Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Punishment": A Status Play Exercise with Dialogue

discoveringmandarin.blogspot.com
My first assignment for 200 Proof Storytelling required me to write a scene predominantly dialogue to practice status play.  The character with high status is considered to be in control; the other one has low status.  The point of the assignment was to create more dynamic dialogue, whether funny or dramatic, by tossing the high status between the two characters.

The exercise provided an opportunity to better understand my characters in a short story I've been working on.  I'm struggling with the characters.  Their personality, motivation and how they handle situations is not fully developed.

The scene with the abusive husband and his wife precedes my story and will not be included.  Although the husband is the aggressor, I wanted the wife to exhibit the strength she'll need to runaway in the short story.

Disclaimer: The following scene contains: explicit violence and adult language.


Punishment


It was a chilly Wednesday afternoon. Jenny watched the Cooper family smiling as they piled into the minivan.  They were heading off to see a movie and share dinner at one of the two restaurants in town.  Her smile faded as the pain from her wrists shot through her.  The rope restraints were digging into her skin.  Luckily, enough rope ran from her bound hands to the bed, allowing her to walk around the room. 
Her breathing began to shallow as the floorboards outside her door creaked underneath a heavy step.  She pulled her head back from the eyepiece of the telescope as the door opened. 
“Have we finally calmed down?”
“Yes.”
“What are you doing?”
She tapped the viewing end so it was pointing towards the floor.  “Setting the telescope up for the stars tonight.”
“Why did you move it then?”
“I didn’t mean to.  You startled me.”
“Why are you so jumpy?”
“Just tired I guess.”
“You aren’t trying to hide anything from me are you?”
“No.”
“Why don’t you come sit down,” he said, patting the bed lightly.
She slowly walked over, staring at her bare feet.
“So, have you calmed down?” he asked, hooking his finger underneath her chin.
The black pupils of her eyes swallowed the honey brown hue as she met his cold stare.  She nodded her head softly, to prevent his finger from digging into her. 
He gripped her chin.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t hear you.”
She hesitated.  He moved her head side to side in an attempt to shake the words out.  “Yes, I’m calm now.”
“So, what do you have to say to me?”
“About what?”
“Saturday.”
“Oh.”
“Listen, I will only tolerate your insolence for so long.  Think before you speak again.”
“I’m sorry.”
“For what?”
“My behavior Saturday night at Celine’s”
“You’re damn right.  The restaurant was filled.”  He swung his arm up. “The whole town heard your little tantrum.”
She leaned away from him.
“You afraid?”
“Yes.”
“Behave yourself and there will won’t be a reason to worry.”
“I don’t see why you need to resort to violence all the time.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“You use your fists instead of words.”
“How else am I supposed to keep you in line.”
“You’re not my father, Charles.”
“No, I’m your husband, Jennifer.”
“You should be loving.”
“I buy you pretty things all the time.”
“Love isn’t an object.  It’s soft and sweet like hugs and kissing.  Not pain.” 
“I try to give you those things, but you insist on embarrassing me.”
“How do I embarrass you?”
“You don’t conduct yourself properly in public.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means your attitude towards my friend Anne Marie was uncalled for.”
“You can’t be serious.”
He grabbed the rope around her wrists, causing it to dig deeper into her skin.  “You were completely out of line.”
“She sashayed over and interrupted us while we were eating.”
“I don’t care.  She’s my friend and you will treat her with respect.” He let go of the rope.
“She kept her back to me the entire time.  Leaning over and putting her hand on top of yours, giggling.  I didn’t appreciate the flirting right in front of me.”
“She’s an old friend.”
“Why haven’t I heard of her?”
“I haven’t seen her in months.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
“I think you are overreacting.”
“Overreacting?  She didn’t say one word to me.”
“Like I said, we haven’t seen each other in a while.”
“You never bothered to introduce me.”
“She was on her way out of the restaurant.”
“Is there something going on between you two?”
“We’re friends.”
“So, you’re telling me you didn’t flirt with her?”
“Yes.”
“That’s a lie.”  She stood up.  “I saw the way you were looking at her.  Caressing her hand.  The two of you were in your own world.”
His blue eyes were slits as he glared back at her.  He pushed her back down on the bed.  “You better watch your tone.”
“She wasn’t the first girl.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“Am I?”
“Stop!  Why must you insist on such childish behavior?”
“Seriously?  You make a fool of me in public and somehow I’m the one screwing up.”
He grabbed her throat.  “You think too much.”  He forced her on her back. His musk cologne burned her nose as he leaned over her.  “You’re too pretty to worry so much.”  The soft cotton of his flannel shirt brushed across her nose as he pushed her hair out of her face.  He pressed his lips against her forehead. 
“Do you enjoy staying in this room?” 
“No.”
“Then, stop your nonsense.”  He pushed her into the bed.  Then, he climbed off her.  “I miss you.”
She sat up, rubbing her throat.  “I’m sorry.”    
He joined her on the bed. 
“Charles, I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”
He grabbed a handful of her hair, yanking her head back.  He leaned next to her ear.  “I just don’t believe you.”
He brushed his lips across her throat, and then bit her.  She flinched.  She reached her hand up to caress his face, and pressed her lips against his. 
“Honestly, I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not.  Your tone proves you haven’t learned your lesson.” He pushed her away.
“I wasn’t aware you were so threatened by words.”
“Shut up!” He stood up, pacing back and forth. 
“Do you think I enjoy being tied up for days?” 
“I’ll untie you when you learn to behave yourself, you stupid bitch.”
“And since when is tying up another person, let alone one’s wife, ok?”
“That’s it.” He walked out of the room and moments later returned with a roll of duct tape.
“What are you doing?”
“I can’t stand to hear you anymore.”
“Stop.  Please don’t.”
“Too late.  You should have thought about that before you shot your mouth off.”  He placed the tape on the bedside table.  He pulled a pocketknife from his jeans to cut the rope off her hands.  “Stop wiggling around.  I don’t want to cut you.”
“Then stop.”
“You forced me to do this.”
“You have completely lost your mind.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“No!”  She dug her fingers into his cheek, pulling down past his jaw.  His hand shot up instinctively.  There was blood on his hand when he pulled it away from his face. 
“Bitch!”  The back of his hand swung across her face, harder this time.  It left her stunned on the bed.  He took the opportunity to place her hands into handcuffs on opposite sides of the bed. 
The sound of the tape pulling away from the roll brought her back.  “Please don’t do this, Charles.  I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, I do.  It’s for your own good.  You need to learn.”  He leaned over her again with the strip of tape.  Her protests were muffled as he placed it on her mouth.  He kissed her forehead. 
“I love you.”

Did Jenny come of as a contender against her husband?

6 comments:

JM Leotti said...

This is very nicely done. I was really freaked out while reading it--in a good way.

One thing that occurred to me: would a guy this volatile even tolerate a woman who spoke back? I was wondering if you could make her strength internal, with her saying one thing and thinking another. Not sure that works for the exercise but maybe for your story?

Best of luck, and again, nicely done!

Laura Campbell said...

Thanks! I'm glad you were freaked out. The short story is going to horror. I don't know why exactly, but that's what the story wants.

Unfortunately, the assignment required mostly dialogue and the high status needed to be tossed back and forth often. I agree with you that a man like that wouldn't tolerate her talking back.

My energy to write the short story is starting to build as I play around with the characters. This is a new approach for me and I can't wait to see what makes it to the page. Thanks again for your feedback.

Michael Offutt said...

I kind of got lost in some of the dialogue and had to keep backtracking to make sure that I knew who was speaking because there were no he said, she said dialogue tags. I'm not advocating that there be one for every sentence...just maybe a few more to keep it straight.

Laura Campbell said...

Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, Clevenger isn't a big fan of dialogue tags. I noticed I didn't use any. I guess I need to be clearer with the description of action along with the dialogue to keep readers from getting lost.

Fickle Cattle said...

I thought it was nicely done. It's one of my favorite things to write, dialogue. I feel it makes a story more dynamic.

http://ficklecattle.blogspot.com/

Unknown said...

he black pupils of her eyes swallowed the honey brown hue as she met his cold stare.

I liked that use of the show don't tell rule a lot.

Wish I could afford to do that class.

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