices that sounded like crinkled paper. He was intrigued by their slow and deliberate movements and watching the unhurried ballet of flicking poles and flying lures.  He was fascinated with how unconcerned they were with leaving their rods leaning against the rail, basically unattended, while waiting for a bite. The sound of the line being drawn out when a large fish took the bait and made a run for it—ziiizzzzzz—was musical to him and marked the beginning of a flurry of activity. 

The owner of the singing reel would turn and yank, setting the hook, and crank and release in turns slowly bringing in what was on the other end of the line. If lucky, they would get a show from the fish as well—leaping and gyrating clear of the water trying to rid itself of the offending hook. If the line didn’t break or the fish didn’t work free of the lure, a sleek, shiny specimen would end up flopping about on the deck of the pier as the men crowded around to admire it before it went into a creel or bucket.

“She’s a beaut…”

“A regular whopper…”

“Not a scosh under 28 inches…”

Empty hooks would be reeled in by the rest of the group, cleared of seaweed and the whole ballet would begin again.  Sometimes Ottie would find a long stick and beg a length of line and a rusty hook from some of the men and join the dance, but today he was just part of the audience watching the performance, when all the sudden there was a deviation from the usual choreography.

“Ahhh! Christ! Bert, stop yanking! You hooked me.”  One of the old men had been snagged by another casting next to him.  Ottie was amazed he hadn’t seen this before, the way they wielded their rods in such close proximity.  Blood dripped down the face of the victim like a scarlet teardrop.

“Oh shit, I got you good,” croaked Bert. Ottie hadn’t heard the geezers curse like that before and smiled.  He had heard plenty—and far worse—from his old man when he’d come home from a drunk. “Jesus, it’s all the way through.” A knot of stooped men clustered around the man with a hook in his face trying to figure out what to do.

“Damn it! Stop tugging on it! I’m on the other end!” said the hooked man. Ottie silently edged up to the group of men with skin like tissue and postures like punctuation marks.

“Ya gotta cut the barb off,” Ottie said “and back the hook out. Ya got any snips?” Bert dug through his tackle box and offered the tool to the barefoot kid, who went to work with the sureness of a surgeon.

That day Ottie was walking tall, had a fish story to tell, and a bounty that would save his hide when he got home.  He waved to the geezers with a string of five slung over his shoulder and called back, “So long and thanks for all the fish!” 

For anyone who’s curious here are the sources of the quotes:
A: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, B: The Italian Job (the 2003 version not the one from the 1960s), C: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, D: Star Wars Episode V; The Empire Strikes Back, E: Gone with the Wind, F: Pirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black Pearl, G: Lord of the Rings; Fellowship of the Ring, H: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, I: The Music Man, J: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, K: Fawlty Towers (a British TV Sitcom), L: The Hichhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, M: A Christmas Story (the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one not the “Bah-humbug” one)
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5 comments on “Escalating Conversation to Literature

  1. Love your story! I’ll try to jump on board if things don’t get crazy with class.

  2. […] wanted to do a something for Andy, but got stuck on a title. 750 is the word limit, but I want to play with dialogue and I’m […]

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