I finally noticed….

Recently I discovered that I either accidentally unfollowed some of the blogs I’d been following OR that the WordPress goblins acted up again. I hope no one took offense at my absence or silence – it was completely unintended! And I plan to remedy the situation over the next couple of days. I apologize!

Payback

By Meg Sorick. A short story from July 2015, edited and ready to go into the collection. Here’s one last read:

“I know it’s not much,” I said, as I handed the homeless man an orange and a five dollar bill. I had passed him every day since he first appeared a week ago, on my route to work. With haunted green eyes and a sad smile, he looked neither dangerous nor crazy, just like a guy who had fallen on hard times.

“There but for the grace of God, go I,” I thought as I entered the diner where I waited tables. With a heavy sigh, I tied my apron around my waist and picked up my order pad. I had the worst section again: the one right by the door. Every time the door opened and closed, the wind rushed in, chilling my stocking clad legs and bare arms. Despite the fact that I never stopped moving all day, I never managed to get warm. By the end of my shift, my feet were sore, my back was aching and my meager tips wouldn’t go very far toward paying my bills.

I packed up the last of the vegetable soup to take home for my supper. I smiled. There was enough for two containers. No sense in letting it go to waste. On impulse, I grabbed the last two rolls and a couple of packets of butter and tucked it in the takeout bag with the soup. My homeless friend was waiting in his usual spot. “I brought you some hot soup,” I said. “Do you have somewhere you can go for the night?”

“Thank you,” he said, gratefully accepting the container and the rolls. “Now don’t you worry, I’ll be all right.”

The next day, I packed another orange in my bag for the homeless man, but to my surprise, he wasn’t in his spot when I passed. I trudged on to another long day at the diner.

Just as lunch rush had ended, a handsome man in a business suit sat in my section and smiled at me.

I gaped in confusion at his familiar features. “Is it you?” I gasped.

He smiled and gave a little shake of his head. “You’ve met my brother, Marcus.” Flicking his eyes toward my name tag, he added, “Cecilia.”

“Is your brother all right?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“He’s all right now. I’ve taken him home.” He passed me a business card which read, Lucas LeGrande, Executive Chef, above the name of the finest restaurant in town and said, “You’re the only one who ever showed my brother any kindness. I’d like to return the favor. Come work for me.”

Header Image: “Together” – artist, Lesley Oldaker, oil, 2011

More about dialogue

After reposting my discussion about dialogue, I thought of a few more things to take into consideration when creating conversations between and among our characters.

  • Their age – older people will use different terms and expressions from younger people. The references they choose will be age appropriate as well. People in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t going to quote The Andy Griffith Show, for instance. They probably don’t even know who that is. Older folks may speak a little more formally, they may not curse or use slang as often. In Three Empty Frames, one of my characters is an elderly gentleman. He says things like “Heavens to Betsy” and “Why, I never!” which is perfectly acceptable for someone in his 80’s. However, if his daughter, in her late 20’s, spoke that way, it would sound ridiculous.
  • Regional expressions – I touched on this briefly in yesterday’s post. There are local expressions and terminologies that won’t travel to all parts of the country. I’ll give you a regional Philly example. “Jawn” is a term only used in this part of the country that refers to a person, place, event or thing. And while it pretty much defies definition, maybe it’ll make more sense if I use it in a sentence. “I really want the new iPhone but that jawn is too expensive.” “Went to see Roger Waters in concert last month. That jawn was awesome.” No one in Indiana or Florida or Utah is going to say “jawn”.
  • Cliches – I despise cliches. However, people do use them in their everyday speech. This is really up to the writer, but overusing cliches even in writing dialogue gets really boring. Keep them to a minimum.
  • Use of names – what I mean is having the speaker constantly say the name of the person to whom he is speaking. Like this:

“Joni, are you ok?”
“Yes, Graham, I’m fine.”
“Thank god, Joni. I was worried.”
“Graham, you are too sweet.”

We know who is talking to whom after the first two lines, the names don’t need to be constantly repeated. We don’t speak like that to each other in the real world, don’t do it in your fictional world, either.

  • Speech descriptors – while I don’t completely buy into Elmore Leonard’s rule of only using ‘said’ and ‘asked’ to describe speech, I do think it’s usually the best choice. I had read this rule after writing the first draft of my first Bucks County Novel. When I went back and read aloud all the ways I had described what people were saying, I cringed. Shouted, blustered, snapped, laughed, spat, hissed, giggled, sighed, moaned, grumbled, mumbled, murmured, whispered, muttered, shrieked… well, you get the idea. I changed 80% of that back to ‘said’ and ‘asked’. And to be accurate, people don’t ‘laugh’ or ‘sigh’ their words, they ‘say’ them with a sigh. Like this:

Wrong: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she sighed.
Right: “What am I going to do with you, Kerry?” she asked, sighing. (or with a sigh.)

Our fictional conversations have to be natural. It will impact the believability and relate-ability of our characters. Readers need to be invested in those characters to want to keep reading their stories. And we want those stories to be read!

Happy writing and productive editing!