Fun stories are not always easy to write. The Swimmer is such a story.
Dialogue writing sometimes needs no help when writing tall tales. You can develop a unique voice in writing some stories by completely omitting beats and speaker attributes.
Beats and speaker attributes are explained in Let the Dialogue Speak, which is posted in the Articles section.
Writing The Swimmer was a fun experience in spite of having to remember what NOT to include in the story.
If writing a story stripped of narration seems too intimidating, take one of your short stories that have only two speaking characters. Only two will make this exercise easier.
Remove all the beats and speak attributes, and other narration, leaving only dialogue. See if the story still holds together.
Experiment with it. This exercise could help you find a new voice in writing.
The Swimmer is a strange little 253-word fantasy play on the mind I wrote when “all dialogue” stories enjoyed a stint not long ago. The idea was to tell a story containing all the necessary story elements, but write it with dialogue only.
Once finished reading the story, answer the questions at that follow.
“You always appear out of a haze, like a beautiful figment of my imagination.”
“Maybe that’s what I am.”
“Are you some sort of apparition?”
“I’m anything that you want me to be.”
“Why do you always swim alone in this dark, foggy lake?”
“I come to watch a troubled young man sitting alone under a tree, drinking.”
“Come sit with me here on the bank then. I brought cold beers.”
“No, you must come to me.”
“You seem like someone I could talk to. Why won’t you come out?”
“Impossible. You must get into the water.”
“I tried it twice and nearly drowned before someone pulled me out.”
“Come into the water with me. That’s why you’ve returned.”
“Hey, I never see any clothes laying on the bank? Do you come here naked?”
“What’s that you’re floating on?”
“What is that? Some kind of raft?”
“I might go in if I had a raft to hold onto.”
“It’s not a raft.”
“Then I won’t go in.”
“Too bad. I could solve your problem.”
“Then come out for a while.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Your raft…a fish’s tail?”
“It’s not a raft. But it is a tail.”
“A-a-r-rgh! Why did you splash me?”
“With my raft?”
“A tail? You’re a…a…mermaid?”
“I am losing my mind!”
“You created me, to help you get into the water again.”
“You’d have succeeded this time. Goodbye.”
“No…Wait!…wait! I’m coming in…I’m coming…!
Questions to think about:
Did you have a sense that this man was loosing his mind and having hallucinations? Or was he intending on having some fun with a person he thought was real? His dialogue tells all. In the beginning he has no idea what’s happening to his sanity.
Did you have a sense of the weather? The isolated location? Writing all of these elements into the dialogue of a story of this type enhances your voice in writing.
Did you understand that from his fragile mental state that the man is talking himself into doing something drastic? And making it fun is the only way he could accept what is happening?
Do you understand that the man being playfully splashed by the tail of the being in the water is the man’s resistance failing? The being is his imagination or hallucination, and becoming playful with him shows his will to live caving in.
Did you sense that when the man realizes that the being is a mermaid, he’s now convinced he’s losing his mind, a conclusion he may have tried to deny till that time?
Was the voice in writing the mermaid’s dialogue soothing enough, or taunting enough, to convince the man to try again?
Do you see that the man has accepted his hallucinations as real, perhaps his only reality? And now he will follow her into the water?
He no longer has thoughts of fun and frolic, nor of fright. His suicidal tendencies are over-bearing. He accepts the mermaid because, after the two previous failed drowning attempts, participating in something that’s fun allows him to succeed.
Did you have a sense of the entire scene where the story takes place? In your mind, perhaps you imagined a bank by a foggy lake. Maybe it was dark and foreboding.
Everyone who reads the story will create a different setting and overall feeling in their minds according to what the words in the story draws from their personal experiences of such forlorn places.
Do you think you could spend time creating an all dialogue story? I find it easier when writing tall tales. It was a lot more fun.
After all this, when editing such a story, look first to make sure the dialogue is real and natural. An element of fun at the right time can enhance and darken the more sinister parts.
In the case of this story, the dialogue must reflect the man’s inner struggle. That’s accomplished by the voice in writing two separate dialogues, though they come from one person.
Still, both need to be fresh and real.
When writing an all dialogue story, voice in writing, or how each character expresses verbally is all-important. The dialogue cannot seem to come from the writer. It must come from each character.
Two sides of the man are represented, the serious and depressed, and the light, fun side. Both battle to take over the man’s mind. Guess you can tell which one won out in this story.