Purpose: exploring genre and literary fiction; writing purposeful dialogue; learning to think and create characters.
Scene to be rewritten
With an incredibly effective, practiced motion, Cliff Boner was pulling a weapon from the breast pocket hidden under the bulk of his black leather jacket when there was a flash of blue light–like a strobe, as a stun-gun discharged, followed by a gasp of pain from Harmon Collander as two million volts of electricity went through his body. His eyes were wide as he slumped over in his chair. Colander was motionless. In a few seconds, towering over the man whose eyes now showed fear, Boner was salivating like a hungry carnivore about to consume his injured prey. Boner savored the moment. He was feeling satisfaction. He took a sip of coffee.
Collander was twitching. His mouth was moving; he was trying to speak. Boner leaned over, still enjoying the look of pain in the man’s eyes.
“Why?” Collander finally said.
“Why do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh. You must have some idea.”
Collander was looking totally bewildered. “Money! Was it for money?”
“You think it’s for money? You’re a fool.” Boner smiled. He needed knowledge. That would of course bring money. But it was knowledge that he now wanted.
“If it’s not money. What is it?”
“You know a secret. And you will share it with me. If not now, when you are thinking clearly. “
“No. Only when you tell me where the car is.”
“I don’t know where it is.”
“You stole it.”
“You have no proof?”
Cliff Boner hit him across the face with the back of his hand. Collander’s head snapped to the side. He turned his head to face Boner, and spat, the foul saliva hitting Boner on the cheek just under his left eye.⇑click here to hide text
What to do.
This is an action scene and in the moment (made up and based on best-selling style of commercial genre fiction). Your purpose is to revise this scene as a writer of literary fiction. Change what you need to; the only thing to keep is a man uses a weapon on another man to capture him and then hits him in the face when he won’t divulge needed information. Everything else is open for you to make a dynamic, purposeful passage in scene with action and with dialogue (example follows) that relates to a full story you have imagined.
The scene, as is, is boring. Provides little if any characterization. Cliche’s abound: savored the moment, towering over, for examples. And just bad writing: “. . . was salivating like a hungry carnivore about to consume his injured prey.”
Use your imagination. Freshen the plot. Build characterization while reconstructing the scene.
Here are more specifics. 1) Create dialogue that reveals character, advances plot, and provides exposition (hard to do in dialogue), adds to setting, and is consistent with the emotions of each character, as well as appropriate for the desires and intensity for the moment. (Would a reader of serious fiction believe, for example, a character who has just been immobilized with two million volts think first if money was a reason for the attack? Wouldn’t he be wondering if he were going to die, thinking about getting away, or if he would be shot again (it hurts). In rewriting, ask how would that affect the progression of the dialogue? The syntax. The word choice? 2) Determine what story-information (from the story you’ve imagined) and how much you need to reveal in the scene (the tendency is to try to tell too much). Then reveal information through action, dialogue, and narrative descriptive passages. To be effective, try not to deliver exposition through narrative telling for the exercise, unless absolutely appropriate. 3) And think of action, thought, and internal reflection for building unique characters. 4) Determine each character’s emotions and desires in the scene, essential for good dialogue and credibility. 5) And show, not tell. (For example, try to avoid writing, “He was feeling satisfaction.” If this feeling is important for the story in this scene, it is more effective (and logical, and credible) delivered through in scene action-gestures and dialogue).
After you’ve got your scene down, revise for craft improvement: word choice, momentum, syntax, avoidance of passive constructions, spelling and punctuation.
Your goal is to have a quality scene of a literary story that has a beginning, middle and end, that is dramatized (conflict, action, resolution), and has a purpose. You are honing the skill of creating stories and characters that have a purpose, that have something to say to a reader, and not just describing events and people (real or imagined).
It helps to think about characters and plot before your write. Think about action and desires and emotions, think about logic, credibility and think about how to instill energy in plot progression and dialogue. Think about what your character would do in situations you experience daily. It’s not easy. But it is a way to make you prose live, and your storytelling memorable, and the actual writing more effective.
Example of one solution. This writing is also imperfect, to say the least. It is presented to show how one writer approached the exercise.
Sam found Ray sitting on the dock with his legs dangling at the calm lake near his white skiff with a 9.9-hp outboard motor. He was tying flies, ready to go fishing. He saw Sam. Ray stood, knocking over the tackle box beside him. His only escape was down the dock past Sam.
Sam realized Ray would never cooperate; he saw the anger and fear in his eyes. Sam pulled the stun-gun from his pocket. “Stay where you are,” he said. Ray lowered his shoulder hitting him chest high. He went down; Ray oriented himself and began to run. Sam rose to one knee and fired the gun. Ray collapsed, motionless. Sam went to him and turned him over.
Ray began twitching. His mouth moved; he tried to speak. “Why?” he finally said.
“Tell me where Roberta is,” Sam said.
“I haven’t seen her.”
“She’ll die without treatments.”
Ray closed his eyes. He shivered slightly at the distaste he had always felt for Roberta. He’d never liked her. Never. That ruled out seducing her. He’d used infected needles for mainline drugs. That was the easiest way, and, when he’d thought about it, more reliable. “Everyone dies. She’s no exception.”
Sam raised the stun-gun again.
“Are you going to kill me?”
After a few seconds, the gun barrel trembled and Sam lowered the gun. He couldn’t hurt him again. “You’ve robbed her of any happiness.”
Ray let out a cold, humorless laugh, “Where is the happiness other’s deserved while she was enjoying her privilege.”
“She deserves treatment. A chance to turn her life around,” Sam said.
Ray laughed cruelly, his vision blurred, his mouth dry.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Sam said. “Not from her AIDS. It wouldn’t happen this fast. You killed her?”
“Did I say that?”
“You admit it then?”
“Fool.” Ray tried to stand, but could only get to his hands and knees, his head down.
Sam kicked him, the toe of his boot catching him under his jaw, his head snapping back.
“And you think you’re better than me?” Ray said, losing consciousness as he slumped, still partially paralyzed, onto the dock.⇑click here to hide text
750 word limit
Cliff Boner pulled a weapon from his black leather jacket’s breast pocket with the ease of effectiveness that practiced motion brings. The blue light-like strobe engulfed the two men as Collander gasped in agony caused by the two million volts of electricity discharged into his body. His wide-open eyes reflecting a mixture of fear and anguish as he slumped motionless over in his chair.
Within a few seconds, Boner stood towering over him. Collander looked up at him with eyes reflecting overwhelming fear, which filled Boner with the kind of excitement that no drug or sexual act could get him. Boner leaned in aggressively closer, putting lip balm on his cracked, dry lips. The fear reflected in Collander’s eyes delighted him to no end.
Seeing fear reflected in strangers’ eyes as he walked by them pushed back his past memories; they were not erased, he will never allow himself to forget them, but they eased up. He was the reason why people knew what fear was. These people that never in their life knew what fear for their life felt like. Collander started to twitch. His mouth was moving, trying to speak. Boner leaned over with a smirking, as he was so close to Collander’s face that he could feel his breath.
“I don’t understand. Who are you? Why are you doing this?” Collander finally said in a barely audible voice.
Boner stood up, taking a sip of the cold black coffee that had been sitting there for hours before he responded to Collander. Let him wait, agonize over his response as he had done. [Great. Notice here this type of information delivered out of dialogue is more effective than when in dialogue. Compare it to comments below.]
“Why do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on, Harmon, you are an intelligent man, or at least I remember you being intelligent, no? Think hard; you must have some idea.”
Collander looked utterly bewildered; the mention of his first name surprised him. When was the last time someone refers to him by his first name? It was always Mr. Collander. Not even his wife; it was “hon” or the kids’ “dad.” When did he stop being Harmon? Bewilderedness replaced fear in his eyes. “Money! Is this about money?”
“You think it’s for money? You’re a fool.” Boner smiled. He needed knowledge. That would, of course, bring money. It was a knowledge that he now wanted and needed for his own survival.
“If it’s not money. What is it?”
“You know a secret. And you will share it with me. If not now, when you are thinking clearly.“
Only when youtell me who was there that night, who was the one whothrew the final andfatal punch? Who was all there that night?” [This has a lot of words, sort of soliloquy. Good contemporary dialogue is brief, especially in highly emotional settings. And note that if something is final, it is fatal, and visa versa, so the idea does not need to be repeated.]
“What are you talking about? What night? What fatal blow? I don’t even know who you are or what you are talking about.”
“You were there, I left, but you stayed and someone else; I want to know who the other one was! [This is perfectly acceptable and necessary information. But in dialogue, it’s exposition, and humans don’t deliver much information about setting or the past in speaking, especially in tense settings. You use the narrator providing information very well, and maybe you could place the highlighted words outside of dialogue, earlier maybe.) The reaper has come to collect, your country club set is used to others settling your debts, but this one is past due, and I have come to collect, and trust me, the interest rate is high!”
“You are insane! I don’t know what you are talking about! I don’t know who the hell you are, Let me go!
I demand to be let go!” (This repetition seems excessive and may decrease the credible of this dialogue segment.)
“I’m going to ask one last time, who stayed with you that night at the lake?”
“Look closely into my eyes, and tell me that you don’t know what I am talking about!” [Great exchange. Your dialogue is very effective. It has purpose and moves the story along. Very credible.
The fear that was gone return to Collander’s eyes. Boner smirked once more; he knew that he had him.
“Was it you? I am right! You know that there is no statute of limitation on a murder? Right, I am sure that you being a top criminal lawyer, know that?” Boner said as he smirked.
“You have no proof?”
Cliff Boner hit him across the face with the back of his hand. Collander’s head snapped to the side. He turned his head to face Boner and spat, the foul saliva hitting Boner on the cheek just under his left eye.
Boner felt his body being overtaken by rage. [A suggestion: “Rage overwhelmed Boner.” Succinct and avoiding the passive.] The toothpick-thin boy was back, taking over the hardened two-bit criminal full of anger for having to endure unimaginable suffering for a crime he didn’t do.
Your imagery is excellent, the segment has great momentum, and is very engaging (in-scene writing). Well done! And the ideas flow very well. Congratulations on excellent work.
Thanks for the submission. And all the best.