Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conflict in Writing

My newest writing assignment this week is to write a scene of 500 words or less in which conflict is shown in dialogue, subtext and mounting tension. But we were instructed to leave it unresolved and not to actually make it a "fight" scene (fists and swords and explosions, etc). So I went through my mental files and found lots of great scenes of conflict. The only problem was that most of them were already IN my novel. And I am being careful NOT to put anything that is actually in my manuscript on-line for my class. So I've used jumping off points or backstory or POV I hadn't used in my actual manuscript for my prompts.

I started two scenes and figuratively crumpled them up half way through. Then I started this scene. I wrestled it all day until it was exactly 500 words. And then after the tenth read, I felt it wasn't conflicted enough. It was a conflict between two women/ girls who work together and who are trying to keep a good friendship and working relationship despite the strain this conversation brings. But they were too well-behaved, so I put it on the shelf. Then I thought I would share here.

Anna fetched the bowlful of rounded dough from where it had been rising by the fire. She sprinkled flour on the table and dumped it onto the white patch.

I watched from across the room as Anna punched the dough down, the movements sending bits of flour off the edge of the table and sifting to the floor like snow. Anna caught my eye and grinned. I looked away, rocking the knife back and forth along the greens.

“You cuttin’ that kale small, Bets?” Cook didn’t turn around; she never did. But she still knew. Ears like a hare, she had.

“Just the way ye like it, Cook.”

“You should.” Anna whispered from her table. “You should walk out with him tonight. ‘Twill be a warm evening.”

I slid her a look. “Keep your spoon in your own pot, thank ye.”

Anna just laughed.

“Truly! If I wanted to walk out with Rosso, I would have said ‘Aye’. But I don’t and I didn’t.”

Anna was pulling the dough apart into small fist-sized balls. “Do you really not care for him?”

I sighed, scraping the pile of chopped kale to the side. Anna was nothin’ but persistent, of late. I pulled the parsnips over and began cutting the tops off.

“’Tain’t Rosso. He’s a sweet lad.”

“Sweet on you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not wantin’ any lad right now, Anna. Not Rosso. Not anyone.”
Anna covered her lumps of dough with a large cloth. She came over and leaned her hip against my table. “Perhaps later?”

“Don’t know. Mayhap.”

She put a hand on my arm. “’Twas a terrible night. I know how it torments you.”

I met her eyes. “No. Ye don’t.”

She looked hurt. “I’ve had my own troubles, Bets, if you remember. I know ‘tis painful.”

I let the parsnips claim my attention. First halving them, then quartering. I tried to speak kind, but bitterness leaked out all over my words. “That’s trying to balance a nugget against a pound, if ye pardon my sayin’ so.”

Anna straightened, stung. “If you say so. But you might recall, when those Ravenbacks visit you every night in your dreams and you wake screaming, ‘tis I who sings you back to sleep. I know.”

“Ye don’t.” I could feel my jaw jutting forward. “I was alone in that alleyway, if ye recall. Ye can’t know. So don’t tell me ye can.” I gripped the knife tighter, imagining the parsnips as long fingers reaching for me. Grabbing. Clutching. Hurting. I chopped. I chopped and chopped.

“Bets!” Cook’s voice was sharp. “Customers should see the parsnips in the soup without squintin’.”

I stared down at the tiny white bits, hardly bigger than a pea. I set down the knife and tucked my trembling hands against my chest.

I peeked up. Anna’d retreated to the fireplace, stirrin’ up the coals and adding wood. A hot fire’s needed for baking. But one look at her stiff back, and I knew she was sulking. 

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