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Somewhere This Way

This afternoon, while walking past the Colosseum, I saw an English mother and son. He was running around in wide circles on a patch of grass, and she was waiting nearby. As I reached them, she called out:

“We’re going now, James. Come here onto the boulders.”

The boy showed no signs of changing course, but a few seconds later, when his loop brought him close to his mother, he replied:

“Hi! I’ve changed my dance!”

These lines made me think of the trouble that a lot of writers have with making their dialogue ring true. if you were writing this as a scene, you might put down but I don’t want to! or just five more minutes mum/mom!. What the boy actually said was slightly less clichéd, but still communicated a great deal (aside from doing the obvious job of rejecting his mother’s request).

Notice that the mother, right at the beginning of her line, uses “we”, making it clear that they are at this moment a unit, and implying that he should therefore be at her side, sharing her aims (specifically the aim of walking away, right now). Meanwhile, the boy is so much in his own world that not only does he use “I”, but he even begins the line with “Hi!”, showing how little his proximity to his mother has been in his mind over the last few minutes.

There was however one thing that they had, rather endearingly, in common. They were both talking partial nonsense. The paving slabs on which the mother was standing, while large and uneven in shape, were by no stretch of the imagination “boulders” and the boy’s wide loops of the grass looked like fun but were not a dance. In this way both lines of dialogue show that the speaker is viewing the moment very much in their own, personal way.

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