Rewriting Dialogue in a short story

I am tantalisingly close to finishing a short story. After going a year without finishing one, it feels good to start getting some completion. 

So the story is about a woman being chased by a mob of men. She flees down a haunted path to escape, but then becomes ensnared by the evil spirit residing there.

I’m happy with the structure of the story, and the general flow. Some of the description needs tidying up, but this is minor polishing now. 

The big thing is the dialogue. The interplay between the two main characters (indeed the only two characters) is a crucial part. It opens up the protagonist (and thus the reader) to the realisation of her situation. 

Unfortunately the dialogue thus far is a little stilted, as I still need to adapt the story to meet the antagonist’s point of view. I’m definitely proceeding from the perspective that the antagonist’s actions fuel the protagonist’s actions. The difficulty is representing that in dialogue.

I’m going to focus on developing the antagonist’s motivations a lot more, so that this will enhance the dialogue and so propel the story. There are three sections of dialogue, so I need to work on tying those together. Separate moments of the same narrative.

I’m confident it will all be done by the weekend, along with some final polishing. Then it’s time to submit it, somewhere, and move onto the next project.

The Big Read: Reading through my novel first draft

I had a moment of empathy for despairing USA citizens and, bizarrely, Cory Bernadi, asking myself “How did this happen?”

While US voters get to wonder about their political naïveté leading to the election of the orange demagogue, and Cory asks himself “how did I misjudge President Trumble so badly?”, I read my novel and ask “How did I write this?”

As the first part of the rewrite, I am reading through my novel. I’m making no corrections or changes at this point, as I’m only making broad notes about themes and issues cropping up. I spend about half an hour reading, then make some notes, and then another half hour and so on. As I read I get to see all the little errors I made, the confusing sections where attribution is severely lacking in dialogue, and sections where I clearly lost my temper and gave up (one line said [what happens here? Fuck.]).

So far I’ve got through about a fifth of the novel, and I’m barely past the inciting incident. It makes me wonder how much I may have underwritten the later sections, but I’m getting ahead of myself. You can’t judge a piece of art by only seeing a section of it, so I just need to be patient. Perhaps the story will organise itself.

I see some strengths. I like the flow of the story so far. There’s action and crisis. I could probably do with more conflict amongst the main characters, but there’s enough. I hope by the end the spirit of the story is holding up. There’s still a long journey ahead.

Rewriting the rewrite

Yesterday I was trying to decide which short story to work on at writer’s club. My choice was made, due partly because the story was already drafted, but also on account of not having other stories uploaded to my cloud…ok, I’ll admit it, the second reason was the real reason for my choice.

So my selected story was the Darken Path, a fantasy horror about a woman who flees into a haunted wood.

The story had already been rewritten a few times, but required some work on the dialogue, passive voice and some repetition. 

The dialogue was quite stilted. I’d originally opted to go for a more formal approach, but this had the impact of making the story seem like a costume drama (to quote some feedback). There were a lot of contractions to put in. There was also good opportunity to clean up pov and give some more description about the main character’s thinking.

I was able to scythe large sections of text that went on about the same thing, giving room for me to work on some sections that are underwritten.

I still have my seemingly endless battle with words like ‘suddenly’, ‘very’ and ‘seemed’. No matter how much I chip away, there always seem to be more.

So I think I’m at a point where I can wrap this one up pretty soon. I’d like to start submitting stories this year and force the pace on some unfinished pieces. With luck it’ll be the start of my publishing journey.

The Rewrite – understandability 

After a brief malaise I have finally got back into the swing of writing. Having set out some targets for the rest of the year, I can now resume in earnest.

My first focus is on a short story. The first draft is done. I have feedback from other writers. Time for the rewrite.

I’ve split the rewrite into two broad sections. The first is more analysing my work. Feedback can support that analysis, but the change has to come from within (excuse the cliche). That is, I have to take ownership for the changes I make. 

The second part is actually crafting the second draft. Having identified the shortcomings or changes needed I focus on actually making those changes. 

I found a reasonable guide about breaking down rewrites into 6 distinct parts: understandability, structure, characters, dialogue, style and polish.
So my first stage is understandability. This I reckon should be at both the macro and micro level. Is the story coherent? Even if you read a draft would you get the premise? Then, are individual passages understandable? Does it make sense it’s writing?

First then, the story. It’s about a woman; she’s running. She’s being chased. She chooses to flee down a haunted path to escape. She falls into a river and is carried away deep into the forest. She meets a mysterious stranger. They wander for a while. She grows suspicious. Her pursuers return. The forest attacks them and the stranger. She is trapped by the forest.

I would say my story has some coherency. It’s deeper meaning comes later.

I then have the job of nit picking every sentence and word. I actually do that as part of my work, albeit in a very different context. I tend to be harsh (but fair, I like to think). I have to exercise the same strictness on my self – quite masochistic. The problem is it is a little subjective. This why you need feedback.

One thing that was highlighted was that I use the passive voice too often (no doubt a product from my more clinical day job). I provide insight by telling rather than showing. There are phrases like ‘She felt…’ Or ‘She was…’. There’s also repetition and duplication – ‘She felt hot. The Sun was bearing down on her…’ (You get the idea).

I also found some strange passages that really don’t mean anything. One particular one is ‘A beauty of haste.’ With some feedback there was the comment ‘poetic, but what does it mean?’

In truth, some of those passages are very much lacking in meaning. I recall the ‘beauty of haste’ one from the very first rough draft. I think I meant to write how she looked beautiful in her haste, but the line stuck. It’s lines like that I need to be most wary of, because they might seem to mean something without meaning anything (at least to the objective reader).

So understandability needs some working on, reshaping each line to be ‘on message’ for the reader. I don’t really want them to stop dead in a stir and left scratching their head about a confusing passage.