Sinking Into Dialogue

Conversations & Situations


1. Think back to a conversation you had that has stuck with you, or one that you may have overheard. Give yourself five minutes to write out this conversation. You don’t have to stick to what was actually said. As writers we are little gods. We can create the conversations, steer and orchestrate them in directions we’d like them to move. Your speakers don’t have to talk about great philosophical ideas like the meaning of life. You might want to aim for everyday conversations that seem insignificant. It could be a telephone conversation with a close friend, small talk during a football game, a chat with a neighbor, a conversation with a work colleague during a coffee break. Remember, while you freewrite, don’t go back and edit. Just keep writing and see where it takes you. Five minutes, go!

2. Go back and read what you’ve written. Are you surprised by the subject matter? Is a there a theme that could be explored further? Make a list of words and phrases for one theme or issue that strikes you. For example, let’s say your conversation is between a husband and a wife. Is the conversation about a serious issue such as money, sex, work, disciplining the kids? Or is the topic more mundane like what to have for dinner or house cleaning? Come up with a list of at least 20 words or phrases that spring to mind.

e.g. Money : never enough, house bills, mortgage, consumer, makes the world go round, burning a hole in my wallet, penny-pincher, old Scrooge, trophy wife, make, spend, buy, doesn’t grow on trees, dollars in her eyes, he’s not made of $, Rockefeller, the root of all evil, hire, hired assassin, insurance money, collect, you can’t take it to the grave, the will, oh yes I will…

3. Read Hayan Charara’s Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter 
By Hayan Charara

The mother says, I am afraid.
The daughter says, I am afraid.

The mother says, My feet are cold.
The daughter says, My feet are cold.

The mother says, The car is sinking.
The daughter says, Yes, the car is sinking.

The mother says, The water is heavy,
and the daughter says, The water is very heavy.

The mother says, I am too young for this.
The daughter says, I want to grow old.

The mother says, I can see the sky,
and the daughter says, I can also see the sky.

How about the moon, the mother says,
and the daughter says, I can see the moon.

What else hurts you, the mother says
and the daughter says, What about you.

I forgot to tell your father something,
the mother says and the daughter says,
I forgot to tell my father something.

The mother says, I do not want to die.
I do not want to die, the daughter says.

I wanted to be a good mother, the mother says.
Sometimes you weren’t, the daughter says.

Sometimes you weren’t a good daughter either, the mother says
and the daughter says, I wanted to be good.

I can hear my heart, she says.
I can hear my heart, she says.

I wish I loved Jesus, she says and she says,
I wish I loved Jesus.

She says, The thud is unbearable.
She says, The thud is unbearable.

What do you mean you wish
you loved Jesus, she says
and she says, The water is dark.

My clothes are getting heavier, she says.
Heavier, she says, and heavier.

She says, The water is up to my chin now, and she says,
It is up to my chin too.

What if this is the last thing I say to you, she says
and she says, What if this is the last thing I say to you.

She says, I cannot hold on much longer.
Please, she says, hold on longer.

The water is at my mouth, she says,
and she says, Even if it is at your mouth.

From Something Sinister (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014).

In Charara’s dialogue poem, we witness the final conversation between a mother and daughter. “What if this is the last thing I say to you?” they ask to each other, and as readers we know this is indeed their final moments together. Once the water reaches their mouths, there will be no more words. The situation is horrifying, but what stays with me are the final lines. Even when the water reaches her daughter’s mouth, the mother still pleads with her to fight for life to the end, to “hold on longer.”

Writing Dialogue

Final words

4. Exercise #1: You’ll need a newspaper for this next exercise. Electronic news articles can also work, but an article on a printed page will allow you to circle, highlight or mark-up the text. Find an article that sparks your interest and that you’ll want to explore through your writing. Think about who’s involved in the story. It could be a husband and his wife, a police officer and a protester, a doctor and a patient, or a politician and a citizen. The possibilities are endless. Take notes and using the situation as a basis for a story or poem, begin to construct a conversation between the two characters. Using your notes, write a dialogue poem or a scene of dialogue based on the circumstances, situation and events from the article. How will their conversation end? What would be their final words if they knew this would be their last conversation?

5. Exercise #2: Go back to dialogue you wrote in the warm-up. Write a second version adding in the 20 words from your list. Again, think about what their final words be to each other be. Write for at least 15 minutes.

6. Think about what possible narratives could be developed from what you’ve written. Make a list, choose one &

7. Keep writing!

Thank you Hayan Charara for permission to use your  wonderful poem as inspiration for our writing prompt!


Hayan Charara is the author of three poetry collections, Something Sinister (Carnegie Mellon, 2016), The Sadness of Others (2006), and The Alchemist’s Diary (Hanging Loose, 2001). He has edited Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry (University of Arkansas, 2008), and his children’s book, The Three Lucys (Lee & Low Books, 2015), received the New Voices Award Honor. His is the recipient of a National Endowment of Arts fellowship and the Lucille Joy Prize for poetry from the University of Houston’s creative writing program. He earned his BA in English from Wayne State University, a Master’s Degree in Humanities from New York University, and a PhD from the University of Houston’s Literature and Creative Writing Program. He has taught at the university level since 1998.

Photo “Sink” courtesy of dm74.


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