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garza
May 25th, 2012, 03:03 PM
The world began to spin. Round it went, faster and faster. The old man clutched the floor, trying to dig his fingers into the wood. He lost his grip and fell.

'It's the end of the world', said Joe.

'No', said Emily. 'He loved us. You'll see.'

'Let's get this over with', said Harry. He looked at his watch. 'I'm late for lunch.'

Lawyer Bracken cleared his throat and pulled several sheets of paper from a manila envelope.

'If everyone is here...' he began.

'Skip the legal stuff', said Harry. 'Tell us what we get.'

'Donald and Jennifer aren't here', said Emily. 'It's only polite to wait for them.'

'No need', said Joe. 'My brother had no use for Donald, grandson or not.'

'Same here', said Harry, 'Donald's my son and I'm not leaving him a penny when I go. Useless bookworm. He passed up his chance to make something of himself. He's never worked a day in his life. Worst of all he married that, well, you know.'

'That what, Harry?' said Emily. 'Say what you wanna say.'

'You know what I mean.' Harry turned and looked at Emily and Joe. 'You two shouldn't expect much either.'

'He's always helped us', said Joe.

'Yeah, he always helped you', said Harry. 'You've never been able to make it on your own. You think one last pocketful of money will make a difference?'

'Let's not fight', said Emily. 'There's enough to go around, I'm sure.'

The door opened and Donald walked in, followed by his wife Jennifer. Donald looked around the room.

'Hello Uncle Joe, Aunt Emily. Hi dad. Sorry about granddad.'

'Sorry for what?' said Harry. 'You never did anything to please the old man and never wanted anything from him, so what difference is it to you he's dead?'

'If everyone is here', said Bracken, 'we'll begin'.

'About time', said Harry.

'To my grandson Donald Vernon Henderson, who has never made any effort to live his life in a way that would please me, and who has gone his own way and lived his own life despite my disapproval, I bequeath the five acres that remain of the old Henderson farm near the community of Seven Mile.'

Bracken stopped reading and looked up. 'There follows a lengthy legal description of the property.'

'Skip it', said Harry. 'We all grew up on that piece of worn-out dirt. Perfect for you, Donald.'

'Then I'll proceed', said Bracken. 'To my brother Joseph Franklin Henderson I bequeath my dwelling in Fairweather Town, together with all its furnishings, and the sum of one thousand dollars.'

'Wow, Uncle Joe', said Harry. 'You get the old man's old house and all his old junk. That might be worth something. After he struck it rich he fixed the place up proper.'

'I'll continue', said Bracken'. 'To my son Harold Percival Henderson…'

'Oh, little Percy', said Joe.

'Hush', said Emily.

'…I bequeath the sum of one dollar and my best wishes for his continued success.'

'What?' said Harry. 'What about the rest of the money?'

'We are coming to that', said Bracken. 'The residue of my estate shall be placed in trust to be used for the establishment and maintenance of a technical-vocational high school to be located on the afore-mentioned property near the Community of Seven Mile for the purpose of training students from rural areas of McRae County. Trustees are to be the McRae County Bank and Donald Vernon Henderson.'

'What's the trust worth?' said Joe.

'About eight million dollars', said Bracken.

'Well, that's a revelation', said Joe.

Harry stood, red faced. 'He can't do that. I'm his son. I'll sue him.'

'You can't sue him', said Joe. 'He's dead.'

'Emily began to cry. 'You were right, Joe. It's the end of the world.'

'Jennifer leaned close to Donald and whispered, 'Your Uncle Joe is also right that it's a revelation, and what a lovely apocalypse'.

stuffaboutstuff
May 27th, 2012, 02:00 AM
Hmm... I like it. It's pretty short, so it doesn't reveal a lot of plot, but it captures and holds interest. I like your use of dialogue: it flows well and distinguishes well between the characters. You did an especially good job using it to reveal Harry's personality and relationship with the rest of the family.
One suggestion I do have is that you refrain from using "said" so much. Different words can add flavour to the story and reveal the tone in which the character is speaking. For example, at the beginning, you could replace "said" with "interrupted" when Harry cuts off the lawyer. This way it's more abrupt and revealing of the way the conversation is unfolding. I suggest using other words such as "exclaimed," "drawled," "mocked," etc, which are more specific and contribute to the mood of the story. They also take away the repetitiveness of one word, which can be detrimental to the flow of the story.

garza
May 27th, 2012, 02:35 PM
stuffaboutstuff - Thank you very much for your comment. The story is short because it's one of three stories I wrote using the LM Challenge theme. There is a 650 word limit. This is the best of the three and is the one I would have entered. I didn't want it to go entirely to waste so when I decided not to enter this round I put it here. My decision not to enter is justified by the lack of response. I'm no good at high drama, and that's what the apocalypse theme demanded.

My challenge to myself is to see how much of a story can be told using dialogue. You'll notice there is not one word of description and very little narrative.

'Said' is the only speech indicator I ever use. If the words themselves, in context, do not convey the speaker's emotions and attitudes, then propping them up with adverbs won't help. I hate reading dialogue filled with such props. And when the speaker is obvious there is no need for any indicator. Donald's words on entering the room obviously come from Donald.

Again, thank you very much for commenting on the story. Your saying that it held your interest is especially satisfying.

N3aR
May 27th, 2012, 03:53 PM
Hmm...
My main problem here is the lack of atmosphere, mood and tone. The dialogue is good, but we know nothing of the characters except their names. We don't know what they look like. We have no idea who they are as people by the end of it. Speech indicators like he said/she said are very frequently used in this scene to tell us who's talking, which may not be a bad thing since your talking to so many people, but try to break it up if possible. Try breaking up the Dialogue from simple he said/she said with narrative beats. Throw in actions by the characters who are speaking to make it flow better. Plus, adding narrative beats does double duty-it enhances the Dialogue flow and realism, plus it gives insight as to the mood of certain characters.

Second, is the lack of atmosphere. Now I personally struggle with this very much, so I know what It's like to try mugging that atmosphere in there. Nevertheless, there is no atmosphere here. Where are they? What does the "room" look like? What does anything look like? We don't know what anything looks like! You gotta tell us where they are and what where they are looks like, otherwise, all we are doing is reading dialogue.

Third is the lack of anything other than dialogue, people are talking yes, but we have nothing to go on but that. Where is everything else that accompanies speech? Use more action as an indicator. Try to lessen the amount of dialogue and replace it with more narrative. Seriously. More narrative and stronger actions will lessen the strain and weight your dialogue has to pull, and make it less of a he said/she said into a story.
Also, who is the PoV character? I understand that you may be going for omniscient 3rd person, but still, giving us a central character to focus on even a little bit is sure to Improve your work.

Hope I helped.

*unless this is the way you wanted the story to appear..

Fin
May 27th, 2012, 05:38 PM
Hmmm...What can I say?

I'm opposite of the people who've commented so far. The word 'said' is all you need. Your context told me all I needed to know. I feel as if their emotions came through wonderfully. Admittedly, the word 'said' did seem a little bit repetitive, but that's probably because I'm not used to writers doing, 'said Harry,' rather than, 'Harry said.' I did get used to it though and I didn't notice it at all halfway through.

As for the lack of description, I honestly really liked that about it. It allowed me to create the entire scene in my head, one that seems fitting. You did it all in a way that it didn't need to be explained, in my opinion.

The last sentence of the first paragraph could be changed. "He lost his grip and fell," kind of took me out of the mood before it began. It seemed a little bland. But maybe it's a personal preference. Judging by the rest of the story, and some of your previous writings, I think you could have found a better way to say that he fell rather than outright saying, "He fell."

I enjoyed the whole, 'only dialogue' thing. It's clearly your specialty. Or at least that's how it appears to me. You do a brilliant job of it. The story captured me, and even though it was a short piece, it was suspenseful. Interesting twist on the apacolypse theme. It's not the end of the entire world, just the end of that person's world. I enjoyed it.

All in all, I only have one real complaint. Maybe you overlooked it, or maybe it was intentional. Either way, it's the only real thing I have a problem with.


'The residue of my estate shall be placed in trust to be used for the establishment and maintenance of a technical-vocational high school to be located on the afore-mentioned property near the Community of Seven Mile for the purpose of training students from rural areas of McRae County.

That just didn't sit right for me. Run-on sentence. It took me away from the story and I had to re-read that part just to understand what the character was trying to say. It hurt to read, because everything flowed so nicely until that point.

Oh, and another thing that just caught my eye that may not have been intentional. The speech mark before the start of the very last line.


'Jennifer leaned close to Donald and whispered, 'Your Uncle Joe is also right that it's a revelation, and what a lovely apocalypse'.

Overall, I enjoyed it. Thanks for putting it up.

garza
May 27th, 2012, 08:30 PM
N3aR - Thanks for the comments. The limit was 650 words, which does not allow for much description or narration. My stories are always built around dialogue with only a minimum of anything else. Adding a couple of hundred words would allow a description of the lawyer's office and something about the appearance of the people, but would that tell us anything more that we need to know about any of the characters? If this were a scene from a full-length short story or a novel we would already have been introduced to all the characters. Working within the 650 word limit means getting to the action fast and using dialogue cues to show the personalities of the characters. As I said above, it's a challenge I hand myself. Show the characters through their speech.

Thank you for taking the time to read the story and comment. It's much appreciated and gives me more to think about.

Fin - Thanks much for your comments. You see the story and characters, and that gives me the idea I succeeded in doing what I intended doing with those 650 words.

The first paragraph is adapted from my own sensations as I was having a major stroke about ten years ago. The world was spinning and I believed that if I lost my grip and fell - I was lying on the floor - I would die. I managed to hold on. The old man in the story didn't. I'll take a look and see how I can improve that.

Stories with little beside dialogue are the kinds of stories I like to write. A bit of description and a bit more narration would help, but there wasn't room to have that and to have all the characters say all I wanted them to say.

I sometimes use a run-on sentence for effect, but in this case it was a matter of imitating life closer than need be. The part of the will describing the disposal of the residue would be better broken up into two or three sentences.

And the stray inverted commas (quotation marks) are, themselves, a residue. Since the stroke my co-ordination is not the best, leading to a lot of typos that have to be corrected. I missed those.

Thanks again for your comments.

Jim Alias
May 28th, 2012, 07:17 AM
I am very impressed by how well you created such a nuanced situation just using dialogue; if anything, I'm a tad envious. Just by the implicit tone of their word choice, I know nearly every detail I could otherwise be told through narration. This would work almost as well as a script, if not better.

However, I still feel that narration would help. I know that you said that there isn't really room, but at this length, there probably is. Despite what I know about the characters and the situation, they're essentially standing in the void of the reader's imagination. Again, this feels like a functional guideline for a screenplay, but even then, you need have stage directions (if you'll pardon me needlessly stringing along a semi-appropriate metaphor for your work that you've consented to neither implicitly or explicitly).

Your great dialogue combined with some narrative length and additional details would make for a very compelling story. Good job.

garza
May 28th, 2012, 04:15 PM
Thanks very much, Jim. I agree that some narrative and a bit of scene setting would be good, and in fact the story started with just that. But to put into the mouths of the characters all the words they wanted to say meant cutting everything else. If I were to put this on the stage I'd have an old fashioned lawyer's office with the characters sitting in an assortment of odd chairs.

When I'm writing something like this I can hear the character talking. All I do is write down what they say. They often surprise me.

Again, thank you for you comments. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read something I've written and then goes to the trouble of commenting. I should learn from that and comment more often on the works of others, but frankly I don't often feel competent to offer any criticism of what someone else has written. I only started trying to make a real effort to write fiction when I joined this forum after a lifetime of writing non-fiction.

Mr mitchell
June 12th, 2012, 03:01 PM
Firstly, I thought you had set the scene well and the characters seemed to be real. It was mostly dialogue and that's fine, but I wanted to know about the scenery and the backdrop. I didn't felt that there was not much of a plot.

The story started slowly and need a bit more pace at the start. But the good thing was that there was a nice hook and through the whole story, you kept my whole interest till the end. After the slowness at the start, it started flowing much easily and I've cared for your main character.

However, I wanted something to set a mood and bit better and draw us(the reader) in, but I felt it took me a little while to get into the story, and when I did - it worked and it was nice idea.

Mr M

garza
June 18th, 2012, 03:01 AM
Mr mitchell - Working inside a 650 word limit leaves little room for description and narration. The opening, of course, is the old man dying. As mentioned earlier, these were the sensations I had when I had my stroke. The rest of the story is the reading of the will, with the twist at the end. My goal was to show the personalities of the characters using only their words.

There was little interest on my part over the years in writing fiction. Various kinds of non-fiction kept me and my agent well fed for many years. But he's dead and I'm supposed to be retired (ha) so over the past six years or so I've started studying the techniques of fiction. I've discovered that the easiest way to tell a story is through dialogue, because the easiest way to learn about a person is to listen to them talk.

One of my favourite examples of good story telling - I may have mentioned this earlier - is Hemingway's 'A Clean, Well-lighted Place'. There are few words of description or narration. We hear the story as it is told by the characters. That's the kind of story I want to write.

SR Steed
June 28th, 2012, 09:00 PM
For 650 words, that's an impressively rich and complex scene, but therein lies the problem. Because there was so little narration your dialogue had to bear the weight of the exposition, and so it felt like the characters were talking to us as much as each other. I know when you're writing such a short piece with plot and characterization to get through this is inevitable, but the cost of that limit is that it can all seem a bit too artificial. That's not always bad, but here it didn't really work for me.

By the way, have you read 'The Sunset Limited' by Cormac McCarthy, which is almost all dialogue. If not I recommend it.

jpa321
June 29th, 2012, 09:48 PM
I think your dialogue flows very naturally and sounds like speech. Your use of prose is also very natural. I think perhaps the story is a bit too condensed -- so much happens so soon and is (because of the length of the story) revealed so quickly. I would try to make the story a bit longer and go into a bit more depth on the background of the characters -- show them in action -- so that when the revelation comes it hits the reader a bit harder. I hope this helps!

Sam
June 30th, 2012, 10:58 AM
For 650 words you've managed to condense a scene suitable for at least three to four pages of a novel. I commend you for that. Short stories and micro-fiction are two styles which I've never been able to master. I couldn't write a piece consisting entirely of dialogue. For one, I'm a lover of prose. Long sections of dialogue within my novels are either met with a red pen or scepticism. For another, it looks very unaesthetic (in my opinion).

Having said all that, this held my attention from start to finish. I think you did a wonderful job of showing your characters' personalities using only dialogue. Knowing how difficult that is, I have to commend you on it as well. If possible, maybe just have one allusion to their exorbitant clothes, jewellery, etcetera. That would be all I would need to get an image of these people in my head. For Donald, the bookworm, you might even make a short comment about him not caring for gaudy shows of affluence, and dressing in ordinary clothing. I'm not sure if you could work that into your 650-word limit, but I've learned that clothes and jewellery tend to define a person.

I have a few nitpicks: 'Hello Uncle Joe, Aunt Emily. Hi dad. Sorry about granddad.' This should be: 'Hello, Uncle Joe, Aunt Emily. Hi, Dad. Sorry about granddad." The reason you capitalise 'Dad' and not 'granddad' is because one is a title and the other isn't; similar to how you would capitalise someone saying, "Yes, Colonel." But 'granddad' could refer to any grandfather, even though we know it refers to Donald's. If he were to say, "Sorry about Granddad Jones," that would be a title.

Commas go before a person's name to avoid confusion. Take a look at this sentence: "He said that Joe." He said that Joe what? Was a bad uncle? A cool father? By placing a comma there, you avoid any and all misconceptions: "He said that, Joe."

Harry stood, red faced.

This should be: Harry stood, red-faced. If not, it reads as though you have another character called 'Red' who faced . . . something . . . at the same time as Harry stood. It's another of those pesky compound adjectives.

All in all, a very intriguing piece. I have to give you credit for condensing the scene into 650 words and managing to have your characters' personalities come through in the dialogue. Good job.

garza
July 1st, 2012, 04:10 AM
SR Steed - The 650 word limit was not my choice. That's the limit for the LM Challenge. The first draft was much longer and did contain some narrative and description.

jpa 321 - The first draft was much longer, but it had to be cut to fit the 650 word limit.

Sam - I've gone back through the story three times and can't find 'He said that, Joe' anywhere. Please explain.

Sam
July 1st, 2012, 09:42 AM
Sorry, my mistake. That was just an example off the top of my head, Garza, used to explain the reason why a comma is needed before someone's name is spoken in dialogue.

garza
July 1st, 2012, 03:36 PM
Well, I do understand about the use of commas, but I'm blaimed if I can see where in the story such a use is omitted. Near the end of the story is the line: 'Emily began to cry. 'You were right, Joe. It's the end of the world.' Near the beginning is another line by Emily: 'That what, Harry?' said Emily. Those are the only places I can find where such a comma is needed, and it's there both times. If there is such a comma usage that is omitted I would have to count it as a typo.

Sam
July 1st, 2012, 05:35 PM
'Hello Uncle Joe, Aunt Emily. Hi dad. Sorry about granddad.'

This is the line to which I was referring, Garza. You need a comma after 'hello' and after 'hi'. Sorry for the confusion.

garza
July 1st, 2012, 07:34 PM
Sam - I've never thought of pausing between 'hello' and the name of the first person addressed. Such a pause would, in my mind, sound awkward, as though I've forgotten someone's name. In the two lines I quoted above the pause is natural and the comma is needed to ensure there is no confusion.

If the 'hello' is meant as a general greeting to the room, then a full stop with a qualifier would be more appropriate than a comma. Thus Donald could say 'Hello everyone. Uncle Joe. Aunt Emily. Dad.'

I'm about to upload an exercise I did this morning. It's 400 words of almost all dialogue based on an incident that happened in the sixties. Let me know what you think.

SevenWritez
July 1st, 2012, 08:31 PM
Sam - I've never thought of pausing between 'hello' and the name of the first person addressed. Such a pause would, in my mind, sound awkward, as though I've forgotten someone's name. In the two lines I quoted above the pause is natural and the comma is needed to ensure there is no confusion.

If the 'hello' is meant as a general greeting to the room, then a full stop with a qualifier would be more appropriate than a comma. Thus Donald could say 'Hello everyone. Uncle Joe. Aunt Emily. Dad.'

I'm about to upload an exercise I did this morning. It's 400 words of almost all dialogue based on an incident that happened in the sixties. Let me know what you think.

Unless your writing makes conscious note of an eschewing of proper grammar, or unless you are a stylist in your prose (neither of which seems to be the case in this piece), then it's best that you adhere to the rudimentary rules of grammar, of which Sam was correct in pointing out within the sentence.

As for your dialogue piece, I just finished reading it, and it was very enjoyable. THAT is stylistic, and could be forgiven for unorthodox structure.

garza
July 2nd, 2012, 12:06 AM
SevenWritez - The difference between 'hello Uncle Joe' and 'hello, Uncle Joe' in the context is that one is natural run-on speech typical of southern U.S. speech patterns and the other has a stilted sound. Try it yourself aloud and you will hear the difference. In writing dialogue I always try to follow the patterns of natural speech.

In his Preface to the Third Edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, Editor R.W. Burchfield says, 'The pages that follow attempt, with the aid of quotational evidence drawn from identified sources, to guide readers to make sensible choices in linguistically controversial areas of words, meanings, grammatical constructions, and pronunciations'. Fowler himself, in the First Edition, made the same point that there are often choices that have to be made. This is especially true in writing dialogue. Do I force my room full of McRae County farmers and failures to speak with grammatical precision, or do I allow them some leeway? Indeed, there are instances when considerable grammatical forgiveness is required. Read Tom Sawyer.

Thank you for commenting on 'The Writer'. That is an almost verbatim account of a conversation I had many years ago in a hotel room in New York. It's 'almost verbatim' because after all these years I can't be sure that I have every word correct. That is why it's filed under fiction. As a matter of interest I did go to the party under discussion and did meet some of the Beautiful People. Sadly, however, I never sat at table in '21' in close converse with Bennett Cerf, though I did meet him once. He died a couple of years after this conversation took place.

The term 'stylistic' sounds like some sort of art term and art is somethng of which I know nothing. Throughout my life I have steadfastly followed my grandfather's dictum never to try to create art of any sort or make any pretensions toward being an 'artist'. The structure of 'The Writer' is intended to be straightforward with nothing unorthodox about it. Paying close attention to the way people talk is an old habit, and within bounds natural speech is my intention in writing dialogue.

I'm happy that you enjoyed 'The Writer'. Were you able to clearly distinguish the personalities of the two characters, hear the differences in their speech rhythms, and were you able to keep track of who was speaking? I don't like to use speech tags except when absolutely essential, and in this piece the intention was to keep everything sorted out in the reader's mind without such tags.

I've spent the last 60 of my 72 years as a writer of non-fiction, having wasted my first 12 years playing baseball and going fishing. It's only in the past six years that I've started trying to add fiction to my repertory, so consideration must be given to what people like Sam say, though in the end I must chop my way through the undergrowth and create my own path. I believe Henry Fowler would approve.

Sam
July 2nd, 2012, 12:36 AM
Sam - I've never thought of pausing between 'hello' and the name of the first person addressed. Such a pause would, in my mind, sound awkward, as though I've forgotten someone's name. In the two lines I quoted above the pause is natural and the comma is needed to ensure there is no confusion.

If the 'hello' is meant as a general greeting to the room, then a full stop with a qualifier would be more appropriate than a comma. Thus Donald could say 'Hello everyone. Uncle Joe. Aunt Emily. Dad.'

I'm about to upload an exercise I did this morning. It's 400 words of almost all dialogue based on an incident that happened in the sixties. Let me know what you think.

In the strictest sense, you don't pause while saying someone's name after the word 'hello'. However, the reason a comma is necessary is due to the example (albeit a made-up one) I gave you a couple of posts back. To remove all doubt from a reader's mind, authors use a comma before a person's name is spoken in dialogue. There are notable exceptions. I've seen the comma omitted in such words as 'and' and 'but'. For example: "And Mike? Don't mess this up." Or: "But Mom!"

That being said, I have never seen it omitted when the preceding word has been either 'hello' or 'hi'.

I'll be happy to take a look at your new piece.

garza
July 2nd, 2012, 03:40 AM
Sam - Quite honestly I've never seen such a rule. This may be the practice of many writers, but Fowler makes no mention of it in his lengthy treatment of the comma. I don't see how 'Hello Joe' can cause confusion.

GoatBrain
July 4th, 2012, 03:33 PM
First time I've ever seen anything like this. Got to admit, it's pretty impressive. There's one thing that nags be though..


'Wow, Uncle Joe', said Harry. 'You get the old man's old house and all his old junk. That might be worth something. After he struck it rich he fixed the place up proper.'

Upon first reading I thought this was a kid for some reason. Then I thought he was being sarcastic. Then I went to a combination of both. I really just am not sure how to take this sentence.

garza
July 6th, 2012, 03:53 AM
Pure sarcasm. Harry is the son of the deceased and expecting to inherit the bulk of the estate. The old house and the rural property mean nothing to him. He knows there are millions involved, and that's what he's waiting for.

Everyone in the scene is an adult, though I suppose you can see Harry as behaving like a child more than once.

Thanks for your comments.

Extinct_Stimulus
July 9th, 2012, 12:26 AM
Regarding the comma discussion above (feel free to disregard this, especially seeing how your profile is so decorated and mine is, at the moment, not), while I do like your stylistic appeal to dialogue, removing the comma from any sort of salutation just looks... sloppy. It sticks out in the brains of the grammar-conscious.

That being said, I thought the story was interesting and well-characterized, especially considering that it's under 650 words. However, I did find the ending a bit forced. I don't know why. Maybe it has to do with the ending being the title, which always sticks out as cheesy to me.

garza
July 9th, 2012, 06:05 PM
Extinct_Stimulus - The comma question has me puzzled. This has never come up for me before in 60 years of writing, and I'm still trying to find the rule somewhere. I've been through Fowler twice. I'll go back through Hart again. Perhaps you can provide a reference for me. I've always tried to stick close to Fowler and Hart.

The ending is forced - you are correct about that. Remember that this was written for the LM Challenge and I couldn't figure a graceful way of getting the phrase into the dialogue.