Creating Better Misunderstandings in Dialogue!

Enough of black, I decided. It’s spring – time to jazz up my workout gear.

Off I sallied to my workout feeling upbeat and energized – and more than a little conspicuous – in a fun new bright (very bright) pink and blue top.

“Oh, wow, is that ever bright!” exclaimed a woman in the class, poking a forefinger into my ribs. “My goodness.”

After the class, I stayed to chat with a couple of people. She joined us. “Have you seen what she’s wearing?” she asked the others – as though it was possible for them not to have seen! She jerked her thumb at me and raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t it…” She laughed. “I mean…”

See if I care, I thought, smiling along with them but secretly grinding my teeth. I like it!

But I did hesitate before putting on the top again. What did she feel was wrong with it, I wondered. Yes it was bright…. But hey, it had been a long winter and now spring was finally here!

Going back into the studio in the top, that same person immediately made a remark about “what she’s wearing.” Not outright disparaging but there was clearly something about it that really bugged her.

I stomped off to my mat.

She followed me out of the studio. I opened my mouth to ask her what her problem was with my top.

“I just love that top,” she said.

My writing challenge to myself this week? (and for you, if you care to join me): To construct a dialogue in which one character totally misinterprets what another character is saying!

I found 7 Tips on How to Avoid Being Misinterpreted very useful for thinking about communication glitches as it explains the essential ingredients of miscommunication: ‘mindset’, ‘lack of data’ and ‘frames of reference’

How come I misread so drastically what was going on with my workout buddy? (Yes, we’re buddies now!)

  • Lack of data: What I heard were the woman’s exclamations and unfinished sentences. Her words did not convey exactly what was in her mind.
  • Frame of reference: Being pointed at and raised eyebrows are usually experienced negatively – unless you’re some sort of high profile star! (Do I have curly kale stuck in my teeth? Is my hair sticking out at some bizarre angle?) To my mind, poking the arm or ribs of someone you don’t know well with a finger (even if it’s not really intended as a poke or if done jokingly) most definitely has some negative or aggressive undercurrent.
  • Mindset: 7 Tips points out that the natural inclination is to take things personally – and negatively. I did feel self-conscious and slightly odd in my new colorful gear. I assumed everyone would be as aware of it as I was, and would look at me. Did I feel it wasn’t quite ‘me’ so expected any comments to be negative?

Misinterpretations aren’t at all comfortable in real life, but in fiction they can make for compulsive reading. Who can’t resist reading on to find out how it resolves…or doesn’t?

More dialogue miscommunication: Writing Dialogue: The Oops Factor

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