Imitation of Raymond Carver
Write an Imitation of Raymond Carver’s
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?”
Carver’s story ends with a heavy moment when all the characters seem to realize that Mel (who has been fantasizing about murdering his ex-wife) is really as bad as Ed (Terri’s ex-husband). This isn’t explicitly stated, but the tone shift is what draws us out to the end of the story. The story has that poetic punch at the end that we’ve talked about in class.
Let’s try to imitate it. Use your current story or think of a new situation, in which the characters have a tone shift, where they are thinking about something they aren’t saying.
1. Write the pivotal line of dialogue, where one character expresses something that completely changes the tone. In the Carver story, this is:
“She’s vicious,” Mel said. “Sometimes I think I’ll go up there dressed like a beekeeper. You know, that hat that’s like a helmet with the plate that comes down over your face, the big gloves, the padded coat? I’ll knock on the door and let loose a hive of bees in the house. But first I’d make sure the kids were out, of course.”
Let’s try to imitate it the dialogue here exactly:
Write a two-line piece of dialogue, followed by (character name) said. Then the idea the character has or thing they say that will change the tone—a fairly simple line of dialogue. Then an explanation of that sentence, ending as a question? Then another simple declarative sentence that really moves us into that second tone. Finish with a line of dialogue that tries to soften the tone shift a bit.
“She’s happy,” Dad said. “But sometimes I find her sitting in the bathtub. She’s let all the water drain out and she’s sitting there, her hair wet, stuck to her shoulders, shivering, her lips blue, and I think she’s crying, but I can’t really tell? I ask what she’s doing she says, “Go away, Charles. Leave me.” But I make her get out and wrap her in a towel and then she seems fine.”
2. Write an action to go with this announcement.
He crossed one leg over the other. It seemed to take him a long time to do it. Then he put both feet on the floor and leaned forward, elbows on the table, his chin cupped in his hands.
So, to imitate this, write a simple action. Then write a sentence that starts with “it seemed.” Then write a sentence that describes a new action, starting with “Then.”
Example: He took a drink of his coffee. It seemed like he was hiding in the mug. Then he set it down on the table and curled both hands around it, staring into it, his eyes shining.
3. What follows is another line of dialogue from this character that seems to acknowledge the unspoken thing and then seeks to change the subject.
“Maybe I won’t call the kids, after all. Maybe it isn’t such a hot idea. Maybe we’ll just go eat. How does that sound?”
Now let’s try to imitate this. Start the dialogue here with three lines that begin with “maybe” and then a question.
Example: “Maybe I won’t wake her up now. Maybe she’s tired. Maybe we’ll just order some food in today. Would that be okay?”
4. Next we see the other characters each reacting to this tone shift in their own way. Nick (the narrator) agrees but then offers a different idea: he wants to keep drinking. Laura asks for something to eat. Terri agrees to get her something to eat, but then she doesn’t move. This shows us that what Mel said has really struck her. Then Mel responds by deliberately spilling the gin out on the table. Then Terri asks, “Now what?”
To imitate this, write your characters responding in a similar way. Keep the speech tags as said.
“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Or I could cook something. I could make those club sandwiches you like.”
“They won’t have avocado,” Rob said.
“What? It doesn’t matter. They’ll have deli meat. Mom always has deli meat.”
“I could go out for an avocado,” Rob said. “The grocery store’s not far. It’ll take me ten minutes. I’ll go.”
“Or I could get delivery,” I said, fumbling with my phone. “Pizza? Chinese?”
“I’ll make peanut butter and jelly,” Dad said.
But he didn’t move.
Rob stood up. “I’ll get an avocado.”
“There’s no bread,” Dad said.
5. The story ends with the narrator’s perception being heightened and the language becomes more lyrical, ending that poetic punch I mentioned.
I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.
Let’s try write something like it.
Example: He was crying now. I was crying. Rob was, too. We kept crying as we moved toward each other, Rob squeezing hard on Dad’s shoulder, me kneeling next to him, clutching his hand. We stayed in that position, crying ourselves empty, until, from the other room, we heard Mom wake.