Writing Challenge Inspired by Deborah Bell’s ‘Reveal’

 In Tips for Writers, Writing Competitions, Writing Exercises

Here is a writing challenge for you.

It’s inspired by an artwork showcased by, David Krut Projects in Newlands, the inspiring space where we used to host our Creative Writing Course.

Write a dialogue between two or more of the characters depicted in Deborah Bell’s Reveal. Use it as a point of departure, but don’t feel obliged to write a period piece or to imagine your characters in costume. The dialogue should involve a revelation of some kind, which will change the life of your main character, and possibly those of all of them.

Try to write dialogue which is realistic and energetic, and which doesn’t explain too much. Remember always to give your characters something to do while they’re speaking,  and to show us details of the environment, to give the conversation some context and basis in the real world.

Write no more than 250 words.

Reveal is based on the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, created in 1656.  A couple of years ago William Kentridge suggested that Deborah revisit this theme – explored in her We Will Never Know What We Are, which hangs in her guest bathroom and dates back to the early 1990s.

Bell made a series of sketches in her notebooks – her primary source material for her etchings – from her visit to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona which houses a series of 58 paintings done by Pablo Picasso in 1957, reinterpreting and recreating Las Meninas. The image of the young Spanish Infanta, Margarat Theresa, a symbol of youth and innocence for Bell, appears in several of her prints and paintings.

It was while sketching from Picasso’s paintings in Barcelona that the image of the cloaked figure in the doorway emerged, symbolising another sense of self, a future sense of self, beckoning (similar to the angel in Annunciation). This cloaked figure at some point transformed into the winged angel seen in the work. For Bell it is ambiguous as to whether the two figures in the foreground are aware of the angel. Bell also points out the moment of mutual recognition that is passing between the two figures in the seconds after the tray is dropped.

Writing Tips:

Dialogue is both similar and different from the dialogue we speak through the course of our days.

Firstly, it shares with spoken dialogue the use of contractions (you’ve and hadn’t) and it should share its feel of authenticity. What makes it different is that it doesn’t reproduce the boring circularity and repetitive nature of our daily speech.

So how do you get it to sound real, while losing the tedium of the real thing? It mimics some of the features of real speech:

  • It doesn’t always proceed in full, well-considered sentences.
  • Not every character listens to every other character (just as in real life).
  • Every character uses a slightly – and sometimes, not so slightly – different language, different rhythm, different degree of formality – than every other.
  • Into every character’s dialogue will bleed some evidence of their education, social and economic background.
  • Every character’s dialogue will reflect (to some degree) their fears, hopes, prejudices and anxieties.

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