Monday, January 11, 2010

Chapter Fifteen excerpt

"I seen you coming through the forest. I seen you walking around my corn field. I seen your face, mister, and I never seen it before so I don't know you and I want to hear why you're on my land."

"I've come to see you."

"You see that sign by the road? Sign says you keep out. Sign says no trespass."

"I saw it." Bull watched the smoke rise from the vent in the bower's roof and wondered where the farmer's young man was hidden. He wondered if the farmer was pointing a loaded musket at him and he watched with a confusing ache in his breast as a flight of ducks took wing. They came from northward along the river, hidden beyond the farm. The ducks' heads and bellies shone lavender against the pale bluegray sky and their wings worked madly as the birds stretched forward to strain into flight toward their destination. The birds rose, turned and they were suddenly black against silver and then they angled down into the trees and were gone from sight.

"You saw my sign but here you stand?"


"I could kill you."

"I believe it. I hope you don't."

"Where you from?"


"Where's that? Pennsylvania?"


"Oh. You come a long way to see a man who don't know you."


  1. "Oh. You come a long way to see a man who don't know you."

    Oh Mr. Bailey, you have such a way with words you make me cry. This one sentence is so fab I can't stand it. I wish I had written it.

  2. Scott, this is brilliant! It's sad and beautiful and funny all at the same time. I love when those combinations work together.

  3. Anne & Big Daddy: Thanks! This scene makes me happy so far. I'm trying to work some comic relief into this chapter, as it's about halfway through the book and things were getting very dark. I also felt the need for some kind of abstract moment of beauty, though the bit about the ducks still needs some work.

  4. I like the lavender and the confusing ache and the wings working madly.

  5. I like the tension in the scene. The last line is great.

    I like that his chest aches when the gun is pointed at at, gives him a certain kinship to the birds overhead.

    I recall a post or comment from you a while back regarding birds as a symbolic herald..was that from this work, or another?

  6. Beautiful, Scott. You're tying in so many emotions with the birds and the dialogue. I don't know how you do it, but your dialogue just stands alone. I keep adding explanation to my dialogue and it's so annoying. I need to stop that.

  7. Rick: I didn't notice the connection between Bull's heart and the musket being pointed at him and the birds and the idea of hunting. Huh. I'm cooler than I think.

    The birds were symbolic in "Horatio" but in "Cocke & Bull" they are, as far as I know, just birds. In the scene quoted here, I just wanted to lift the eyes of the reader up, off the ground for a moment because this book sort of spends a lot of time looking down and being indoors or under forest canopy. I needed a moment of sky and movement and color. Also, during lunch I saw a couple of ducks flying south over campus and the image stuck with me so I used it in the scene.

    Ivana: Thanks! Dialogue is one of the things I like to think I do well. I'm getting better at cutting it back to just those bits that really matter, and making sure that the voices are unique enough that you don't really need dialogue tags, though I'm not really trying to eliminate them. I think that the rhythm of dialogue is sometimes more important than anything else, and getting the point across is more important than clarity in who's actually saying what.

    When I write dialogue, usually there's a specific thing I want to have said. One sentence, in general, and so the whole of the dialogue is just set up for that one sentence, sort of a foil character to bring the specific statement into sharp relief when it arrives. The Important Sentence in this scene hasn't arrived yet, and likely a lot of the dialogue I've written in this scene will be trimmed down later. We'll see. Look how talkative I am today.

  8. I've just found rhythm in dialogue tags, too. I guess everyone's style is different. We'll see how mine pans out.

    Adam's finally reading more of your Hamlet book, whatever you decide to name it. He thinks you've got the dialogue nailed in it so far. Very accurate for the feel of Shakespeare.

  9. I usually forgo dialogue tags for longer conversations. I use them at the beginning to establish each speaker, and I'll only add them and / or action if there would be an audible pause in the dialogue.

    For short dialogue, such as a statement, or single statement / reply I will usually include dialogue tags.

  10. I know that some people have issues with dialogue tags; either they all have to be "said" or there can't be any at all or you can only have three exhanges without tagging again...and you know, it all seems a bit rule-bound to me. Like you, Rick, I use them when I think they're needed.

    Though, like Ivana, I can find rhythm in tags and it's fun sometimes to work with those. I don't remember offhand what exactly I was doing a couple of chapter ago, but there was a conversation where the dialogue tags (which were really simple, like "Bull said" and "Cocke said") were integral to the meaning or the rhyhtm of the passage. I forget, but I remember thinking that the tags were carrying a lot of weight and that I couldn't lose them.

  11. I hate rules. Especially rules like "all your tags should use 'said' and nothing else" - that's a load of crap. I usually always use 'said' but that doesn't mean I can't use something else. "I try to avoid adverbs unless they carry a lot of weight," Ivana said mysteriously...

  12. My adverbs all carry their weight around their middles, just like me. My adverbs need to run me. Just like me.

    I like "said." I also like "asked" and "answered." But I will say that I'm moving entirely away from the

    "Quote," Z said, Xing the Y.

    construction, and moving toward the

    "Quote." Z Xed the Y.

    construction. But not always.

    I was wondering if Adam was going to read "Horatio" or whatever it's going to be called. I'm interested in his take on the dialogue, actually, so it's good to hear that he thinks it sounds right!

  13. Yes, Scott, he is very impressed!

    I've often thought of using the approach with dialogue you discuss above. It never feels right, though, for me. Maybe you should do a post about that.

  14. The overall rhythm is important to me as well, no doubt influenced by my musical background. Scoot, I suspect that plays a big part in how you "hear" your writing, too. Rhythm / cadence is a critical element to voice.

  15. Rick: I have no doubt that playing an instrument or two influences the way we hear prose. Which makes us, you know, way cooler than other writers. Just saying.

  16. Hey, I play an instrument. Well, I used to.

  17. Hey, Ivana's way cooler, too! I believe Big D is as well!

  18. Yes, Big D rocks, too, because he plays the clarinet like I do. We are the coolest clarinet-playing novel-writing people around.

  19. clarinovelist.

    The only problems is that I haven't touched mine in years. It's under my bed, the poor thing.

  20. Need to get on that licorice stick again, Michelle.

    I played clarinet in fourth grade. Switched to sax for fifth and sixth, and bass and snare drum in seventh. Then I moved from Akron to Texas for three years and didn't play again until I moved back to Ohio. That's when I took up bass. The school I transferred to had a jazz band, so I signed up. There was a prerequisite, though: you had to know how to play your instrument. Considering I had just purchased mine from a high quality pawn shop three months prior, I knew I had some learning to do. So I also signed up for music theory and composition.

    Picked up sheet music first period, got refreshers on how to read it seventh period, and didn't know anybody in town yet so I went home and hung out with a Mel Bay book on bass and figured it out. Eventually learned rhythm and lead guitar, too.

    Now I pick up my guitar once every other day and play until the kids hear me (usually takes about one verse of any given song). Then they come and divert my attention.

  21. Nice, Rick! I played tenor sax in jazz band. And I dated a drummer. He was totally hot because, you know, he was the coolest drummer in the school. Oh, the days...

    Anyway, I learned that the drums are really hard to play. I've never tried the guitar, but I'd like to. I love playing guitar hero. Does that count?

  22. I'll give you a half-point fro Guitar Hero. It will help build some muscle memory. Guitar is 80% training the muscles in your hands and finger to move in ways they were not quite designed for, and 20% memorizing patterns. Learning the patterns - and when it is OK to move outside them - is the easy part.

    I believe the astute reader may find a parallel to writing in there somewhere...

  23. Yes, there are parallels strewn all over your comment. Lovely. Maybe in another life I can learn the guitar because as things are going now I just don't have time.

  24. I'm enjoying this. I should probably read your horatio sometime. To send you mine I'm going to need an email. Or if you'd rather not put it online have Ivanna or Big Daddy give you mine or send yours to me. The comments were fun, too.

  25. Lois: scott (at) scottgfbailey dot com.