Sunday, February 05, 2006

Two Flats and a Sharp


Don't know if yesterday's debacle was caused by round worms or flat worms or was just a case of Blogger blowing its nose.
However, herewith is Booger, the Sequel: the remains of yesterday's post.
As I remember, my intention was to provide a short excerpt from Book Two and invite you to determine if a couple of drive-by characters fit into the category of the useful-but-incidental "flat" population that necessarily people a novel.
Flat characters, in my opinion, must have some minor individuality and not be entirely cardboard even if they fit and fulfil a stereotype role.
Damie herself is "round" - even to her behind.

She finds herself stranded in a pub in Bishop Auckland:

She went to the bar and paid and asked the barkeep if he could recommend a hotel.
His gypsy eyes casually stripped her where she stood. Her mouth quirked. There was nothing personal about his appraisal. She could have been a horse.
He shrugged and slapped a telephone book on the bar and nodded to his left. "Couldn't say, luv. You can use the phone there and ring them up but I doubt if you'll be in luck."
He raised an arm and let a hairy wrist fall limp.
"Arts festival on. Heard they're all booked solid."
He turned away to supply more draft to a customer on the other side.
She tried all the places listed. No rooms. The desk clerk at the last one told her there were indeed none to be had, even at the B&B's. She was their fifth inquiry this evening. Would she care to make a reservation for two days from now? They would be happy to accommodate her then.
Damie thanked the voice and declined, shaking her head.
"No luck?" He had seen that kiss. She wasn't being run out on. The big fellow was a copper or he didn't know the breed. Always paid to stay on their good side, and she did look a little forlorn.
"If you don't need fancy digs, luv..." He put out a suggestive palm. Damie supplied it with a five pound note. A gold tooth gleamed.
"All I need is a decent bed until my...friend can return."
"There's a woman who rents out rooms three or four streets over. Usually by the week, but might make an exception seeing how you're stuck. Mrs. Billings she goes by. She's an honest old tart and the place is clean so I hear. Do you want me to ring her and see?
Damie did.
He did.
He drew her a rough map and she went out to a "Cheers, luv."
She promptly got lost.
The first person she approached for directions was a weedy individual with severe acne and a harmless face, who, it turned out, was also lost. He was looking for a pub. He liked her hat, he said. It was just darling.

31 comments:

kitty said...

I love the exchange. You've created a vivid barkeep as economically as possible, not to mention the "ambiance" of the arts festival, which you underscored nicely with that last comment about her hat.

As a reader, I prefer scantilly sketched characters. It allows for faster reading; too much info slows the pace down to a crawl. Besides, I can easily fill in any blanks.

Bernita said...

Kitty, thank you.
One worries if one is too sketchy.
Have I said before how much I love your icon?

kitty said...

Yes, you did! And thanks! Wish I had photoshopped it myself. Instead, I found it online somewhere.

Erik Ivan James said...

Well, Bernita, nice to be able to hook up again. I finally gave up about noon yesterday.

RE your post, the only place I "tripped" a bit was at "No luck?"... It took me a brief second to realize it was the seedy bartender with the sweatstained T-shirt and close beedy black eyes that was talking.

Since I can't decide if I like you or your work better, I'll just like the whole package.

Bernita said...

Aaawww.
~twisting fingers at side of skirt~
Dear Guy.
Glad it worked for you for the most part.

RIc said...

Really annoying to dream up exactly the right words to get Bernita and Bonnie spitting coffee and then have them disappear into the blogosphere.

The kiss threw me until I realized it was from a former scene. The guy at the end was done nicely - one can never be too sure if you're doing too much, or too little. Sometimes, these 'flat' characters serve no purpose at all and are better left out completely.

Judgement call. In this, they work.

ivan said...

Your expository writing is great. What an eye!
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.
Yes, the kiss occurs in the previous "scene."

Sorry, the abyss swallowed your words - I think. Long as they would have us spitting coffee and not spitting like cats.
I'm still smarting over your claim that I sound loud and brassy.

Rick said...

I'm gonna bug you again about leaving a line between paras in this format!

This passage worked fine for me, except for one line: She could have been a horse. I know exactly the intent here - he was evaluating her like grading livestock. Maybe it jarred because Demie herself obviously doesn't resemble a horse. ;) It might work better if that one line was generalized: He could have been judging horses.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick, I'll think about putting it that way.
Sorry about the line breaks. I forgot.

Confessions not my style, Ivan, but you did that well.

Buffy said...

I got tripped up at the same point 'erik ivan james' did.

But I think on paper that can be solved by paragraph form.

Carla said...

Blogger wasn't talking to me at all yesterday. But it's free, we can hardly complain if it gets the hiccups occasionally.

I thought the extract worked fine; the barman and the harmless man with the acne are distinct characters. The fact that they aren't named tells me that they aren't likely to be major characters so I don't need to make too much effort to remember them. Is that the idea?

Just by way of a comment, I notice some phraseology that doesn't quite sound British to me. (Over here we'd be more likely to say 'barman' than 'barkeep', and beer on tap is more likely to be 'draught' than 'draft' - although that one seems to be changing. I used to snigger at 'draft beer' meaning it wasn't finished yet, but it's getting sufficiently widespread that I shall have to stop). As Damie's Canadian, I guess this is intentional, is that right? However, I'm not sure that a British barman would describe Mrs Billings as 'old tart' unless he intended to imply that she was a lady of, ahem, negotiable virtue. 'Tart' is as far as I know usually taken to mean 'prostitute', or in the term 'tarted up' it means dressed up, usually with connotations of 'mutton dressed as lamb'. I'd have guessed a British barman would be more likely to say 'old bat', 'old bag', 'old dear', 'old cow' or something like that - though I don't know the North East and it may be that 'tart' has a local dialect meaning that I'm not aware of? (If this is absurdly nitpickety, do tell me so.)

Bernita said...

It's always a problem with excerpts, Buffy,in the context of what's gone immediately before, I don't think there should be a problem.
BTW, people, Buffy has some excellent stuff on her blog.
That's right, Carla. They don't appear again.
Yes,the "draft" was deliberate, since he and the beer are quasi-seen through Damie's eyes.Though I admit I've dithered over which to use.
And I am very glad you have raised it. These nuances are important.
Please don't EVER be reluctant to raise things.
It is suggested when we meet Mrs. Billings that she indeed has a colorful past, which is why I chose "tart."

Carla said...

Aha, in that case 'tart' would be exactly right. This is why I always find it so hard to comment usefully on snippets.

ivan said...

Oh, what the hell.
Like the Raincoat Man in front of the AGO, Expose Yourself to Art.

I have more trouble with these
false pantlegs and little garters...

Rick said...

Bernita, I kind of figured that Mrs. Billings had a colorful (colourful?) past!

What market are you writing for? More specifically, where would you be expecting to submit? That would bear on spelling conventions like draft/draught.

I naturally follow US conventions - I'm hardly going to use 16th c. spellings! (Though in my original version I had a couple of letters with period spelling.) But I make one idiosyncratic exception: "gaol" instead of "jail." The American spelling, especially in a non-contemporary context, just has such strong Wild West overtones.

Not much I can do about "sheriff," though!

Bernita said...

I thought the American market, Rick.
I've tried to adjust my punctuation and spelling in that direction.

Rick said...

That is what I pretty much figured, since Miss Snark is specific to the US market. My impression is that Canadian usage is somewhere intermediate between US and UK?

Bernita said...

Canadian spelling follows the British in cases such as "humour", "labour", etc.
Punctuation, such as putting the period inside or outside a quoted passage is more erratic.
It can make one slightly skitzoid.

Rick said...

Skitzy, indeed! I imagine Canadians must sometimes want to echo Porfirio Diaz: "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States."

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Estoy un Mexicano.
Palabro es "schizo."
?Verdad?

Bernita said...

You're showing off again, Ivan. So I can't spell, so.
Go make it flesh, un poco loco.

Nah, Rick, there are worse neighbors.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Ahhh...the wonderful world of Blogger...some days I'd like to smash IT flat....but like Carla said...it's free...sooo!

Bernita, I thought you did a great job. The bartender had just enough character flesh to give us a 'word picture' and not bog down the action!

Sela Carsen said...

Soy una hondurena. Bueno, bueno. Media hondurena. (Insert tilde over n. I never learned how to do that.)
La palabra es "schizo".
?Como no?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Omigod.
I didn't use the feminine gender.
Palabra is feminine?
I'd better give up Spanish.
Don't want to have a bunch of women after me.
There, Bernita. Part- Honduran lady called my bluff.

MissWrite said...

Flat people are really no fun, they can't hold their own in a conversation, and they slide off the couch.

Your characters are really good. You have a witty voice that is comfortable and fun to read.

PS-loved the line about Blogger blowing its nose at the beginning of your post. Now I know exactly what to do when I can't access a blog page during those many, many times of the day it decides to have a cold... just say Ghezundight! (however you spell that.)

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Well hello. Is it you I'm looking for?

Shesawriter said...

Hi Bernita,

Just wanted to pop over to say hi and thanks for stopping by. Loved the excerpt.

Tanya

Bernita said...

Thank you, bonnie Bonnie.

Thank you, Tami. "slide off the couch" - now there's an image!

Thank you, Tanya. Nice of you to stop by.

You don't use it, you lose it, Ivan.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

You do?
--Alexander Portnoy.

...Actually, I came across a real writer, though of an ad hominem vein, who wrote, aeons ago, something called Place D'Arme, about a gay marine and a timid writer. You out there Scott, or are you going to banish me from PEN International again?
Anyway, at one point Scott Symons and I were working for the Star, the great literary critic Robert Fulford walked by and Scott just piped up and called Fulford a &#%ing eunuch and a Victorian spinster. Soon, neither Scott nor I were working for the Star. Guilt by association? Hell no, as far as I know I'm not even gay, which these days, of course, is equated with piety.
Anyway, dear me, have I become a Victorian spinster too?
Well, there is hope I suppose.
One of my wives used to say that if old guys did the chicken dance all the time, they'd never lose it.

Just me here with my commie girlfriend,a Rhode Island Red.

You coming on to me, Myrtle?

Bernita said...

No, Ivan, my golden one, I am not.
I admire that description of Fulford.