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  1. #1
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    Riding Elephants

    I have been working on incorporating these flashbacks/dreamscapes into my work. In the story, the father has a psychotic break and the point is to compare/contrast the father and daughter relationship from before his illness and after. I know these can be tricky and would appreciate feedback.

    We are walking down the smelly midway hand in hand, Momma, Daddy and I. They are denying me the carnival games because they are all rigged and a “waste of money.” We pass the floating ducks and the ring toss with the glass bottles. “Might as well just buy you something, rather than give them money,” Momma says. We turn the corner and notice a crowd and behind the crowd, I am amazed to see an enormous grey elephant. He is fitted with a red riding saddle and there is a man in a red and black striped suit atop a platform which seems to stretch miles above the crowd.

    “Elephant rides, elephant rides here, today only, tickets two dollars!” he announces into his microphone.

    “Oh Daddy please, please? Pretty please with sugar on top, whip cream, and a
    cherry too!” I plead.

    “Look at that ol’ thing! Looks so hot and tired,” Momma says.

    I peer up at Daddy and he looks down and smiles. Momma sighs, “You go with her Robert.”

    We head over to the line to purchase our tickets. We wait for what seems an eternity but as we get closer, my excitement turns to anxiety.

    “Daddy, he sure is big!”

    “Yep, sure is,” Daddy smiles, excited.

    It is our turn and we begin what seems like our ascent to heaven on those stairs to the rickety wooden platform. When we get to the top, the man in the red and black striped suit pulls the animal closer by a rope and I watch apprehensively as Daddy clambers onto the saddle. It is my turn and the man in the red and black suit smiles down at me, holding out his hand. I look over at Daddy for reassurance and he smiles.

    I take the man’s hand and he leads me to Daddy. Daddy picks me up under my arms, plops me in the saddle in front of him, and grabs the reigns. The elephant is enormous beneath me but I am safe with Daddy. I look down in wonder at how high we are. The smiling man shouts a command and the elephant makes his slow parade around the large fenced area.

    “Whoa,” I exclaim and Daddy laughs.

    “This is purty neat. See your momma over there?” and I wave but she doesn’t see
    me.

    “Momma, Momma!” I yell and she waves back, squinting in the bright sun. The
    crowd of people are marveling at the animal, Daddy and I riding atop him.

    “Daddy, where do elephants come from? I never seen one ‘round here before,” I ask.

    Daddy chuckles “ Elephants come from far, far away Jennifer. Down in places like
    Africa where it’s hot ‘ern it is today!”

    Although the animal is immense, the ride is surprisingly smooth as we sway from left to right with the elephant’s stride. I can feel the firmness of the saddle-like contraption beneath me and the rough red rug that protects the elephant’s hide. It is a sweltering day and I can see and hear the chatter of the waiting crowd below, some enjoying their fair food such as cotton candy and corn dogs and I can smell the distinct animal smell, almost like a petting zoo.

    The elephant is kicking up dirt as we make our way around the enclosure and Daddy continues,

    “Elephants live a long time and they’re real smart. They say they have real good
    memories, they don’t hardly forget a thing.”

    After a few moments I ask, “Am I smart Daddy?”

    Daddy replies, shaking his head “Sure are kiddo, smartest kid I ever seen.”



  2. #2
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    This reads very like the voice-over for the director's cut of a film version of the story, with the narrator commenting on what they see happening in the film. It would work were the reader viewing the film and hearing it. But too often, the narrator is speaking about things for which they have context, but not the reader. And, telling the story in that way places the reader with the narrator, passively saying, "Uh-huh. Place them in the child's viewpoint, however, in the moment called "now," and uncertainty enters the picture, missing with the historical record approach.

    Instead of talking about what's happening, suppose you'd written it as she perceives it, with something like:
    - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    I sulked my way along the midway next to my parents, too filled with frustration to enjoy my cotton candy. Mostly, I was trying to ignore the game booths on either side, and the calls urging me to try my luck. A glance at my father's face told me that arguing would only result in another lecture on how the games were rigged, and a waste of money. But it was my money, and I wanted the fun of playing, even if I couldn't win.

    Daddy must have seen how unhappy his refusal made me, because he touched my shoulder and said, "Come on, Beth...give me a smile." He waved at the games around us. "Forget them. I'm taking you someplace a lot more fun then these cheats."

    I straightened, and studied his face, trying to decide if he meant something I would like or something he thought was good for me. But then he pointed, and right there, at the end of the line of games was...
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    It's not your story, of course, or your characters. Nor is it great writing, it's a quick example to illustrate a point. In it we learn not only that daddy won't let her play the games, and why, we learn her reaction to it. So a mood has been set along with location. We're given a bit of ambiance in the form of the barker's call that, hopefully, will make the reader remember being in a like place, and so fill in the background smells and sounds as they read. We learn that the father is, like all adults, not fully in tune with what's meaningful to a kid. But he's bought her candy, and he does try to be a good father, in spite of that. We learn her gender and name. We also learn a bit of her relationship with her parents. We learn that she's thoughtful, and analyzes things before reacting. So as we go on, we know more about her as a person, which will be our measuring stick to predict her behavior when we find her being motivated by some speech or action.

    And that's viewpoint, the difference between showing and telling. Note that the narrator never appeared to tell us anything. Instead, by viewing the scene through the lens of her needs and perceptions our own viewpoint is made to parallel hers, which can give a feeling of being a participant. And if that happens, the reader, instead of being informed, is entertained. And isn't that why we turn to fiction?

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.

  3. #3
    Rogue Mutt
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    We are walking down the smelly midway hand in hand
    What kind of smells?

    I haven't really ever been on a midway so I'm wondering if they really do have elephants. I know they do at circuses but when you say midway I'm thinking of a boardwalk by a harbor, which doesn't seem like a good place for elephants.

    Momma sighs, “You go with her Robert.”
    Some practical advice here is that actions are not dialog tags. Sighs, smiles, laughs, etc. are not dialog tags. The simple rule-of-thumb to go by is if it's a synonym for speaking then you can use it. Otherwise you can't use it as a tag like that. So it would have to be: Momma sighs. "You go with her Robert." or later, "Daddy shakes his head and then replies, "Sure are kiddo."

    See the difference?

    They say they have real good
    memories, they don’t hardly forget a thing.”
    Another thing to watch out for are comma splices. When you have what are essentially two complete sentences, you either have to use a semicolon or make them two sentences. I prefer two sentences for dialog since I generally think people don't talk with semicolons. Do as you wish.

  4. #4
    Junior Member
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    Oh boy! Lots to noodle on! Thank you for the advice. I can see what you mean as far as getting more into the mind of the character and her point of view.

  5. #5
    Junior Member
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    The setting is a state fair. I will find a way to incorporate that more descriptively in the scene. Thanks!

  6. #6
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I beg to differ about "sigh" as a dialog tag. You can say something as you sigh, and depending on the context and words, the sigh can imply anything from exasperation to infatuation.

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