Wednesday, February 9, 2011

He said, she said—an inside job

A dusty gloom pervaded the abandoned building on 5th Street. I checked the address scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper in my hand. This was the place the anonymous tipster had directed me to. My footsteps echoed as I walked down a hallway toward an office door standing ajar at the end. Strange. The title on the door read, "EDITOR IN CHIEF."

I pushed the door open and stepped through. "Hello?" I called.

There was no answer.

A few slivers of sunlight shone through the drawn vertical blinds, illuminating an empty desk and leather chair that I guessed couldn't have been used for years based on the layers of dust covering them. I was halfway across the room when a woman's voice behind me startled me.

"Don't turn around."

I jumped, and it took all my willpower to keep from spinning around to see who had spoken. A shiver ran up my back.

"What do you want?"

"I needed to talk to you. Alone."

I stared at the tiny white specks floating above the desk in a single ray of light. "You sent me the message to meet you here?"


"What do you want?"

There was a shuffling behind me and a floorboard creaked. "The new character in your book. I want you to shut her up."

"What?" I gasped.

"She says stupid things."

"How could you know what she says? I haven't even shown that manuscript to anyone yet."

"No questions. Just trust me when I say that I know. I'm telling you, from now on, she's through. No more dialogue."

I searched my memory. Who could have gotten into my computer? My husband? My kids? A hacker? Who on earth would know what was in my first draft? The truth was, I was having enough trouble with this character without some shadowy figure second guessing me. Sometimes I was afraid that my dialogue was trite and silly. I was trying not to let it bother me, because it was just a first draft, after all.

The floor creaked behind me again. "I'll be leaving now, but remember what I said. I'll be watching. If you don't do what I told you to, I'll know."

A spark of anger ignited inside my gut. Writing is not an easy job anyway. Who was this moron to tell me what I could and couldn't write? I whirled around. "No!"

A dark figure wearing a ski mask leaped for the door, but I grabbed her arm before she could get away.

"Hold it right there. This is my book!" I yelled. "I have the perfect right to write lousy dialogue if that's the best I can do in my first draft! Believe me when I say I'm not going to let anyone scare me into writing pages of mind-numbing narrative because I didn't have the guts to let my characters talk!"

I yanked the mask off the figure. Yellow number two pencils clattered to the floor, falling out of the bun of hair at the back of her head, and I looked into the surprised eyes of my inner editor. I stood, jaw sagging in disbelief, as she rushed out the door and down the hallway.

I shook my head as I left the old building, knowing it was my own fault. My fear had given the inner editor an inroad into my brain. Gloria Kempton was right in her book, Dialogue. As a writer, you've got to let your characters talk. Let them be silly. Let them be melodramatic. Let them be overbearing. It's just a first draft. You can fix it later.

How about you? Do you ever have trouble with your characters to such a degree that you're afraid of letting them open their mouths? Are you afraid of what they'll say?

1 comment:

  1. You know you had me going there, for a while anyway. But knowing you like I do once she said "some shadowy figure seccond guessing me" I knew it was the inner editor.

    Can I just say I love the way you write!!!!