Schemes and Scenes – Part Five

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Schemes and Scenes – Part Five

This is the fifth article in an occasional series on scene development.  Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, Chapter Five, focuses on Dialog, with two exercises.  Read the fourth article.

crossed 1Try editing the following exchanges.

A.

Original

“You aren’t seriously thinking about putting that trash in your body, are you?” said a voice from behind me, archly.

I put down the package of Twinkies and turned around.  It was Fred McDermot, a passing acquaintance from work.  “Pardon me,” I said.

“I said, you aren’t going to put that stuff in your body, are you?” he repeated.

Fred, I fail to see how this is any of your business,” I chuckled.

Paul, I’m just interested in your welfare, that’s all,” he replied, “Do you know what they put in those things?”

“No, Fred.”

“Neither do I, Paul.  That’s the point.”

My Edits

“You aren’t going to put that trash in your body, are you?”

I put down the junk food and turned around. I saw Fred McDermot, an acquaintance from work.

“Pardon me,” I said.

“I asked. Are you going to put that in your body?”

“Fred. What’s it to you?”.

“I care about you, Paul Do you know what they put in those things?”

“No.”

“Neither do I. That’s the point.”

B.  Gatsby redux.  This novel was Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and deserves its status as a modern classic.  But literary fashions have changed since Gatsby was published, and techniques that were perfectly fine then seem cumbersome today.  So this is your chance to edit a master.  Don’t look back at chapter 1, and have fun.

Original

“I like to come,” Lucille said.  “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.  When I was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — within a week I got a package from Croiririer’s with a new evening gown in it.”

“Did you keep it?” asked Jordan.

“Sure I did.  I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered.  It was gas blue with lavender beads.  Two hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that,” said the other girl eagerly.  “He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody.”

“Who doesn’t?” I inquired.

“Gatsby.  Somebody told me—“

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man.”

A thrill passed over all of us.  The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

“I don’t think it’s so much that,argued Lucille skeptically; “it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”

One of them nodded in confirmation.

“I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,” he assured us positively.

“Oh, no,” said the first girl, “it couldn’t be that, because he was in the American army during the war.”  As our credulity switched back to her, she leaned forward with enthusiasm.  “You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him.  I’ll bet he killed a man.”

Revision

“I like to come,” Lucille said.  “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.  When I was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — within a week I got a package from Croiririer’s with a new evening gown in it.”

“Did you keep it?” Jordan asked.

“Sure I did.  I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered.  It was gas blue with lavender beads.  Two hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that,” said the other girl.  “He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody.”

“Who doesn’t?” I asked.

“Gatsby.  Somebody told me—“

The two girls and Jordan leaned together.

“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man.”

A thrill passed over all of us.  The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened.

“I don’t think it’s so much that,” said Lucille.  “It’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”

One of them nodded.

“I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,” he said.

“Oh, no,” said the first girl, “it couldn’t be that, because he was in the American army during the war.”  As our credulity switched back to her, she leaned forward.  “You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him.  I’ll bet he killed a man.”

 

 

Managing dialog requires attention to several details.  First, the tags should be limited to or , and need no adverb modifiers.  Second, the words spoken should be consistent with the character and appropriate to the dialog.  Third, the beats should enhance, not explain.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s passage was interesting to read.  The suggestions dealt with the dialog tags, and chasing adverbs.  And, certainly, my voice is not the same as Fitzgerald’s.  I write in a more direct way that would not be proper to The Great Gatsby.

 

 Read the sixth article.

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3 thoughts on “Schemes and Scenes – Part Five

  1. Pingback: Schemes and Scenes – Part Four | Simply Silent

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