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