Dialog in Streets and Pages

I was at a training in the city all last week. While walking to meet family for dinners and to get to classes, I encountered a lot of people.

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Without fail, the homeless people talked to me. Not asking for money or anything like that. We’d be standing on a corner waiting for the light to change, and we’d talk. ‘How’s it going?’ they’d ask. Or, ‘how’re you doing today?’ Or a simple ‘hello’. Or comments on the weather. We’d chat until the light changed and then go our separate ways.

The people dressed nicely passed by in a hurry. On their way to the local bars or shops, intent, I assume, on their next errand or next stop. Even people wearing the lanyard that identified them as attending the same training I was in didn’t speak. No eye contact, not even a simple ‘hello’.

Why? The hurry? The responsibilities on their minds? None even commented on the weather while waiting at the cross walk.

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Here at home we mainly talk about rain

Thinking about that led to all sorts of musings on society, but also made me think about dialog in writing.

Think about the last book you read. Was there any dialog that went along the lines of ‘hi, how are you?’ ‘fine, how are you?’. Or ‘nice weather we’re having’.

If there was, an editor somewhere failed. Because that kind of dialog, whether in a book or standing chatting with a homeless person, is nothing more than polite filler. It’s an acknowledgement of the person near you, a sort of polite verbal nod that doesn’t mean anything more.

As a side note, someone once told me while in line at a grocery store, that if it wasn’t for weather we’d have nothing to talk about.

In books, that filler dialog shouldn’t be present because it doesn’t move the story forward, or develop character arcs, or add anything to pacing, tension, or structure. You don’t notice its absence when reading, either, because subconsciously you know it’s filler. You’d probably find it annoying if it showed up in a book. You’d probably start thinking, ‘come on, get on with it’ because you’re invested in the story.

In real life though, we should notice when it’s absent. Why couldn’t those nicely dressed people at least have said ‘evening’ as they passed? And I’m not making an over-all generalization here, meaning one or two homeless people did not speak and one or two nicely dressed people did. Absolutely across the board, only homeless people chatted with me.

Of course those who know me personally could make a solid argument (and probably be right) that it was me attracting the types of conversation. I’m not exactly one of those high-maintenance, fancy dress types.

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I dressed a bit nicer for the training

But still, the clear-cut lines about who chatted with me and who didn’t, surprised me. It was nice to return home to mountains and snow, and locals who will stand in the street in all types of weather, and talk about everything and anything.

Including the weather.

Simply A Quote

Jessica Page Morrell is the author of one of my favorite books on writing, Between the Lines. I love this quote from the book, as both a reader and a writer.

‘…a compelling narrative often lies between the lines, in the quiet moments and the subtlest techniques, where fiction lifts off the page and settles into the veins of the reader.’

Haven’t we all been lifted off the page and settled deeply into the dream world of a fantastic story?

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An Old Fart And A Cat

The tiny town I lived near for many years was inhabited by a lot of unique characters. A few still live there, but the town has lost a lot of its character with the loss of those characters.

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View from the bridge named after another old fart

Some of them were old farts. My father included. But here’s a story about Old Fart #1.

He lived in an alley, in a small house with a large quantity of cats. There were assorted outbuildings also full of cats. Many were feral but those allowed in the kitchen were favorites.

He had a lot of favorites.

A local woman had taken on the job of helping Old Fart #1 get his house clean and to help him get health care. Both were in bad shape and she was (and is) a brave, compassionate, and caring woman.

The first time I met O. F. #1 was the morning after a night I’d spent hunting for a woman screaming. He told me it was a cougar. He was right. Then there was the time he was sitting on the bench outside the general store when my future husband and I walked by. At that time we were fellow firefighters going to the store for drinks, with no romance on the horizon. O.F. #1 said, loudly, ‘Looks like you roped yourself a fine heifer there!’.

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View from the General Store bench

This was back in the days when I was still cutting people’s hair. The compassionate woman asked me if I could cut O.F. #1’s for him. I agreed.

The kitchen was a smelly disaster. Dirty dishes, food debris, stinky cans of half empty cat food stacked everywhere. The distinct smell of cat pee and over-used cat litter. As I pulled out my scissors, he pointed out a dainty little gray and white female cat just out of kitten stage. She was lying on the floor and  in obvious distress. The conversation went somewhat like this. Somewhat because I remember my exact words but not his. Horror does that to memory.

“See that cat? I stepped on her. Broke her back leg.”

“Are you going to take her to the vet?”

“No, vets don’t know anything. I want  you to fix it.”

“Me? How?”

“Just take your little scissors there and cut her leg off.”

“WHAT? I’m not cutting her leg off!!!”

“It’s easy. Right there above the joint.”

“I’m not cutting a cat’s back leg off!!!”

At that point I didn’t even want to cut his hair off.

If I remember correctly, the compassionate woman I mentioned got the cat to the vet. And got the kitchen clean.

Eventually O.F. #1 got his hair cut. The cat survived. So did the old fart, who upheld his status in town for a few more years.

I feed feral cats in his memory.

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Kind of empty with the old ones gone. And their bench.