How to use dashes properly. Not.
This is not that sort of NaNoWriMo post, and not the sort you need to read right now. While style is important to clarity and dashes are something you use–or don’t use–it doesn’t need sorting out today. Save the dash-or-not-to-dash proclamations for next month. Before you can write clearly, first you must write.
And that is why we do the NaNoWriMo dash.
Thought for Day Four:
“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” ~Anne Lamott
Imagine your scene. Step into it as if a moment has frozen in time. What is your character holding in her hand? What is on the table and why? Pay attention to your principles not just to the the plot. Let them speak. They may have things to say to you. It may be your story talking to you. Be an active listener. Don’t just try to tell the story everything you know. Let it speak, too.
How important is your punctuation to you as you draft? I’ll confess that I go back and tidy up any obvious flaws like an omitted word or missed quotation mark.
Day Four: 1,738 words
Excerpt from Rock Creek
Just as everyone was slowing down, except for Cling who was dipping his fingers into the smears of gravy left on his plate, a loud rap came at the door. Cob stood so quickly, his chair scooted sharply. Mary dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin and sat straight as Cob answered the door. It was her father, Joseph, and two of her seven brothers.
“Evening Joe, Hiram, DJ. Come in, we’re just finishing supper.”
Mary stood up. “Hello Father, would you like some…” She looked at the table, realizing nothing remained. Three wee boys. What was she to do when they were older?
“Daughter, I don’t see a crumb left for a field mouse.” Joseph stood rigid and Mary resisted the urge to hug him.
“So I see. I do have more applesauce.”
“We’re fine. DJ’s Cathy made a meal.”
“My wife is going to have to teach you to cook larger quantities, Sister.”
Mary frowned at DJ. “She only has two more than me. I’m sure I’ll adjust.”
Cob was buttoning up his coat. “I’ll saddle up my horse and then we’ll ride out.” Mary knew the men were headed over to Sugar Cove to meet in regards to some French merchant who had come into the area selling folks job lots. It was nothing more than mass quantities of cheap items but he was refusing cash or barter, welcoming credit. Turns out he was having folks sign over property to gain this credit. Mary also suspected that the men would use this gathering to debate the state of the union and its territories.
DJ picked up the newspaper and mumbled something about the traitor governor. Before Mary could send him a warning glare to mark his words in front of young ears, Monroe asked, “What’s in the paper Uncle DJ?”
“Well, says here that coal can’t be used for steam locomotives.”
Mary nodded her approval.
“Like for the railroad? I’ve not yet seen a train.”
Joseph said, “They’re running a line to Johnson’s Tank over the mountain in Tennessee. You’ll be able to take a steam engine all the way to a steamboat.”
Hiram shook his head. “Give me fine Kentucky horseflesh any day.”
DJ scowled. “You mean fine Tennessee horseflesh, Brother.”
“Boys,” Mary warned. The Green men had grown even more incorrigible since their mother died in 1850. Her father was the worst, yet he seemed quiet tonight. It meant he had something to say.
Joseph cleared his throat. “Monroe. You take them young fellars to the back porch and wash up their faces and hands.
Monroe looked to his mother. Mary nodded. Once the boys went to the back of the house Mary asked, “What is it, Father?”
“Reckon you should know he’s taken up with that Shull slattern again.”
Mary felt the flush rise from her neck to her face.
“Want us to see that he has an accident, Sister?” Hiram looked eager to start.
“How dare you. I will hunt you down if my husband so much as scrapes his knee.”
“Now, Mary, Hiram is just telling you, the family supports you.”
“The family? Amos and Isaac are already talking about leaving for Tennessee because they can’t stand the divisions in this family.” Mary knew it was unfair to bring up her twin brothers’ plans but in truth, she feared that if the sensible Greens started leaving she’d be left with the rabid ones.
“Don’t you care he’s dragging our family through the hog muck?” DJ scowled at her as if Mary was the one he accused.
“Not that it is any of your business, but I know that my husband takes food and firewood to Sarah’s cabin. He sinned, he confessed and now he is repenting. Both his father and I agreed that he needs to care for the welfare of the woman and child shunned by their sin.”
Joseph scoffed, but before his words followed, Cob’s boots clunked up the front porch steps. He walked into the house and Mary knew he sensed the tension. “Best be going,” he said. He merely nodded to her as he followed her father and brothers out the door.
From behind the window curtain, Mary watched the men meld into the early evening shadows. She saw Cob pull a punch on each brother, DJ tumbling to the dirt. She sighed, relieved that they wouldn’t get the jump on Cob, yet frustrated that Cob wouldn’t punch the real instigator. Joseph worked his family into fighting every chance he got. Her mother would have never let him be that way, but then again, his misery was due to her being gone to the grave. She wished all her brothers would be more sensible like Amos and Isaac, but it wasn’t sense they fought for. It was money and power. In these parts, folks had too little of either.
It was hours past dark before Mary heard Cob ride in. She could tell he was alone. The kitchen was clean beyond normal tasks. She could tell Cob noticed when he walked into the house.
“Shall I polish my boots before I dare set them on this pristine floor?”
“No, I was just passing time after getting the boys to bed.”
“There’s a couple of gifts lingering nearby that would enjoy passing the time with my wife so fair of face and clean of dust.”
Mary understood that he meant the rocking chair he had made her for Christmas and the porcelain teapot from Julia. It was her mother’s teapot from the Alexander family. Selina Alexander McCanles herself had offered the gift to Julia to share with Mary. It was a symbol of unity from the McCanles women. Yet, Mary hadn’t dared to use it yet. “I suppose I could rock if my husband were to join me.”
Cob carried a kitchen chair to set it next to Mary in her rocker. Because the chair was made for her diminutive size and the kitchen chairs were big enough to hold McCanles men, she felt like a doll sitting next to Cob. She was glad she didn’t have tea. She had more important things to discuss.
“Cob, I have a Christmas gift for you.”
“It’s rather late with spring coming on.”
“After you swore your fidelity to me and agreed to take care of the sufferings of, well, of others…I let you back into my bed.”
Cob was grinning like a rogue. “Is this bedroom talk, fair Lady?”
Mary gave him her best Green scowl. “This is what happens after the bedroom. I’m with child.”
Interesting, Charli. I’m reasonably okay with punctuation, not much needs altering there in subsequent drafts, but I certainly don’t get all my details in the first time round. It’s usually just a couple of things about the scene to ground me, but I need to go back and picture it more clearly to build in that reality of setting for the reader. Presumably then I’m not a very visual writer.
I don’t worry about punctuation during drafting because that’s an editing skill. Like you, I think my punctuation is acceptable, but I saw articles yesterday targeted to NaNoWriMo and they were about punctuation! I don’t find such articles helpful when the object is to get words on paper. Even those who picture a scene clearly often miss the mark on how to communicate what they see. Thanks for stopping by!
And I’m the opposite; I see my characters in place and let the camera roll. I have to fight the urge sometimes to corral them, I need to let them have their heads. But punctuation, smunctuation. That can wait on another wet Wednesday. Yawn! Loving the story. It is incredibly visual. I’m there in the 1850s; it’s in black and white and Kate Hepburn is rocking hard. Are you sure they didn’t make this film, circa 1949?!!
And reading your work for the evening’s reward, I can say you do a great job of capturing what you see. I think you connect with your characters. I read Anne’s work, too (her published shorts) and I also think she connects with her characters. So very interesting, that you each have a different take on the visual. Aw, thanks! The Hub told me last night, “You write like old books.” I hope he was saying, less eloquently, what you just said!
Luccia Grey has captured the uptight 19th century big house subliminal messages that a look or a held breath communicates. Yours is both visceral and subterranean, especially the woman who plumb interesting depths. What will be a challenge I suspect is ensuring the men develop similar depths, especially as the povs are all the women.
Such a good point about the female povs! Ultimately what I’m trying to achieve is a new look at Hickok. I found connections within the research that I think the historians miss or discredit because they aren’t considering any female perspectives. My big “what if” is this–what if the women know what happened that day at Rock Creek and why? The challenge is developing Hickok, Horace Wellman and Cob within the female povs. It’s a fun challenge and first go will probably be heavily lady-ridden! I’m finding it challenging enough to keep each of the three women distinct, interesting and tied to the ultimate revelation in the end. We do so much more than simply “write,” don’t we? I appreciate your insights and will look at Luccia Grey’s work!
What I’ve read so far shows an extraordinary insight into the women’s characters, strengths and flaws .And you will bring out the subtleties in the men as you hold up the mirror to them. You are right, this process is intriguing, a verbal jigsaw puzzle with so many pieces each only just a little different; the temptation to force a piece in just to get it to fit is so strong.
I’m so tempted the write the ending, but pull myself back to keep focusing on the jigsaw pieces and not the solved puzzle.
I try to go back with the punctuation I admit. I like that – ‘be an active listener’. I didn’t think that ‘stepping into the scene’ would mean all it does when I first started writing my memoir because I already knew/know what I was going to write, but I’ve been amazed all the way through just how much the scenes reveal to me as I write. Same with the flash. Loving your story Charli 🙂
There’s that magic on the page when you go into the scenes. Interesting that you can compare notes, writing both fiction and memoir. I used to write profiles on small farms and artisan food and always traveled to the places so that I could report back on the “scene.” That’s a great insight! Thanks for reading, too! In some ways, putting out first-draft writing reminds me of the Seinfeld episode on the “ugly baby.” In fact, I think I’ll go with that thought for Day Six! 😀
I put in punctuation as I write but there are always some missing on editing which need to be added. I am a comma junkie and I usually put some in and take some out with each edit. Scene description is visualizing what you want your reader to experience. You do this really well Charli.
As a fellow comma junkie, I keep commas in a shaker and shake liberally over my writing as if it were good sea salt! Thanks, Irene!