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

He said, she said… Writing dialogue.

My writing is filled with dialogue. I’ve always played my stories out as films in my head and often wonder if they’d make good screenplays. After submitting some of my work for professional critique to a group of published writers and a couple of agents, I received positive feedback on the writing and on the dialogue in particular. The back and forth banter between characters should be natural, not stiff and formal. Sometimes the rules of grammar get bent or even broken! With that in mind, I decided to repost this short primer on writing dialogue for newer writers out there.  – Meg

In this post, I decided to cover a grammar topic that I had to brush up on when I began this writing journey. The stories I write tend to be filled with conversation and there are rules to follow closely and rules you can break with impunity. That’s the interesting thing about writing dialogue; it’s the one time it’s permissible to use bad grammar!

“What?!?” you ask, outraged. “How can this be?”

Well, let me explain.

You are aware, I’m sure, that in casual conversation, many of the rules of grammar are regularly thrown out the window. For example, your characters might use regional terminology, slang and/or colloquialisms. If you’re in South Philadelphia, meeting your friends at the baseball park, one of them might say in greeting, “Yo! How you doin’?” Translation: “Hello, how are you doing?” But you’d never write it that way. In Philadelphia you don’t “go to the beach” you “go down the shore,” and there are more.

Another situation is in the the use of “who” and “whom.” Unless you are an English professor its likely that you would ask the friends headed to the beach: “who are you going with?” rather than the proper, “with whom are you going?” because really, who talks like that? (Sorry English professors.)

Those brief examples demonstrate how it’s perfectly acceptable to let your characters use bad grammar within their conversations. However, while the dialogue itself may venture outside the rules, the way you write the speech demands the use of proper punctation, especially when it involves quotation marks.  Let’s look at a few common rules to follow:

1. Periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points all go inside the quotation marks. The sentence doesn’t end with the speech if you add “he said, she said, they said,” or something like that to describe who is speaking. Here’s what I mean:

“Joni, you look beautiful tonight,” he said. OR “Joni, you look beautiful tonight.”

-In the first sentence, ‘he’ is not capitalized and a comma was used at the end of his speech instead of a period. That’s because the sentence didn’t end until after ‘said.’ In the second sentence, the writer assumes the reader knows who is talking so they don’t use ‘he said.’ In that case the speech ends with a period.

-Now this might seem weird, but if the speech ends with either an exclamation point or a question mark, and you use ‘he/she/they said’ or ‘he/she/they asked,’ it still doesn’t end the sentence and he or she should not be capitalized. Like this:

“Joni, is that you?” he asked.
“Of course, it’s me!” she said.

2. When a speaker says multiple sentences, quotation marks go at the end of the speech, not each sentence. If you break up a speech with another sentence, not spoken, then begin the second part of the speech with new quotes. Here’s an example:

“Graham, I don’t want to fight anymore. Can’t we just discuss this like civilized people?” Joni asked.

“Graham, I don’t want to fight anymore.” Joni sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Can’t we just discuss this like civilized people?”

3. Every time you change speakers, indent and start a new paragraph, even if the speech is only one word. This allows the reader to follow who is speaking to whom. Here’s how that would read:

“Joni, are you listening to me?”
“Yes.”
“Well, say something, will you?”
“I think you’re wrong, Graham.”

-Notice how even without ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ you still know who is speaking. Quick, back-and-forth dialogue can be bogged down with too many descriptors. You don’t always need them as long as you start new paragraphs whenever you change speakers.

There are more rules about the use of quotation marks, ones that have less to do with speech and more to do with offsetting titles of books and such. I decided to exclude those here, although that might be material for another post.

I hope this was helpful and I wish you all productive writing and successful conversation!

The Chess Game

A ten sentence short story… I also think this one should be expanded before adding it to the collection. Some history between these old friends… 

Every day Abraham Stein set up the chess board in the park. The game was always in progress, but Abraham never accepted offers to play. Every day he sat for an hour, staring at the board, not making a move. At the end of the hour, he would slide all the chess pieces back into the box, fold the board and walk the five blocks back to his apartment at Temple Beth Israel Retirement Home.

The ladies of Temple Beth Israel wondered about Abraham Stein, trying always to dissuade Abraham from his routine. As he walked each day to his appointment in the park, he would shoo them away with a wave of his hand.

One day, after some weeks had gone by, a man in a wheelchair was wheeled by his nurse to the place opposite Abraham in the park. Abraham smiled, without looking up from the board and said, “It’s about time you showed up.”

Saul Rosenberg snorted and said, “I missed you, too, you old meshuggener.”

Abraham pointed to the board and said, “It’s your move.”