I’m not sure where the saying “I got myself into a real pickle” came from but it describes the first major stumbling block on my read-through/edit of the manuscript. I haven’t read some parts since I wrote them and I’m quite surprised at the number of things I’m finding that just don’t feel right. As individual pieces they seemed fine but reading them within the context of the overall story they just don’t flow as well as they should. The changes are mostly minor, a word here and a word there and eliminating words repeated in the same paragraph, you know…all those little things you ignore on a first draft. It was relaxing at first and I found myself thinking that this was going to be easier than I had anticipated.
Then came the pickle.
It was a scene of nothing but dialogue between two characters. The first part flowed beautifully and I found myself giggling at lines I didn’t remember writing but then, like an unseen speedbump in the supermarket parking lot, I hit that one line with a jarring thud.
I wanted to get into some old-age philosophy with a character that I’ve always used as comedic and I felt that bringing out his previously unrecognized wisdom was important to the storyline. I realized the problem instantly but correcting it was far from instant. One issue was that I wanted to keep most of his thoughts as they tie in with later dialogue but the bigger problem was in the setup leading up to his words of wisdom. It was something the other character wouldn’t say in casual conversation. The line was forced, obvious, and clearly out of context with the rest of the dialogue.
Over three days I attacked this stickler, trying all my tricks to get past it. I worked on other scenes and came back to that one, getting more frustrated each time. I tried staring at the screen and strumming guitar chords (which always works). I recorded the dialogue on my digital recorder (which usually works). I took a walk around the block and mulled over different angles but that didn’t work either. By the way my block is comparable to three or so regular city blocks so circumnavigating it takes time and about half of it is along riverbank. Watching television, doing laundry, cleaning the basement or taking down the outdoor Christmas lights…it didn’t matter what I was doing that damn scene was the only thing I could think about.
I was working on another scene, this one where Evan (my main character) was sitting on the porch and puffing on his pipe. I included his minor vice because it was something I could identify with. I used to smoke a pipe and had quite a few of them lying around. My son from Alberta is a pipe smoker/collector so last summer I gave him all my old pipes except for three that were special to me, one of them being the first pipe that I bought with my first paycheque back in the early Sixties. I watched him sit across from me on my deck puffing away and remembered how much I enjoyed this activity back then so last July I bought a pouch of tobacco. The fact that I am still only about halfway through that pouch is testament to the number of times I have lit up, the last time being Christmas. Another determining factor was the $35 price tag for a pouch. The previous tobacco I bought was, I believe, about $4.00 (which shows how long ago that was).
Yesterday the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a fresh new season was in the air. I decided to take my coffee along with a pipeful out to the deck and grind out my dialogue dilemma.
There are some who might say it’s purely psychological and they would probably be right but within ten minutes of going over that scene in my head…it came together. It was so obvious and so minor that I feel embarrassed that I didn’t see it days earlier. The line I was stumbling over wasn’t the only problem…so was the line leading into it. I changed that one and a new segue line naturally followed. Lesson learned? Look at the big picture and don’t get hung up on one element. It all ties together and sometimes what you’re looking at isn’t all there is to see.
I’ve dropped the pickle back in the jar and tightened the top…until next time.