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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Misunderstanding

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Alex Quisenberry
Posted on: August 23, 2003
Reposted on: April 17, 2005

This week - a dialog exercise with misunderstandings, where people think they're talking about the same thing but aren't.

One of the first Practice-W Exercises involved using DIALOG between two characters to tell the story. Let's keep that theme.

In the example below we see a conflict emerge. Now, there's no need to tell you (the reader) Jim is standing in the kitchen, or that Jim is hungry, OR that Jim can look around the kitchen and plainly see there's nothing prepared . Jim's words SHOW US all these things. Let the Dialog tell the story.

   "Helen, I'm home. Where are you. And, where's supper."

   "I'm in here."

   "Hon, I'm hungry. Are we going out?"

   "Jim Come here, we need to talk."

While these four lines do not define the "misunderstanding" they do tell us quite a bit. We know the Character's names, what time of day it is, what Jim's expectations are, and a strong hint that the only thing simmering around Helen is her problem.

As we discussed this Exercise Rheal suggested his own set of opening lines:

   "How long have we been driving", Ethel asked.

   "About four hours," said Hubert. "We should be there by nightfall."

   "Would you like to stop and eat?"

   "No, I'm fine."

   (Picture a car driving along a free-way, past an off-ramp...)

The misunderstanding here is that Ethel is telling her husband, indirectly, that it's time for a break. But he's focused on his goal (getting there), and takes her question at face value - so he answers, and thinks the matter is closed. (Later, he won't understand why Ethel isn't in a better mood...)

So, this time rather than a serious problem, a misunderstanding. There are some wonderful classic misunderstandings in Dialog form. Some are hilarious - "Who's on First" comes to mind

This week use dialog to tell the story, but fundamental to your dialog is a misunderstanding, where people think they're talking about the same thing but really aren't.

Use between 300 and 500 words

Hope we can have some fun with this.

Alex Quisenberry

Alex Quisenberry's wrap-up
Posted on: August 31, 2003

An interesting mix of Subs in Prac-W this week.

Dialog exercise, with a twist - two participants are NOT talking about the same thing, which means that the dialog is telling two stories - a different story for each of our "cast members."

I love the wonderful misunderstandings:

She's talking about her son the advanced scholar while he is talking about a junior terrorist.


She's talking a belly ache while he thinks she's trying to tell him she is pregnant.


the power company lineman who wants to stick a wooden pole in a garden on the estate and the housewife who tricks him into the house for altogether different reasons, which are remarkably similar - different pole, different garden.


the mother who defends her child accused of cursing in school only to discover in the end it was she he was cursing.


the couple discussing their failing child - he's talking about remedial help with his subjects while she is talking about his psychological health in general


the mom who complains that the music is so loud she cannot think and the daughter who agrees and wants to know where's her drink.

The dialog too was good, in almost every case the dialog created the story line, by "listening" to what was being said we learned about the characters and the conflict (misunderstanding).

It was fun, as these exercises should be, and it was different enough to stretch us a little into the unfamiliar.

Thanks to all who participated.

Alex Quisenberry

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.