Three People in a Restaurant–an Exercise in Dialog

This is a combination of exercises from Josip Novakovich’s The Fiction Writer’s Workshop.  The purpose of this exercise is to take three people (two men and a woman) and put them in a restaurant.    Through their body language and dialog, the writer is to reveal what each character thinks of the others without directly saying it.  Hopefully, I did that here.  Enjoy!

The restaurant was elegant and overpriced, and Tom didn’t much care for it.  He didn’t look at the crystal chandeliers, the red carpeting or the white table cloths.  Instead he stared at the woman across the round table from him.  The carnations which served as a center piece didn’t obstruct his view, nor make his staring any more subtle; but he wasn’t worried about her noticing.  His eyes tracked her arms and hands as they danced through the air, her bangles shining like pixie dust and twinkling with her voice as they brushed together.  Tom was leaning back in his chair as he stared at Audrey—the woman across the table.  Everything of him was pointed at Audrey: his eyes, his chest, his hands restring on his lap.  His feet reached under the table—occasionally, in her animated way of talking, Audrey would accidentally brush his shin with her high-heel.

Tom could focus on Audrey so openly because she was focused on their companion, Nathaniel, who’d invited them to dinner in the first place.  Audrey was slightly breathless, but Nathaniel nodded and smiled at her as she spoke, which encouraged her attention of him all the more.  Her gray eyes were fixed on him, like two moons which refused to wane.  Nathaniel’s focus, however, was on his impeccably white nails.  When Nathaniel did allow his gaze to fall towards Audrey, his eyes usually ended up on her neck, on which hung Audrey’s silver and reflective necklace.  Nathaniel would then pat his hair, and check his nails once more.

They’d finished their soups—Audrey chattering to Nathaniel the whole while—when Nathaniel glanced over at Tom.  Nathaniel frowned—Tom didn’t even notice.

“So, Tom,” said Nathaniel, not even bothering to wait for Audrey to pause.  “Didn’t I tell you this place was fantastic?”  Nathaniel smiled the smile he’s spent $2000 in dental work to get perfect.  Tom looked at Nathaniel, and for a moment it seemed as if he wouldn’t respond.  But then Tom noticed Audrey watching them, ready to hang onto whatever was said.  Tom took his eyes off her and begrudgingly placed their focus on Nathaniel.  Nathaniel checked to see that Audrey was still looking at him, even though Tom was speaking.

“It’s a bit fantastically priced,” said Tom.  “I’ve always preferred more casual places, anyway.  Somewhere you can relax, eat your meal and enjoy yourself.  The only way you could enjoy being in a place like this is if you enjoyed being exhibited.”  Tom turned back to Audrey, whose smile had faded a bit.

Nathaniel laughed.  “Well, who doesn’t like showing off a little now and then?”

“Some people would do better to not show off.  Or even be seen in public.”  Tom drank his water.

“It is nice to have a change of setting here and there,” said Audrey.  “And may I just—”

“Quite right,” said Nathaniel, “though I also agree with Tom, in that some people shouldn’t be allowed out.”  Nathaniel, despite having a rather smooth and light voice, had a way of talking so loudly it was as if he were proclaiming some discovery the world couldn’t do without.  “I know of a great many people not fit to be seen.  Thankfully, I’ve always felt well enough to be out.  I like sharing what I have to offer, whether it be my wealth or my company.”

“I’m certainly grateful for the latter tonight,” said Audrey.  “But are you sure this isn’t too expensive?  I’d be more than happy to help with the bill.”

“No, no,” said Tom, waving his hand as he spoke as if he were swatting a fly.  “That is quite unnecessary.  I won’t have any trouble paying for it.”

“That’s very generous of you, Nathaniel . . .”  Nathaniel smiled at her, and Audrey blushed.

Tom frowned.  “Yes, Nathaniel,” he said, “it’s that generosity of yours that makes your company so likeable.”  Tom sat up in his chair and gestured towards Audrey.  “Aren’t you curious to know how Audrey and I had already met before dinner?”

“Well . . .” said Nathaniel.  He suddenly spotted something on his nail and frowned.

“Oh, let me tell him, Tom,” said Audrey.  “We go way back.  Tom and I attended the same college.  We lived in one of the campus’ first co-ed dorms.  Rules said we couldn’t date, but I think that’s what made our friendship so strong.  I tried to give Tom advice with girls, and he saw me through quite a few horrible break-ups.  Tom was always there for me.  I wouldn’t be so optimistic were it not for his friendship.  So, I’m still looking for love . . .”

“I can’t remember any of my college friends,” said Nathaniel, as he picked at his left index finger.

“I . . . I hope I do find it some day.  Love, that is.”  Nathaniel didn’t respond or look at her.  He’d eradicated whatever blemish was on his nail and then smiled up around him erratically, even glancing back over his shoulder.

Tom never took his eyes off Audrey.  She seemed to lose her color, and her animation.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll find love someday.”  Tom reached for his water.  “You’re just not looking in the right place.”



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