Short Story number two is written.
The focus of this story was a decision to do something foolish reversed by a chance conversation. The question was what is the real pivotal moment?
The protagonist is heading out the door, stoned and toting a six pack. Planning to make a 32 mile round trip to hang out with a friend, fully intending to drive impaired there and back. The phone rings and a state trooper on the other side of the line asks the protagonist not to drink and drive.
How does that moment occur? If it comes in dialogue, how is that dialogue delivered?
If the pivotal moment is, “I’m calling tonight to ask you not to drink and drive,” should that phrase be broken from its introductory clause “This is Officer Daniels,” with a dialogue tag, like so:
“This is Officer Daniels from the South Carolina State Highway Patrol,” said the voice. “I’m calling tonight to ask you not to drink and drive.”
Where does the tag belong?
“This is Officer Daniels,” said the voice. “From the South Carolina State Highway Patrol.”
Additional tension-building description here?
The voice was calm, confident, and familiar. Not in the I-think-I-know-this-person way, but in that internal way we have of recognizing sounds that are part of our history. Only the faintest glow of warmth to hint that I know.
Learning where to break the action for description and how to use that description to build tension should be basic story telling mechanics. Yet, I find it intuitive. Maybe it’s the result of reading so many scenes: my familiarity with the acceptable number of beats between words. I think it works this way, the way I wrote it, tell me what you think:
So it was cold outside and I had gloves on and my coat and I had to remove one glove to answer the phone.
“Hello?” I said. I blinked, pressed my other gloved hand to my eye, tried to focus.
“Hello? Miss Fanning?”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s me.”
“This is Officer Daniels from the South Carolina State Highway Patrol,” he said. His voice was clear and familiar. Not in the way that I knew him but that I understood somewhere inside of me that I knew Him.
“Hello,” I said again.
“I’m calling you tonight to ask you not to drink and drive.”
I stared at the six pack on the stove. I closed my eyes, mind swimming from the bong hits. “Excuse me?” I said.
“Just a courtesy call,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. I peeled off my coat, pinning the phone to my ear with my shoulder. I stuffed the gloves in the pocket and tossed it on the futon on the other side of the kitchen wall.
I stood in the kitchen, the glow of the stove’s hood light illuminating my intentions like a jack-o-lantern. The bottles made jagged tooth-like shapes on the ceramic counter tops.
“What else can I do for you, Officer Daniels?” I asked.