Narrative in fiction is often necessary to describe the scene, reflect the tone of characters, or relate a back story. Some writers, however, tend to use narrative to “preach” about an issue, be it politics, religion, saving the environment, or what ever. I prefer to hear the characters say these things since it is more personal and therefore more interesting and entertaining. I often find myself reading the first sentence of a paragraph, think still preaching, and skip to the next paragraph.

I prefer to hear a character telling his new love about his terrible childhood and how Preacher Jones turned him around, told in slang and full of contractions, instead of having the narrator tell me about in proper English.

That’s not to say that great writing has to be written in all dialogue. It’s been years since I read The Old Man and the Sea, but I recall it was largely in narrative. But, it takes a great writer like Hemmingway to pull that off.

I wrote that paragraph and broke for lunch and opened the thriller I’m currently reading (at the suggestion from a friend.) The author immediately went into a diatribe about the evils of the Federal Reserve. The interesting part was it was all written in dialogue, as a teacher to a student with little side comments by the two characters. It held my interest and I read it thoroughly.

I just finished this story a few days ago.

Rock Creek Bridge

“Draw me a cold one, Jake. Man, that was a trip.”

“Vat vas dat, Bob? It is Bob isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Good beer. Thanks. Wow, I was walking down Main Street and I took that little ramp that leads down to the path along the creek and under the bridge. You know what I’m talkin’ about?”

“Yah sure. I’ve lived in this little berg my whole life. I know every little bit of it.”

“Anyway, I turned to go under the bridge and this little guy stopped me and demanded a toll. Weird lookin’ guy. Doubt he came up to my thigh and I ain’t that tall. Long stringy hair and beard, pinched-up face, big nose.”

“Oh, you met Sven. How long hav you lived here?”

“About three weeks.”

“Sven lives in a hollow under der bridge and whenever he needs money he charges his toll. Everyone here puts up with him since he only appears about once a month. A few years ago der high school band vas marching to a concert downtown when Sven stopped them. That cost der conductor about fifty bucks.”

“Well I refused to pay and just pushed passed him to go to the park when a buncha’ bees started flyin’ ‘round my head so I took off runnin’. Some one musta’ hit a home run or sumthin’ at the park ‘cause a baseball hit me in the head. Just glad it was a softball and not a hardball. That made me kinda’ woozie and I musta’ slipped on the wet grass and fell in the creek and cracked my knee on a boulder. Took me a while to be able to walk so I came over here for a beer.”

“Yah, I tell ya’ vat, dat’s vat happens ven you mess wit a troll.”


I hope my attempt at a Norwegian accent wasn’t too off-putting. Did you notice there was not a single tag line or descriptive dialogue? You should have known who was talking in each paragraph and that the conversation was in a bar.

Please feel free to comment on the blog or the story – I would appreciate it.


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Summer in the desert

Regardless of what the calendar says, Americans determine seasons by weather. Many places in America have four distinct seasons, each of nearly the same length. Alaska has a much longer winter and correspondingly shorter spring, summer, and fall – I recall a few springs that just jumped over summer and merged into to fall. The desert southwest is the opposite with a long summer, reducing the remaining seasons.

Summer for us in Tucson started a few weeks ago when the mercury climbed to 100 for the first time. We can expect many more days of triple digit temperatures until fall begins in late September. The record was set about 20 years ago with 99 days over 100 degrees although the average is much lower.

Today and tomorrow we are anticipating some moisture from a hurricane off the Pacific coast of Mexico. A weather system off the California coast is spinning into Arizona and additional moisture is being sucked in from Hurricane Amanda (now downgraded to a tropical storm) . Minimum rain is expected though. Arizona has been hit a few times in the past by hurricanes and one in (I believe) 1983 caused severe flooding and resulted in flood protection programs in the valley.

As days grew warmer in our abbreviated spring, our avian friends nested and we have seen many nearly grown golden finches, wrens, and doves in the backyard. Many new hummingbirds appeared, apparently migrating from Mexico, and are competing with our resident hummers for food. Lizards ventured from their burrows and started feeding on insects. Our neighbor’s resident Desert Tortoise awoke from his slumber and has been prowling the yard. The insect population has increased substantially.

Speaking of the desert southwest, I first wrote this story as a junior in high school, but since I can’t seem to locate the original, it’s all new.

Engquist Dry Lake

Swede Engquist slowed the ancient Studebaker pickup and downshifted to first gear as he approached a washed out section of the trail. “Damn kids. It’s okay when they come out here on their dirt bikes and four wheelers, but I wish they’d stay away after a rain. All they do is rut up my road.”

Bill Wickersham laughed. “Swede, this ain’t no road. It really ain’t even a trail unless you preface that with four-wheel drive. I know your great-granddad started the mine and built a wagon road, but it hasn’t changed in nearly a hundred years. Every time we come through here you bitch about the condition but you never even take a shovel to it.”

“Yeah, I know. But if I fix it, more people will show up.”

Swede and Bill had been best friends since grade school and after successful careers, Swede as a geologist and Bill as an aeronautical engineer, both were doing what they loved best–roaming through the desert and prospecting.

Swede upshifted to second as they cleared the rough area. Within eighty yards he was on the dry lake bed and added gas until he could hit third gear and cruise at about fifty. “I wonder what that kid was doing at the mine today.”

“Probably looking for gold. After all it was a gold mine.”

“True, but the vein petered out before my granddad was born.”

“He didn’t know that.”

Swede was quiet for a few moments. “Well why did he pull that gun on us?”

“Probably planned on robbing us of all our gold.”

“Yeah, we fooled him when we didn’t have any. Just a couple boxes of amethyst crystals.”

Swede tilted his head slightly as the truck shimmied a bit. “Sure glad you were able to get behind him with that cast iron skillet.”

“Knocked him for a loop, didn’t I?’

The truck began to shake violently. Swede, thinking the front end had failed, braked heavily and downshifted as the speed dropped. He was still doing twenty when a large, jagged crack developed in front of them. It started on their left and the ground opened like a zipper. A cloud of dust rose from the crack. He managed to nearly stop and turn to the right before they hit the crevasse.

Bill had both hands braced on the dashboard. “Holy…! What was that?”

“Earthquake. Big one, too. There’s a lot of minor faults coming off the San Andreas but this one was never mapped.”

They peered into the crevasse. It was about four-feet wide and ten-feet deep although both width and depth varied. It extended as far as they could see in both directions.

Swede laughed. “Well, this solves one problem.”

“What problem?”

“Where we dump the kid’s body.”



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Word selection

Writers should have enough command of the English language to select the right word and not confuse one word for another. I have read several novels recently where authors confuse ground with floor, as in “He slumped to the ground.” The problem with this (and other examples) is the antagonist was in a house. The protagonist was fighting a small gang, taking them one at a time as they entered the kitchen, dragging them out to the lawn, and returning for the next one. I was confused-had he stayed outside to deal with the latest victim or was he in the kitchen again? I had to stop reading and back up to figure out if I missed something.

Ground is outdoors, be it sand, rock, mud, or grass. A floor is manmade and is usually indoors although outdoor band platforms and caves have floors.

If you have served in the naval service however, anything you walk on qualifies as a “deck.” Sailors swab decks and Marines hit the deck, the latter including floors, beaches, and rice paddies.

More confusion involves roof and ceiling: a roof is the outer portion of a building’s roof structure while a ceiling is the interior finish in a room. I have seen the wrong word used on more than one occasion.

Hopefully I have right words in this story.

The Dog

“Well, folks, that concludes our tour of Hoover Dam. Do you have any questions?”

Standing at the top of dam looking down the long concrete slope to the river, one tourist asked, “Has anyone ever jumped over the edge?”

“Nope. But, just last week a man threw his dog off the top.”

Amid the gasps, several people asked why.

“Too much mustard.”

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