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The Widow's Tale - garage scene too confusing?
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tomandlu
 02 May 2016, 17:51 #195818 Reply To Post
There's a section in my short story that seems to cause problems for enough readers to worry me.

It's about a third of the way through, when the narrator goes into a garage at night and something rather odd happens. However, a lot of people have trouble interpreting the scene correctly, and I may have been too oblique, and I'd appreciate any advice or observations. One of the problems seems to be that, because I've only implied that narrator's identity (early middle-age, female, white, Christian), some jump to the conclusion that their earlier assumptions, or some of them, were wrong.

Obviously, reading it in context would be best, but here is the background up until the incident.

A widow has just lost a young daughter in a road accident and is stricken with grief. After the funeral, she is woken in the night by a previously unknown nephew who had been at the wake. He tells here he can do magic, and that he can bring her daughter back from the dead if she comes with him. She goes out of desperation, but soon has second thoughts. At home in bed are her other two daughters - teenage twins.

==== EXCERPT====

So we headed towards the sea, moon-silvered hedgerows and fields slipping past on either side and I wondered what on earth I thought I was doing. I did not like this young man. This close, he had an animal smell, exotic and feral, and there was an habitual and contemptuous cruelty in his face and voice. I thought of the twins and remembered that I hadn’t even brought my phone.

“Show me some magic,” I demanded, furious with myself for being there, for asking. Madness and stupidity. “Show me, or I won’t go any further.”

“Give me your purse and I’ll make it disappear,” he said, and then he smirked and waggled his fingers. “Abracadabra.”

We neared an all-night garage. “I need petrol.” I glanced at the gauge. There was still half a tank, but he would need to lean over to see it, and I slowed and pulled in without him saying anything. He just sat there shoving fragments of half-pulped bread and ham into his mouth.

I climbed out and filled the tank and, as I headed in to pay, he wound down the window. “Buy some bin bags.”

“Bin bags?” I thought of reporters on the news, police in the background searching a muddy field, and lurid headlines the next day. “What for?” But he was already winding the window back up and didn’t answer.

I was the only customer, and the single cashier on duty watched warily as I approached. I probably looked dreadful. “I need you to call the police,” I said. “And then we should lock the door until they get here. There’s a madman in my car.”

The cashier just looked at me, still wary, but now apparently irritated more than anything else. “Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Look Mohammed,” he said. “We speak English in here, so just pay for your petrol and get back on your camel, alright?”

“What?”

“English, you lazy sod.” Then he swore and rubbed a finger and thumb together. “Money. Baksheesh.”

I stared at him and rested my hands on the counter. Well, gripped it really. I glanced out of the window at my car waiting on the forecourt. The interior was in darkness, but I imagine my nephew was laughing.

“Listen, towel-head, are you paying up or what?”

I pulled out my purse and handed him a card. “Wait a moment.” There were a few shelves of groceries and I searched among them for rubbish sacks. “These too. And I’ve a good mind to report you.”

“Here,” he said, handing back the card and receipt along with some tobacco I hadn’t asked or paid for. “Now, piss off.”

I walked carefully back to the car and threw the roll of black plastic and tobacco onto my nephew’s lap as I climbed in. “Very funny.”

He gave another vulpine grin. “You said you wanted to see some magic. Finished messing around?”

“Yes.”

We carried on east.

“Can you really do it?” I asked.

gyjcg
 03 May 2016, 09:51 #195830 Reply To Post
Firstly, there's a little mistake with: [I demanded, furious with myself for being there, for asking.]. If you take out the subclause inside the commas, it becomes [I demanded for asking.], which makes no sense.

Anyway, I get what the problem is. She goes into the shop, asks for something, but the shopkeeper hears her speaking in a foreign language.

The obvious problem is that the reader doesn't hear this. They just read the words in English. I found it confusing myself until I worked it out. I think you need to have her realise what is going on a little earlier. Maybe she could speak again, have her listen to her own words, and realise a strange language is coming out.

Anyway, best of luck with it.

Julian Green
tomandlu
 03 May 2016, 18:32 #195831 Reply To Post
Quote: gyjcg, Tuesday, 3 May 2016 09:51
Firstly, there's a little mistake with: [I demanded, furious with myself for being there, for asking.]. If you take out the subclause inside the commas, it becomes [I demanded for asking.], which makes no sense.


Many thanks for spotting that - I'll fix it asap.

Quote:

Anyway, I get what the problem is. She goes into the shop, asks for something, but the shopkeeper hears her speaking in a foreign language.

The obvious problem is that the reader doesn't hear this. They just read the words in English. I found it confusing myself until I worked it out. I think you need to have her realise what is going on a little earlier. Maybe she could speak again, have her listen to her own words, and realise a strange language is coming out.


Yes, I was hoping to avoid stating it directly, but that may not be possible.

Do you think the following change would make it less ambiguous? (I've given one of the nephew's lines to the attendant, and the narrator now alludes to what took place more directly):

Quote:

I pulled out my purse and handed him a card. “Wait a moment.” There were a few shelves of groceries and I searched among them for rubbish sacks. “These too. And I’ve a good mind to report you.”

“You said you wanted to see some magic,” he muttered, handing back the card and receipt along with some tobacco I hadn’t asked or paid for. “Now, piss off.”

I walked carefully back to the car and threw the roll of black plastic and tobacco onto my nephew’s lap as I climbed in. “Very funny. You could at least have made me look like a film star or something.”

He gave another vulpine grin. “He wasn’t scared of film stars. Finished messing around?”

“Yes.”

We carried on east.


gyjcg
 03 May 2016, 20:03 #195833 Reply To Post
I fear that might be even more confusing, since the narrator hadn't said it to the attendant. How about having the attendant say “You said you wanted to see some magic,” in the nephew's voice? That way, it is obvious the nephew is manipulating people's voices.
tomandlu
 04 May 2016, 17:34 #195838 Reply To Post
Well, I'm trying out a little foreshadowing now, plus a bit extra in the shop, as well as keeping the more direct reference ("filmstar") when she gets back in the car. The section now opens with (new bits in italics):

***********

“Bin bags?” I thought of reporters on the news, police in the background searching a muddy field, and lurid headlines the next day. “What for?” But he was already winding the window back up and didn’t answer. Given what was about to happen, I imagine that he was laughing, but I knew nothing of that, and just smoothed down my skirt and stepped inside the shop.

I was the only customer, and the single cashier on duty watched warily as I approached. I probably looked dreadful. “I need you to call the police,” I said. “And then we should lock the door until they get here. There’s a madman in my car.”

The cashier just looked at me, still wary, but now apparently irritated more than anything else. “Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Look Mohammed,” he said. “We talk English in here, so just pay for your petrol and get back on your camel, alright?”

I looked around, thinking I must have missed another customer – an Arab of some kind presumably – but the shop was plainly deserted. “What are you talking about?”


cheryl
 07 May 2016, 07:59 #195862 Reply To Post
Such a shame to have to spell it out, rather than have the reader actually have to think, but if you do, might as well go the whole hog as per the last version, where she looks around for someone else, only to realise it's she whom he's referring to (I'm sure that pronoun is wrong). Sometimes our peers can be a little less than perceptive. My heart always sinks when I receive a review beginning, 'fantasy's not my normal genre...' ie, 'I have no imagination'...it can take the magic out of it, so to speak.
DrGuessWho
 07 May 2016, 16:48 #195863 Reply To Post
The main problem is that you have introduced comedy into the thick of tragedy. That is always going to be a BIG problem for the less imaginative members.

I did, however, have to re read the section just to get what the heck was going on. My suggestion is that you will have to break a "writing rule" here, but you don't necessarily have to TELL what is going on, but you DO need to do a wee bit more SHOWING and you HAVE to make VERY clear who is speaking. Ie, you need to overegg your speech tags (as a result of which the "less imaginative members" will go tut-tut: the lesson is, you never win with Dumb and Dumber). For example:

Quote: tomandlu


“Look Mohammed,” he said. “We speak English in here, so just pay for your petrol and get back on your camel, alright?”

“What?”



I would change that to:

Quote: my 1st suggestion


“Look Mohammed,” said the jerk at the till. “We speak English in here, so just pay for your petrol and get back on your camel, alright?”

“What?” I asked him leaning forwards.



If dumb and dumber still don't get it and the confused reviews continue to flow, you could insert something like this in the middle of the scene:

Quote: my 2nd suggestion


"What?" I asked him leaning forwards.

It was then that I saw my reflection in the glass front of the soft drink dispenser. I turned to look at my car out on the forecourt.

"You bastard!" I shouted. The jerk at the till took this personally, which I guess, with hindsight, is understandable.

"Wot you said you fockin' towel head?" he said, slamming the till shut and making out he was gonna come and give it to me.

I looked at him and burst out laughing.



I think you choice of story is not playing to your strengths. I think you should write comedy, this situation has huge comic potential.

Just my take.
This post was last edited by DrGuessWho, 07 May 2016, 16:50
I now have a blog (or two): Geiser Plume; And in Spanish: Ni Aqui ni Alla
DrGuessWho
 07 May 2016, 16:53 #195864 Reply To Post
My second suggestion is really just saying: if the nephew can do magic, he can also make her LOOK different, not just speak in tongues. He could make her look like a sort of Peter Sellers in The Party, ie, from white mum to hindu in a turban.

But you do have to do something: the sample IS confusing.
This post was last edited by DrGuessWho, 07 May 2016, 16:55
I now have a blog (or two): Geiser Plume; And in Spanish: Ni Aqui ni Alla
kayrleitch
 08 May 2016, 10:58 #195866 Reply To Post
Hi Tomandlu, I realise I'm a bit late to this discussion, but for what it's worth, when I read the part in your excerpt where they go to the garage, I got it almost right away. It made me frown and think WTF? But then the penny dropped and I realised it was her nephew.And when he said "You wanted to see some magic", that confirmed it for me.

I know what you mean about enough reviewers questioning it to make you reconsider the scene. And I think we must always be conscious of making things clear for the reader. Equally, we must be wary of spelling everything out for them – like over-explaining the punchline of a joke, which actually ruins it for those who understood it in the first place. Some will get it, some won't. Hope that doesn't muddy the waters. All the best with it.
Steven2310
 18 Dec 2016, 22:51 #201155 Reply To Post
I got it pretty quick also. However, I think the dialogue from the man behind the till is strong and takes your attention away from what is actually happening. Maybe have him say:
"Do I look like I speak Arabic?" and so on...
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