We Want Tone

This is me making use of an overheard conversation. I made up names (I didn’t know the names of the women anyway) and kept my notebook open as I wrote the following scene. I pulled a few direct quotes, but allowed the characters their own syntax too. This is the challenging part of fictionalizing overheard dialogue. You’re tempted to stick to the original, but straying allows better practice at writing dialogue. Combine characters, switch genders, cut chunks, add new lines, give verbal tics.

This exercise (scene? vignette? flash fiction?) prompted an idea. I want to see what happens when I remove the “___ says” and leave it largely to the reader to sort who says what. Can I write a piece that is only unattributed dialogue? I just want to see what it looks like. That said, the following is riddled with “___ says.”


Kelly leaves the gym she works at still dressed in the dark spandex tights and moisture-wicking shirt she put on that morning. She’s late to meet two prospective clients. They’re already at the coffee shop, sitting in the back. Jill nudges an iced latte across the table. “Skim, because I didn’t know what you preferred,” Jill says. Kelly shrugs, takes a drink. “Thank you.” She pulls her tablet from her tote bag and swipes the screen, opens a new note.

Jill and Abi

“I really need this,” says Jill, “I feel like a box after two kids. No waist. Look at this.” She half stands and runs her palms rib cage to hips. She sits and laughs. “Forty-eight kilos, but I want a waist again. I do crunches and I can see a little cut, but…”

“We want tone,” Abi says.

Kelly types Tone under their names. “Aside from your waist, any particular part of the body you want to tone?”

“I want a butt,” Jill says, “I used to dance. Watch me, when we start doing squats and lunges, my thighs will be like, so big. But I want a butt too. Like yours.”

Kelly has glutes. “Squats will give you a butt.”

“I have a butt,” Abi says, “And a belly.” She takes handfuls of her stomach rolls and laughs. “I’m mostly in this for health. Change, you know. She suggested it.”

“I really need a routine. I need to workout,” Jill says.


Kelly types. She looks up and smiles at each woman in turn. “I think I can help. We can meet two or three times a week. We will work with bodyweight movements and exercise first and progress to small weights.”

“How long is a session?” Abi asks.

“One hour.”

“I’m gonna die after ten minutes. Watch me, I’ll be like, begging to stop,” says Jill.

“You’ll be fine,” Kelly says.

“Do you do any nutritional consultation?” Abi asks.

“We can talk about food. Protein is important when you are exercising.”

“We saw your grilled chicken on Instagram,” Jill says.

“Yeah, we were looking you up. You eat really healthy,” says Abi.

Kelly isn’t surprised they looked her up. “I can give you a few recipes.”

“I love veg. Love love love veg,” Jill says, “Just so expensive here. I buy a lot of frozen. Steam it so the nutrients don’t leech.”

“I prefer raw,” Kelly says, “But, yeah, expensive. Especially organic.”

“Oh my God,” Jill says, “I bought a little tray of organic blueberries at Sultan and paid like twenty-three dollars. Not really, but at least eight or nine. Kids ate them like candy.”

“I can’t afford everything organic. Some things. I buy organic granola,” says Abi.

“I heard co-ops are good for produce,” Kelly says.

“Yes, totally. Go to co-ops,” Jill says.

“I started making green smoothies,” says Abi, “With kale.”

“Mmm,” says Kelly, “Good start to the day.”

“Great start. I eat a couple eggs too.”

“That’s good.”

“I thought egg was bad,” Jill says.

“No. Good,” says Kelly.

Jill laughs. “They’ll be bad again. I read that leeks can cause cancer. Everything is bad.”

“Except booze,” Abi says and the two friends laugh. “You should see her drink,” Abi says. Jill holds up her hands and says, “Guilty. Which is why we need you. I so need this.”

“Right,” says Kelly, “So let’s figure out what works for us. You need mats. I’ll set up a routine you can do with or without shoes.”

“Stinky feet!” Jill pokes Abi.

“It helps if we have room big enough to stretch your arms out side to side and not touch. I work with some clients who move their furniture for sessions. Is that okay?”

“Sure. Yeah. We need this. Look, I have no waist!” Jill half stands again. “I mean, I weigh forty-eight kilos and that means nothing if I’m not healthy.”

“Having a waist doesn’t mean you’re healthy,” Kelly says.

“So I get healthy and get a waist.”

“Sure, that can happen.”

“And a butt.”

“And a butt.”

“I just want to get in shape,” Abi says. She pulls her phone from her bag and opens the calendar. “I can do Saturdays.”

“Saturdays work,” Jill says, “And Mondays, I think.”

“What time?”

“Evening. Sevenish?”

Kelly types Nutrition. She checks her calendar. “Seven or seven-thirty works. You’ll go to bed tired.”

“I need more sleep. Maybe this will help,” Abi says.

“Probably will. Do you want a third session or just two?”

Jill and Abi look at one another. “I really need this,” Jill says. Abi shrugs. Jill looks at Kelly. “Can you squeeze a third in?”

“Wednesdays are open.”

“Okay. I’m so excited. You’ll see, my body just – muscle memory. I’m gonna die but I’ll look good.” Jill finishes her iced latte.

Kelly types Gonna Die. She closes her tablet, stands. Her shirt says Strong Is The New Sexy and Jill loves this. “I hadn’t even noticed,” Jill says, “I was looking at your arms and thinking how big your biceps are. Didn’t even read the shirt.”

“Hope for me,” Abi says.

Kelly smiles, holds up her empty coffee. “Thanks for this. I’ll see you ladies Saturday at seven.”

“Awesome. I’ll text directions,” Jill says.

“Awesome,” says Kelly.

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