clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Conversation

I want to have a photo of an installation at Art Prize in the Grand Rapids Art Prize from this fall.  The work is Self-Portrait as Bunnies from Alex Podesta. It is my vote for best work at the show.

What the static frame cannot show is that in the current the figures bob and weave slightly as if in conversation. I'd say they're slightly larger than man-sized.

It is a stunning piece of work.

The fair-use bit is this: for recent art, its reproduction by any means is an infringement of the artist's copyright. So, while I have a photograph taken during a public display at an outdoor installation, it isn't kosher to reproduce the work here despite how I might tout its qualities.

I've gotten a little smarter at this business over the past couple of years - sometimes to the detriment of my writing fund. However, I wouldn't want anyone photocopying my work for a workshop on wonky pieces for revision and so, no photo.

A link: Bunnies.

The figures appear as in conversation.

So many scenes are conversations. The characters are doing something and that something is usually not too critical to the plot. It is what the characters say which matters. (Unless there is gunplay with the conversation. Then, the action matters too).

In my drafts, a cardinal sin which I have to correct in re-write is the "entire conversation" appearing on the page.

 I'm hovering about, catching the interaction, nuances, and every .... single ... word.

Now, when you listen to people talk, they don't say every word. If communication happens, most of the conversation is in fragments and abrupt interruptions.

Dorothy Allison has a great talk on this point at a podcast over at Tin House ( see my links at the right hand side ...dig about the site and you will find the lecture).

I have to go through in the re-write and chop most of the start for some sort of summary (and there are so many mechanisms to do so - even in dialogue itself - that I can't cover them here tonight) or I drop the start of the conversation entirely and begin in the action.

Let's look.

Criminal A and B are meeting in a diner to talk about crime stuff and a disagreement.

I can start the scene - and usually do - with the arrival, seating, the initial topic, the waitress interrupting, the mild insult of A to B over sugar in B's the coffee, then the tension over who is going to pay, the time being wasted, the need for a resolution, and away we go into crime details.

None of that scene I illustrate above is going to survive the re-write. None.

I'm going to start the scene after the coffee insult and its petty disgust A with B, leap into the detail of the problem (Big Jim says that was my take in my hunting grounds which you fenced and so you owe me. He also said it was my problem and I could work out a deal with you. So, tell me how this deal works other than I roast your kid over a burning tire until you agree to give me a cut? ) .

We don't care that they're still wearing their coats, that the coffee is bad, that the waitress is small-town desperate for a ticket out, that we're dealing with $3500 of goods, or that one guy drives a 1987 F-150 and the other fellow has a '79 Chevy Vega station-wagon carrying a good two-hundred pounds of Bondo on its remaining body painted all mouse-grey?

Does the detail add? You bet.

The scene has to work on the bare bones though before I add stuff back.

If the reader (meaning me with my reader's eye in the draft) doesn't care about the conflict between these two, they're not going to care about a puddle of grease under hash browns on the plate in what turns out to be the world's worst breakfast joint.

I cannot cover up the meandering attention-thwarting conversation donut by applying sprinkles on top.

A half-done fried dough ball is a horrendous bite and knowing the whole process the baker took since getting out of bed this morning isn't going to make the thing any better in my mouth.

The conversation must work within the story in its barest form before any of the color attributes are going to help the overall story's charm.

The conversation scene - if it works - might be left with only Mr. B tracing a circle in spilled sweetener from the pink packet on the table and finding the table-top too sticky to let him finish the effort. That's it : that descriptive event and the core of the dialogue ... that's all that might survive from fifteen pages of scene in the first draft.

 The conversation.

If you can't tell the story in the communication between characters and make it interesting, do you have the reader's best interest at heart?

So much for my favorite form of communication tonight: the monologue.

I'm off to drink dietetic cocoa (which is distinctly like kissing your sister) and spill blood on the page.

Converse among yourselves.

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