Teachers Write 8/4/14 – Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning! Ready for today’s Teachers Write mini-lesson? It’s all about dialogue – with guest author Megan Frazer Blakemore.

Megan is the author of great books like THE WATER CASTLE and THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL. (Fun fact: Megan and I share an editor at Bloomsbury – the terrifically talented Mary Kate Castellani, so we get to sign together at conferences sometimes. That is the best. 🙂

Writing Dialogue

You want Buffy the Vampire Slayer not Dawson’s Creek.

That’s the easiest way I can think of to describe how to write dialogue spoken by kids.

Sashi Kaufman, a young adult writer, puts it this way: “Your dialogue should be your average teenager on their smartest, wittiest day.”

Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) takes it a little bit farther: “Nobody but nobody will believe me on this, but the best dialogue sounds not at all like human beings talking in real life.”[1]

And adult author Adam Mansbach says: “It’s got to ring true without being overly slavish to the boring and inarticulate ways people often speak in real life.”[2]

Essentially what we are all saying is that dialogue should be true, but not necessarily realistic. It needs to be specific to the character’s age, location, background, etc., but it also needs to read well.

As teachers, you have the tremendous gift of hearing kids talk all day long. You know what they sound like. You probably hear it in your sleep. When I was working in a school as a librarian, I would keep a journal with things I overheard. On the other hand, you don’t want to be to beholden to what you hear. You need to give your characters room to be poetic, even if your students don’t always get there.

What follows are some bulleted thoughts on dialogue to keep in mind as you write.

Potential Pitfalls in Dialogue

  • The exposition fairy: one character tells another character things they both know as a way of telling the reader.
  • Avoiding contractions: people use them, and so should your characters, even if your prose is more formal.
  • Speechifying: If dialogue goes on for more than three sentences, check to see if you should limit what they are saying. (This isn’t a hard and fast rule, like “Dialogue must not go on for more than three sentences.” – just something to think about in revision.)
  • Adverbs with dialogue tags. “Stop!” he said urgently. Your dialogue should be doing the work. If you think you need an adverb, revise your dialogue.
  • Similarly, avoiding dialogue tags. He bellowed, She whimpered, etc. Stick with the basics, — otherwise it’s distracting. You might not even need dialogue tags. Lately I’ve been ruthlessly cutting them in my own work, and find the conversation flows much better.
  • Slang: Youth slang changes very, very quickly. I mean, YOLO, right?
  • Profanity: If it’s profanity, it’s going to make it harder to get your work on school and library shelves. I don’t think I’m shocking anyone with this here. You need to decide how you feel about the role of profanity in your book, and in books for children in general. Is it necessary? Does it fit the characters? Then use it. Otherwise, reconsider.

Some Dialogue Tips:

  • Read your dialogue aloud. Even better: have someone else read it while you listen.
  • Make up your own slang.
    • This works especially well in SciFi or fantasy (think Firefly or Battlestar Gallactica)
  • Find ways to be creatively minimize profanity

o   Inspired by Norman Mailer, characters in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines use Fug instead of that other F word. This makes perfect sense in the context of the book, because the characters are smart and would be reading Norman Mailer, but also the kinds of kids who would take joy in the fact that “you can say it in class without getting into trouble.” (Chapter 12)

  • Think about what your characters are doing while they are speaking. “I love you” means something very different if a character is staring into her crush’s eyes than it does if it’s mumbled while she eats a sandwich.

I’ve given you some thoughts on dialogue, and now it’s time to get to work. This exercise has two parts.

Part 1: He Said, She Said

To make sure your focus on dialogue, write a scene using only dialogue and minimal tags (“he said”, “she said” — hence the title of this exercise). This prompt is one of my favorites and it was suggested to me long ago by the author Saundra Mitchell: two characters having an argument about cheese. At least one of your characters should be a child or teen.

Part 2: Setting the Scene

In my first novel, Secrets of Truth & Beauty, Dara goes to live with her sister who she has never really known. All summer they are dancing around the secrets of their past, and the moment finally came for them to talk about it. I wrote the conversation, and it felt too raw. The novel is set on a goat farm, so I moved the scene so that Dara and her sister are cutting the hooves of the goats as they talk. This changed their physical relationship to one another. They aren’t sitting across a table or in a car; there’s a little distance. The slow pace of the work also served to slow down the conversation. Something you should always ask yourself is: Where are my characters and what are they doing?

Take your He Said / She Said scene and now place it in a context. Actually, multiple contexts. Write and rewrite the scene in three out of six of the following places:

  • A tree house
  • A mall
  • A sailboat on the ocean with no wind
  • Underground
  • On a carnival ride
  • Free choice

 For part two of this exercise,  you are now encouraged to flesh out the scene with details about the surrounding including both the setting and the actions the characters take. In other words, you are no longer limited to “He said”/”She said”, so add those sensory details and character reactions. A good example of what I mean comes from Terry, who has the first comment on this post.

[1] From: The Secret Mystery: The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcón (Henry Holt, 2010) This is a great reference for writers. In it, Alarcón interviews several authors on issues relating to the writing process. Wonderful for dipping in and out of.

[2] Ibid.

 

Note from Kate: We’d love to see some of your writing from today’s lesson. Share away in the comments if you’re feeling brave!

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25 Comments

  1. Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Hi,
    I am very much inspired with this blog. Kindly help me to organise a Author’s Skype session for my studuents in India.
    Looking Forward
    regards
    Chhavi Jain

  2. Terry
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Good morning! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for these exercises.

    This isn’t particularly crucial dialogue, but I’m working on developing Franny’s character for my WIP. I realized she would come across more clearly with a contrasting character (as opposed to the protagonist who shares many of her interests). So this is Exercise 1:
    “I’m watching a ladybug,” Franny said.

    “What is it doing?” Tierney asked.

    “Eating an aphid.”

    “What?”

    “It’s eating an aphid.”

    “What are aphids?”

    “Insects.”

    “Eeew! Gross!” Tierney said. “Why would you do that?”

    “Do what?” Franny asked.

    “Sit in the mud watching bugs eating each other. Are you Ladybug Girl or something?” Tierney asked.

    “No,” Franny said. “I’m an entomologist.”

    Exercise 2: Setting is a Pick Your Own Farm Stand

    “I’m watching a ladybug,” Franny said. The ladybug picked another aphid, as if it were plucking a raspberry from a bush and chomped down.

    “What is it doing?” Tierney asked. She jostled the pea plant where the ladybug was grazing. The ladybug dropped the aphid and clung to the stem. The plant settled down and the ladybug selected another aphid.

    “Eating an aphid.”

    “What?” Tierney leaned in close.

    “It’s eating an aphid.”

    “What are aphids?”

    “Insects.”

    “Eeew! Gross!” Tierney jerked back from the pea plants, stepping into the row of zinnias behind her, disturbing the bees. “Why would you do that?”

    “Do what?” Franny asked. As she watched, the ladybug strolled away from the buffet of aphids. It settled down on a leaf stem and began to groom its mouth and face with its front legs.

    “Sit in the mud watching bugs eating each other. Are you Ladybug Girl or something?” Tierney asked.

    “No,” Franny said. “I’m an entomologist.”

    • Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Thank you for jumping right in. I couldn’t have asked for a better example for how this exercise is supposed to work. First of all, you made it your own — no cheese for these characters, and that’s fine. Second, your second version shows how adding just the right details can flesh out the world and the characters. In the first scene, the two seem quite antagonistic. In the second, the details of the garden soften the interaction, while maintaining tension. Our sympathies are wholly with Franny, but Tierney is not just a foil for her. You portrayed how at peace Franny is in this garden, even while her interests are being attacked. Lovely work!

    • Terry
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I love the idea of writing the dialogue and then creating the setting. Thank you for this assignment. I’m a little bit limited by the topic of the dialogue, but I wanted to try different settings and seeing if I could use the same words to angle Tierney’s tone a little differently.

      Nature Center:

      The other students had moved to another exhibit in the outdoor nature museum. “I’m watching a ladybug,” Franny said. She was sitting on the ground in front of the low tank of insects.

      “What is it doing?” Tierney asked. She leaned over Franny’s shoulder to look into the tank.

      “Eating an aphid.” Franny didn’t move over.

      “What?” Tierney’s breath was in her ear.

      Franny glanced at the rest of the class. The other fourth graders were gathered by the snake tank. A volunteer was explaining how snakes shed their skin. “It’s eating an aphid.”

      “What are aphids?” Tierney tapped the glass. The ladybug nearly fell off the bean plant, catching itself at the last minute.

      “Insects.” Franny watched as the ladybug used its front legs to groom its mouth and face.

      “Eeew! Gross!” Tierney said. “Why would you do that?” She stood up, bumping the table with her knee. The ladybug fell off its perch.

      “Do what?” Franny asked.

      “Sit in the mud watching bugs eating each other. Are you Ladybug Girl or something?” Tierney asked.

      “No,” Franny said. “I’m an entomologist.”

      _____________
      Edge of a Baseball field

      “I’m watching a ladybug,” Franny said. There was a crack of a bat as it hit a baseball on the field. Cheering echoed off the bleachers.

      “What is it doing?” Tierney asked, squatting down next to her. Losing her balance, she bumped into Franny.

      “Eating an aphid.” Absorbing the impact, Franny shifted her weight in the grass. Dew was soaking through her shorts.

      “What?” Tierney pushed her honey blonde hair out of her face.

      “It’s eating an aphid.” A bee swooped over to graze on wildflowers in the hedge. Tierney backed up, falling on her butt. Franny raised an eyebrow at the jerking movement.

      “What are aphids?” Tierney recovered, standing up and brushing off her shorts.

      “Insects.”

      “Eeew! Gross!” Tierney said. “Why would you do that?”

      “Do what?” Franny asked. She watched as the ladybug used its front legs to groom its mouth and face. Tierney’s arm hit the stalk and the ladybug fell to the ground.

      “Sit in the mud watching bugs eating each other. Are you Ladybug Girl or something?” Tierney asked.

      “No,” Franny said. “I’m an entomologist.”

      • Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Fantastic! I like how Tierney really comes out as even more sympathetic in both of these. In the first, she seems gentler and more curious. In the second, her clumsiness makes her both relatable and vulnerable. I think for her to truly be on par with Franny you would need to lose the “Why would you do that?” line, or at least have it said with curiosity rather than malice. But I get, and admire, what you were doing trying to use the exact same dialogue. I think this would be a lot of fun to do with students. You could even write the dialogue for them, and then have them draw a setting from a hat.

      • Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Wow! This was awesome to see how Megan’s challenge plays out with examples. I love how the entire tone changes with a simple switch of scenery. The “crack of the bat” immediately grabbed my attention and I felt like I was sitting right there, listening to the conversation between these two characters. Well done!

  3. Kristina Paustian
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    This advice is priceless! Thank you. Dialogue is what I need to work on more than anything else.

  4. Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Good morning everyone! I look forward to seeing what you do with your dialogue today. As always, please make this exercise work for you. The cheese argument idea is there to give you an idea if you’re drawing a blank. Speaking of cheese, and cheesey moves, I forgot to link to Saundra Mitchell’s site. You can find her online world here: http://saundramitchell.com/ It’s full of terrific information.

  5. Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Part 1

    “I’m hungry and there is nothing in the fridge,” Johnny said. ” C’mon, you’re exaggerating, there is food in the refrigerator,” said mom. “There’s some baloney, and jelly for pb and j, and bread, and some cheese.” “Are you kidding? The cheese has green on it.” ‘We will just scrape that off. It will be fine,” said mom.

    Part 2 The Mall

    “It is time to go home. I have had enough of the mall.” said mom. ” “We’re going home? I’m starving.” said Johnny. ” “We’ll eat at home.” You can have a grilled cheese when we get home.” “But we can eat at the food court, it will be fast.” “Are you going to pay for it?” asked mom. Dead silence.

    Part 2 Carnival Ride

    “You don’t look so well,” mom said. “Yeah, I’m not feeling so well,” Johnny said. “I have never felt sick on a carnival ride before. I think I know why. It’s probably from the grilled cheeses sandwich that you made me eat. Some of that green mold you scraped off made me sick.” “You are being ridiculous. Cheese is made from mold. Maybe we should go home so you can lie down. “No, maybe if I drink a bottle of water I will feel better.” “Suit yourself.”

    Part 2 At the Beach

    “I’m starving,” said Johnny. “Look in the cooler, help yourself.” said mom ” Are you kidding me? All we have are cheese sandwiches?” “Coming to the beach was spur of the moment. I didn’t have time to go shopping. There’s some tomato, mustard or mayonnaise. “Yuck, there’s green on the cheese.” I can’t eat this. I’m giving it to the seagull. Look, even he won’t eat the cheese.” “You’re ridiculous. I guess you’ll go hungry.”

    Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment | Edit
    Posted on August 3, 2014 by showgem
    5474e-celebratelinkup

    Lots to celebrate:

    We ended a wonderful trip to Hawaii to celebrate our 30th anniversary.

    We arrived home safely.

    My girls are home this weekend.
    Here is my attempt

    • Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      These are a lot of fun. As a parent, I can totally relate — especially to the kids wanting to buy fast food rather than going home to eat.

      The beach one felt the most natural to me in terms of the dialogue. I could hear it in my head as they went back and forth — her exhaustion, his persistence. For the second part of the exercise, you are free to add more details in terms of the actions and surroundings of the characters (sorry if that was unclear!), and if you go back to revise any of these, that’s what I would encourage you to do. I think the carnival ride could be really hillarious. As written now, since they seem so calm, I picture them on a Ferris wheel. But what if it’s actually a Tilt-A-Whirl or a loop-the-loop roller coaster? Then the juxtaposition between their calm conversation and what’s going on around them could tell us a lot about them in a really funny way.

      Thank you for sharing these and congratulations on your anniversary!

  6. Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Celebration post was accidently include, please disregard. Oops!

  7. Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “Hey Mom, can we stop at The Cheese Castle on the way to Grandma’s?”
    “Ugh. Please don’t! Hasn’t Rachel had enough cheese today? Can we stop at the Jelly Belly Factory instead?”
    “Oh, come on Ben, we’ve been to the factory before. Besides, you’re always picking through the jelly beans anyway. I don’t waste ANY of the cheese I get.”
    “I SORT through the jelly beans because some of the flavors don’t mix well. Like you can’t eat a butter popcorn jelly bean at the same time as a cinnamon one. And I like to enjoy the flavors, not like when you stuff all those cheese turds in your mouth at once.”
    “For the hundredth time, they are called cheese CURDS Ben, and I hear the ones at The Cheese Castle are wonderful!”
    “Disgusting.”
    “No, they are supposed to be perfect. They even squeak when you eat them!”
    “But Rachel, I hear they have cheese flavored jelly beans at the factory this year. And if it makes you happy, I’ll squeak when you eat them, too!”

    On a carnival ride:
    “Hey Ben, let’s ask Mom if we can go to The Cheese Castle after we leave the festival.”
    “Oh goodness, Rachel, how can you be thinking about food after all we have eaten here today. I’m gonna be sick if I eat anything else.”
    “But they have cheese curds! I haven’t had those in months!”
    “Those little turds look so disgusting.”
    “BEN! I keep telling you they are called CURDS, not turds.”
    “They look like turds. Probably taste like them too. Now stop talking about food! We’re almost to the top of the track, and my stomach is already queasy enough.”
    “Wow Ben! Look how high up we are! See how small those people seem? They almost look like different flavors of jelly beans.”

    Underground:
    “We’ve been in the storm shelter forever! I’m so hungry!”
    “Oh Rachel, you’re being dramatic. We’ve been in here for like 20 minutes. It’s just until the tornado warning is over.”
    “More like an hour, Ben. And I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast.”
    “That’s because you were sleeping like a log when the sirens went off.”
    “Did anyone think to grab anything from the fridge to snack on? Like maybe my cheese curds?”
    “Oh, those little turds look disgusting.”
    “Ben, they’re called CURDS, and they’re delicious.”
    “No, I didn’t grab your precious little turds when we ran down to the storm shelter. I got the flashlight, the radio, my book, and a bag of jelly beans.”

    • Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Being on a roadtrip right now with two bickering siblings, I could only laugh at your well-written dialogue and how the snippy tone continued no matter the setting. The details about the mixing of the jellybean flavors brought back memories of visiting the Jelly Belly factory in Chicago, and having my daughter explain that under no circumstances whatsoever could you mix ANY jellybean with butter popcorn flavor (her absolute favorite). Thanks for the flashback (and currently reality) of youthful dialogue. I enjoyed all 3 examples!

  8. Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I love the contrast between the carnival ride and the underground. The two conversations are similar in that they are bickering kids, but, wow, kids who can bicker even during a tornado warning — that tells me a lot about them. Either they are champion fighters (and I feel sorry for their parents), or tornado warnings are quite common. With the former you have strong characters, with the latter you have the set up for a story about say, the town that always gets tonado warning but never a tornado until, one day … Put those two together — constantly fighting kids and finally a real tornado — well, that’s a story.

    My one critique is that I had a hard time believing that a kid who would tease his sister about cheese turds would say, “Oh, goodness.” Maybe “Oh, jeez” or something like that.

    Thanks for having fun with this!

  9. Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    UPDATE: For part two of this exercise, you are encouraged to flesh out the scene with details about the surrouding including both the setting and the actions the characters take. In other words, you are no longer limited to “He said”/”She said”, so add those sensory details and character reactions. A good example of what I mean comes from Terry, who has the first comment on this post.

  10. Brian Rozinsky
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I like writing within constraints; my theory: they ease what-should-I-write pressure. So thanks, Megan, for today’s particularly narrow prompts to practice dialogue.

    1st draft
    “You’re doing it wrong.”
    “Of course, I’m doing it wrong. I’ve never made cheese before.”
    “Pay attention to what I’m showing you. Brush the rennet on lightly. Don’t dab.”
    “But I like dabbing.”
    “You can like dabbing, but if you want good cheese, the rennet has to go all over the rind in a thin layer. That takes brushing, not dabbing.”

    Revision #1 – mall
    “You’re doing it wrong,” Tom said for what felt like the millionth time. As manager of Cheez ‘R’ Us, he repeated those four words to every new hire.
    “Of course, I’m doing it wrong. I’ve never made cheese before.” The teen trainee’s whey face reddened with impatience.
    The store’s fluorescents glared on both Tom and the boy, whose name Tom couldn’t remember. “Just watch what I’m doing,” Tom said, smearing rennet over the cheese rind like shellac. “Brush, don’t dab.”
    “But I like dabbing. I can make cool designs.” The boy dotted a smiley face on the round of cheese in front of him and matched it with his own goofy grin.
    Tom fully suppressed his urge to grab the boy’s wrist, but only half suppressed his scowl. “Save the art show for another time, kid. If you want this job, you’ve got one more chance: the rennet goes all over, one even layer.”

    Revision #2 – underground
    “You’re doing it wrong,” the monk said, the same four words he had given every apprentice for decades, his tone both direct and gentle.
    “Of course, I’m doing it wrong,” the impatient boy snapped. “I’ve never made cheese before.”
    In the cave underneath the abbey, the light was low, and the monk could barely make out the boy’s face within the hooded cloak. The monk didn’t need to see the face or know the boy’s name; his tone revealed enough.
    “Just follow what I do,” the monk said, applying rennet like watercolor, “Brush lightly all over. That’s what adds the correct flavor as the cheese ages, not dabbing.”
    “But I like dabbing,” said the apprentice, jabbing again at the cheese with his brush.
    The monk grabbed the apprentice’s wrist, stopping the brush in mid-poke. “I need you to understand: It is not about you, but the cheese.” He let the boy’s wrist drop. “Now, let us try again.”

    • Terry
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      “Whey face” cracked me up. I love the contrast of the 2 teachers and how vividly you’ve created two different worlds in just a short interaction.

    • Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      I like constraints, too. Robert Frost said that writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net. I don’t know if I would go that far, but sometimes constraints push us in directions we wouldn’t have normally gone, and help us to understand the choices we make as writers.

      I agree that “whey face” is great — perfect comparison for a cheesemaker. Also Cheez ‘R’ Us — please never let this exist in real life! There’s a moment in that piece where the boy puts the smile on the cheese, and then you write that it matched the boy’s goofy grin — that totally endeared the boy to me. He wasn’t just a nuissance. He was kind of a sweet goof, as opposed to the apprentice who is jabbing the poor cheese. Nicely done!

  11. Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    sliding across home plate just before 10 pm! Thank you for this exercise. I loved it! I’m noticing that as I write daily the first surge of words is a lot of editorializing until I get to what needs to be said…must be the teacher in me?

    Here’s my dialog. I’m absolutely terrible at punctuation and dialog. It’s like algebra to me and I simply cannot get my idea out if I’m fussing over the quotation marks or italics or commas or semi-colons. Blech! So, here it is in it’s raw form. Might not make sense if you are grammar sharp.

    That’s not a poem
    Why not?
    It’s just ….it’s just words about a wheel barrow …I should tell my Abuelo he’s a poet. He has a cart too.
    He could be.
    What depends in this piece of writing?
    So much.
    What do you think that means? Without a red wheel barrow the speaker would not ?
    Clean the yard
    Get vegetables
    Take things to sell at the market
    Carry stones for the wall
    See the chickens….who are for Estrella. So that she will have eggs to eat and her baby will be strong when he is born, even if it’s a girl.
    We turn to look at Irma. Except for this outburst she’s been quiet, looking down at her notebook drawing circles.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Captcha was giving me some trouble, so my response ended up below, with funny slash marks. In short: great work.

  12. Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful, wonderful dialogue. I didn\’t have any questions about who was speaking because each voice is distinct. And theis conversation which could be just two people chatting about poetry over tea or something takes such an interesting twist when we get to \”So that she will have eggs to eat and her baby will be strong when he is born, even if it\’s a girl.\” You\’ve hooked me — I want more of this story!

  13. Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Megan:

    Thank you for an outstanding post that reminds writers about the importance of dialogue. I am playing catch up this evening with all of the fantastic Teachers Write posts and exercises.

    Sharing a dialogue that I worked on, though I didn’t include the cheese! Here is my Part I:

    What are you doing?

    Nothing.

    What’s wrong?

    Nothing. Why do you ask?

    Well, I didn’t see you in class today.

    So?

    Seriously . . . What’s up?

    Silence

    Do you want to talk about it?

    More silence.

    Do you need a hug?

    Go away!
    Kaitlyn slowly turns around. Hesitantly, she begins to walk away.

    Looking back, she sees Blanca crying.

    Wait! Wait up for me! I didn’t mean it!

  14. Posted August 10, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Finally catching up on my writing after a week long vacation with the family! Here’s my first attempt at writing dialogue then modifying it to fit a scene:

    Part 1: Dialogue
    “Whatcha mean I don’t gotta go there?”
    “That’s what I said, you dang hillbilly. Didn’t you hear me right?”
    “Well, yeah, but I thought you were joking. When did Momma say we didn’t have to go?”
    “When she got mad and slammed the door.”

    Part 2: Adding Scenes
    Scene 1: In a Treehouse

    The boys raced towards their safe place as the door rattled in the frame. “Go, go!” shrieked Jake, the older of the two. The grass blurred beneath their feet as the treehouse came in sight. “Up! Faster! Hurry!” There was no time to think, only time to get away.

    Breathe. Sam’s heart was still pounding from the shouts of anger still resonating in the small white house, molded shingles marking a peaceful time long forgotten. Momma was mad. Again.

    “Whatcha mean I don’t gotta go there?” asked Sam, looking at his older brother, perplexed. Jake stared at the floor, pulling the strings twisting from the hole in his faded blue jeans. “That’s what I said, you dang hillbilly. Didn’t you hear me right?”

    Sam took no notice of the blatant insult, his mind preoccupied with this new knowledge that he didn’t have to go somewhere with his entire family. Could this mean he was growing up? After all, Jake was allowed to make his own choices. Maybe now he was turning into a man like his brother!

    “Well, yeah, I thought you were joking. When did Momma say we didn’t have to go?” He hated the long journey to his uncle’s house. He was always crammed in the backseat between his two sisters with no one to talk to or play with. What a wonderful day it would be to stay home, away from the smoke of his uncle’s pipe and the greasy hands grasping his shoulder in a death-grip.

    Sam looked up from his thoughts to see Jake staring back, a spark of anger lighting for a moment, then gone. “She said we didn’t have to go when she got mad and slammed the door.”

    Maybe it wasn’t time to be a man after all. Sam slumped his shoulders along the side of the tree house wall and realized that an angry Momma was not a ticket to freedom, but a prison cell with no chance of parole.

    Scene 2: On a Carnival Ride

    Jake rolled his eyes as they approached the dinky carousel. The peeling paint reminded him of the old barn on Route 10 that might blow over if a strong enough wind blew through. Every time the fair came to town it seemed the carnies got scruffier and the rides got dustier. There was nothing “new” about the Ambercastle New Fairway.

    The tug on his hand drew him back from his thoughts. “Jakey! Look! A horsey!” Annabelle’s sweet shouts of glee almost changed his view of the dreaded carousel. When did he lose his childhood innocence? The simple question made him grimace. He knew exactly when he became the man of the house. It was hard to remember a time when a visit to the fair would bring smiles and excitement.

    “You know ya don’t have to ride that. She’s big ’nuff to go by herself now.” Uncle Jerry walked beside him, chewing on a wad of tobacco so thick he could barely close his mouth. Jake stared back in disbelief.

    “Whatcha mean I don’t gotta go there?”

    “That’s what I said, ya dang hillbilly. Didn’t ya hear me right?”

    Jake let the this new information settle on his brain. For the first time since Momma died, he was relieved of his duty for riding with Annabelle. Instead of relief, he felt his face tighten. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. No amount of carousel rides could bring Momma back.

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