A Favorite Scene

This ending scene of Chapter 1 was fun to write, and it’s always been one of my favorites. From Ed’s dumbstruck reaction to seeing Linnie Mae again, to Polly Washburn’s waggling wave — in perfect imitation of Linn’s earlier dismissal of her — I enjoyed bringing these characters together and letting them take over the page.

Writers often talk about their characters “coming to life” and this was one of those moments for me. I simply let the characters say and do what they pleased while I figuratively watched the show. Their actions and reactions were perfect.

I’d spent quite a bit of time setting Linn up by showing her snooty attitude and her disdain for Brookfield. Now, as the chapter comes to a close, it was time to knock her off her little pedestal a bit. Despite her pretentious attitude, she’s just Linnie Mae Sparks and life seems to have moved on without her just fine.

I hope you enjoyed reading this scene as much as I enjoyed writing it.

COMING UP NEXT: CHAPTER 2 BEGINS

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Well, I’ll Be Go To Hell!

“Well, I’ll be go to hell.”

This is an expression I’ve heard countless times in my life.  As I wrote the scene where Ed Ferguson first sees his lost love, Linnie Mae Sparks, after an absence of many years, the first words that came to mind were those.

“Well, I’ll be go to hell.”

I thought everyone had heard the expression. Not so, I soon learned. Apparently the expression is unique to the Midwest, which makes it perfectly acceptable for Ed Ferguson to use, since Summertime is set in rural Kansas.

But what about my readers from other parts of the country or other parts of the world? Would they understand the expression and what it means when someone says it?

My editor doubted it. Of course, the last thing any author wants to do is confuse a reader, so I was left with three choices.

  1. Stubbornly leave the dialogue exactly as written, against the advice of my editor.
  2. Remove that perplexing line and give Ed something else to say.
  3. Keep the dialogue, but offer a quick explanation for readers who weren’t familiar with the term.

I wanted to go with the first choice, but stubbornness as an author — and going against the advice of an editor — is an act that is best reserved for really important occasions.

I couldn’t take out the dialogue because the expression was perfect for Ed in that moment of time. There is truly nothing else he could possibly have said that would have more fully expressed his thoughts and feelings.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s an expression that conveys shock, surprise, and a range of emotions centering around disbelief. It’s used when something occurs that leaves a person all but speechless, unable to think of anything logical or meaningful to say. It is, essentially, a gut reaction to a very unexpected happening.

Originally, this is what I wrote:

Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide. “Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice.  He stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield.

Since I could not possibly give up that line of dialogue, I had to quickly offer a bit of an explanation, so to please my editor, I added in this little bit:

Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech.

I did a bit of tweaking to get to the final version of this very significant moment in the story:

Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide. “Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice.

Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech.

For a moment, Ed said nothing more. He just stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield.

All the while, I was baffled, amazed to think that not everyone had heard this common, everyday expression that comes so naturally to folks here in my part of the country. Even as I was shaking my head about it, my husband came home from work, mail in hand. He’d picked it up from the box but hadn’t looked at it yet.

The first thing he saw was a billing statement from a doctor. The bill had already been paid, but there had been a mix-up in posting the payment. My husband had called the office several times and thought the matter was straightened out. Not so. He was being billed yet again. His immediate reaction? Yep, you guessed it.

“Well, I’ll be go to hell!”

 

 

 

“On the Way Home” – Writing the Scene

Putting a Scene Together

It all starts with conflict. That’s the key element in every scene. It’s the reason the scene exists in the first place, so for me, it makes sense to build scenes around it. Whenever I sit down and plan a scene, I start by identifying the central conflict that’s going to occur.

In this scene, Linn has arrived in town only a short time before. She intends to conduct a bit of business and return to San Francisco as soon as possible. In this scene — as with others in the story — Linn believes she is far superior to the “simple folks” in Brookfield.

As the scene begins, she’s already rented a wagon and is driving toward her parents’ farm. There was no real conflict involved in renting the wagon, therefore no need to show that happening.

In developing this scene, I looked first at the conflict that would happen. Linn is going to have a somewhat unpleasant encounter with a former friend, Polly Washburn.

Here’s the moment at which that happens:

“Why, Linnie Mae Sparks! Is that really you?”

This is the central conflict, a sudden change that disrupts Linn’s intentions. It’s a single line of dialogue that upsets Linn for a lot of reasons, although I don’t spell them all out.

In this scene, Polly’s appearance takes Linn by surprise. To keep her off-guard, I made sure she was busy tending to another problem — an argument with a stubborn mule.

“Now, listen, you stubborn old thing, I’ve got a notion to send you to the glue pits if you—”

Once I’d identified the central conflict of the scene, I considered Linn’s immediate reaction. I used a negative word to describe Polly’s voice, and showed Linn’s surprise.

At the sound of the squealing voice, Linn let go of the mule and whirled around.

Basically, what I did was to write the middle of the scene first. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself, though, so next I thought about when, where, and how the scene would begin.

I used a quick summary to reveal that information:

A short time later, she climbed aboard a rented wagon, lifted the reins in her hands, and slapped them over the mule’s broad back.

That’s the beginning. What about the ending? Just when and how should a scene end? Scenes come to an end when they’ve served their purpose. I had several reasons for writing this particular scene. I needed to introduce Polly to the story, continue building on Linn’s negative attitude toward the people of Brookfield, and, in general, make Linn as uncomfortable as I could. Once I’d accomplished those goals, it was time to end the scene with Linn driving away:

Looking straight ahead, she took hold of the thick leather reins. The old mule must have sensed Linn’s desire to move on. The wagon lurched forward.

In between the beginning and the end, a lot of things can happen within a scene — in addition to the central conflict in the middle. Usually, there’s a specific action — often a line of dialogue — that “brings the scene to life”. I think of it as the point where a director might yell, “Action!” while making a film.

The scene with Linn begins with her slapping the reins over the mule’s back. To bring it more fully to life, I also gave her a few words to speak:

“Go on, there! Get up!”

I added that stubborn mule to make Linn a little frustrated, and to further play up her dislike for the little town, I worked in a little backstory information about her and her glamorous life in San Francisco.

Had she forgotten how to handle a buckboard? She hadn’t driven one in years. In San Francisco, she paid a kindly older gentleman to transport her about town in a fine, open carriage.

Of course, I also had to give some thought to how I would describe Polly — from Linn’s point of view. This meant putting myself in Linn’s head, imagining what her thoughts would be.

Like Brookfield itself, Polly had not changed an iota. Well, maybe she looked a trifle older, and maybe she’d added a few pounds to her skinny frame, but she still wore her mousy-brown hair in that loose bun at the back of her neck, and she still dressed in those simple shirt-waisted frocks. Although she and Polly had once been the best of friends, with one look, Linn knew the two of them no longer had anything in common. No doubt Polly was married now, probably had a houseful of noisy children, and spent her days cooking, cleaning and tending to farm chores.

Scenes serve many different purposes in fiction-writing, not the least of which is moving the story forward. What would happen after this unexpected encounter between two former friends? Again, my main goal here was to show Linn’s bad attitude, her unwillingness to accept the people of Brookfield, and her inability to relate to this simple way of life. Linn’s intention here is in keeping with her original plan to get away from Brookfield as quickly as possible.

“Sorry, but I’m in a bit of a rush right now.” She gave Polly a little wave, waggling her fingers in that affected manner she’d adopted since being on stage. With a swish of her long skirts, Linn climbed aboard the wagon again.

I also used this scene as an opportunity to once again hint at a little backstory information.

Who was it Polly had mooned over back in high school? Billy McGregor? One of the Loonsfoot boys? It didn’t matter, and Linn didn’t care to waste any time finding out.

Did you catch that reference to the Loonsfoot family? Maybe. Maybe not. I included the information here in a very innocuous way, and quickly dismissed any thoughts. As Linn herself quickly tells the reader, it didn’t matter.

Oh, but maybe it will.

I hope you’re enjoying the story. I hope, too, you enjoy looking behind the scenes a bit and learning more about how I write my stories.