It was hard to control my rage when Sam knocked at my door.  I’d trusted that traitor most of my life.  I could see his discomfort.  He knew why I was mad.

When I shut the door Sam fidgeted with a belt loop on his jeans.

I never even wanted to own a weapon, and here I was pulling one on my best friend.  I didn’t like the feeling when my hand touched the pistol tucked into my jacket.  I did like the way Sam’s face stretched in shock when he saw it.  I didn’t really want to hurt him; I just wanted to find out where he’d hidden Sara.  My little girl was worth whatever it took to protect her.

“Put that up,” Sam said.  “This isn’t you.”

I had to use my left hand to steady the shaking gun.  I was committed now, and if I had to shoot I didn’t want to miss.  I’d come so close to losing Sara too many times.  I wasn’t going to let Sam take her.

“Where is she?  I don’t want to kill you, but I will.”

“You’re overreacting Jim,” Sam said.  I could see him sweat – stains beginning to form on the chest of his red t-shirt.  I wondered how much blood would show on an already red shirt.

“How am I overreacting?  The Petersons saw her get in your car and leave.  I know how you are.  Did you knock her up like that brunette in Ohio?  Or did you talk her into running off with you?”

“It’s not like that,” Sam said.  “I know what you think of me, but I wouldn’t do that to her.  She’s like a daughter to me.”

“No, she’s a daughter to me,” I said.  “She’s your best friend’s young kid who happens to be pretty and single.  If you slept with her I’ll kill you.”

“I didn’t touch her,” Sam said.  “I swear.”

“How many women did you trick over the years, Sam?” I asked.  “How many?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It never mattered before.  I haven’t been with anyone but Jenny for five years.  Don’t bring the past into this.  I’ve never hurt a woman.”

“She’s been weird for the last few months, and now I know why.  She won’t talk to me; she won’t even hang out with her friends anymore.  How long has this been going on?  I’ll have you up on statutory rape.”

“Jim, put the gun down,” he whined, and it irritated me that he was still denying the obvious.

I knew he wasn’t going to tell me anything.  Dad used to say, “Put up or shut up”.  It was that time.  I raised the gun so that it was pointing at the center of Jim’s forehead, right over the wrinkles.  If I couldn’t get him to tell me where Sara was, I could at least make sure she was safe.

“Don’t tell me you never hurt a woman.  She looks hurt, Sam.  She looks worn out, and I’ve seen the bruises on her arms.  I just didn’t know who was making them.”

“Jim please put the gun down.  I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone where she went.  Don’t make me break a promise.”

Just a flicker of doubt made me lower the gun.  Jim was a jerk, and he was a letch until he’d met Jenny, but he’d never turned on me.  Still, I’d watched Sara waste away in front of me.

I couldn’t do it.  I looked at the bastard standing there with tears running down his face, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Instead I took one hand off the gun and hit him across the jaw.  He fell and held the spot where my fist had landed.

I put the gun near his head and shot into the sofa.  The sharp smell of urine filled the room.

“They weren’t bruises.  They were track marks!  Don’t shoot me.  I just took her to rehab.”

I dropped the gun and sat beside him, my face buried in my hands.  I heard the door slam as Sam fled from my house, but it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered anymore.

Instructor Response

Very well done! The scene has movement, the writing is clear, there is a clear sense of strong emotions, and there is significant characterization in a short period of time. I’ve put in-text comments in a couple of places as suggestions for clarity. Then after that, I suggest rewriting the same scene with a different purpose and a different emphasis. I’ll explain later. If you decide to do it, it will let you practice to gain even more control and flexibility. Not that you don’t have good skills already. The suggestion for the new exercise is for practice, and not meant that you need to do anything major with what you’ve nicely developed.

 

(1)

It was hard to control my rage when Sam knocked at my door.  I’d trusted that traitor most of my life.  I could see his discomfort.  He knew why I was mad.  Just to let you know, I didn’t know the protagonist’s gender. If this were a piece to stand alone, it would be important to indicate that in some subtle way early.

When I shut the door Sam fidgeted with a belt loop on his jeans.

I never even wanted to own a weapon, and here I was pulling one on my best friend.  I didn’t like the feeling when my hand touched the pistol tucked into my jacket. You might want to condense the information in these two sentences. As is, the idea about being uncomfortable with the gun is referred to twice, albeit in slightly different ways, and this becomes wordy and the pacing slows a little. What if you did something like: “My hand touched the pistol tucked inside my jacket–cold and unfamiliar. I gripped it reluctantly and pointed it at my best friend.” This is not how you would do it, but see how that information is still there, just condensed. I did like the way Sam’s face stretched in shock when he saw it.  I didn’t really want to hurt him; I just wanted to find out where he’d hidden Sara.  My little girl was worth whatever it took to protect her.

“Put that up,” Sam said.  “This isn’t you.”

I had to use my left hand to steady the shaking gun.  I was committed now, and if I had to shoot I didn’t want to miss.  I’d come so close to losing Sara too many times.  I wasn’t going to let Sam take her. I’d delete this. It states the obvious, what the reader already knows. And it weakens the writing.

“Where is she?  I don’t want to kill you, but I will.” Needs “I said” as attribution. For rhythm. But also to make clear who is speaking. Although it is clear if the reader stops and thinks about it–or just passes over it, but you don’t want the reader stopping or going on without really knowing who said this until the next paragraph. This is true even when you say, “Where is she?” It takes a second for the reader to figure out that only one of the two characters could have said this. Appropriate attribution is never detrimental to your writing style. When you revise, be sure to look for places where it is needed. That’s your gift to the reader!

“You’re overreacting Jim,” Sam said.  I could see him sweat – stains beginning to form on the chest of his red t-shirt.  I wondered how much blood would show on an already red shirt. Think about not filtering this information through the character (The “I could see”). This is an ideal time to consider a narrator function, which can be done without coming out of the POV. Consider:  “You’re overreacting, Jim,” Sam said.  Sweat stains darkened his red shirt.  If I shot him, would the blood show?

“How am I overreacting?  The Petersons saw her get in your car and leave.  I know how you are.  Did you knock her up like that brunette in Ohio?  Or did you talk her into running off with you?”

“It’s not like that,” Sam said.  “I know what you think of me, but I wouldn’t do that to her.  She’s like a daughter to me.”

“No, she’s a daughter to me,” I said.  “She’s your best friend’s young kid who happens to be pretty and single.  If you slept with her I’ll kill you.”  This is too much exposition in dialogue. Strive to find a way to present it better, maybe not in dialogue. But if you think it is crucial for the story here, restructure it. Maybe, “My beautiful single kid.  And I swear, if you slept with her, I’ll put a bullet in your heart.”

“I didn’t touch her,” Sam said.  “I swear.”  Delete. Doesn’t do enough, and becomes baggage for the writing

“How many women did you trick over the years, Sam?” I asked.  “How many?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It never mattered before.  I haven’t been with anyone but Jenny for five years.  Don’t bring the past into this.  I’ve never hurt a woman.”  Delete yellow. Words and ideas not needed here. As is, stands as overwriting.

“She’s Who?  Who’s talking?  been weird for the last few months, and now I know why.  She won’t talk to me; she won’t even hang out with her friends anymore.  How long has this been going on?  I’ll have you up on statutory rape.”  Break this dialogue up with action or reflection. Ideas coming too fast and furious here.

“Jim, put the gun down,” he whined, and it irritated me that he was still denying the obvious.

I knew he wasn’t going to tell me anything.  Dad used to say, “Put up or shut up”.  It was that time.  Delete. Don’t stop the action.  I raised the gun so that it was pointing at the center of Jim’s forehead, right over the wrinkles.  If I couldn’t get him to tell me where Sara was, I could at least make sure she was safe.

“Don’t tell me you never hurt a woman.  She (Jenny or Sara? It’s important not to be obscure here.) looks hurt, Sam.  She looks worn out, and I’ve seen the bruises on her arms.  I just didn’t know who was making them.”

“Jim please put the gun down.  I promised her (again, Sara?) I wouldn’t tell anyone where she went.  Don’t make me break a promise.”

Just a flicker of doubt made me lower the gun.  Jim was a jerk, and he was a letch until he’d met Jenny, but he’d never turned on me.  Still, I’d watched Sara waste away in front of me. This needs clarification. It’s confusing, the relationship between Sara and Jenny and the story and the characters.

I couldn’t do it.  I looked at the bastard standing there with tears running down his face, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Instead I took one hand off the gun and hit him across the jaw with my fist.  Slight loss of logic here. The way this sentence is, it probable he hits him with the gun. Yet it is a fist. Try: “He fell and held the spot where my fist had landed.” Change to “I had hit him,” that is, delete yellow and add red. (I’m not real happy with this, but you’ll get the idea and possibly consider doing it your way.)

I put the gun near his head and shot into the sofa.  The sharp smell of urine filled the room.

“They weren’t bruises.  They were track marks!  Don’t shoot me.  I just took her to rehab.”  Great! Does a lot of work well.

I dropped the gun and sat beside him, my face buried in my hands.  I heard the door slam as Sam fled from my house, but it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered anymore.  Also very good. Effective scene resolution and characterization.

 

Now consider writing this scene in the third person from a narrator’s POV and with narrator’s free access to both characters’ thoughts and feelings. Keep the motivations the same. Keep the scene action and movement the same. You’ll find that the delivery of information in narrative and dialogue will change, and you’ll be producing different effects on the reader.  You may also find that clarity for the reader will be less of a problem. First-person POV has limitations of perspective, credibility, reliability, and voice. Practicing a new POV may help write the first POV more effectively. I think it would be time well spent, not as correction, but as practice.

WHC

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