Thursday, August 4, 2011
When a Bar Is Not Just a Bar
In the short story I've been tweaking the last month, the main character that has just left the military for civilian life meets up with some soldier friends at a bar. My advisor advised me that the dialogue was too pointed - too about what the story was about, when really dialogue in real life skirts what we want to say. At a bar, the soldiers wouldn't be talking about the details of war and what they regret, they would be doing everything BUT talking about it, while thinking about it, as if they could escape the reality if they just kept off-topic.
So last night, as I sat with friends around the table on the deck of Madigan's, I listened to the way people talked, the way the conversations flowed with those of us who had no seen each other in over two decades. And you know what? My advisor was right. We all talked about things that essentially didn't matter in the larger scheme of life. There were, at any time, three or four conversations going, about traffic on the highway, the teachers we remembered we loved and hated, the humidity, the DJ who seemed to want to be our new best friend, the song options for karaoke, and a hundred other things I don't even remember.
But all the while, I was thinking of my friend Jean who died a few years ago - who no doubt would have been sitting at that table with us, who would have sung karaoke. The song the first guys chose to sing was one Jean and I sang loud and often on car trips, one which brought back a wave of emotions that were surprisingly more sweet than sad.
The thing is, real life conversations at a bar are interesting to those in them, at that moment in time, but they make for a boring story. So how to mix the two - the important conversation they want to have, and are having in their head, about the dead they saw, the attacks and brutality, the comraderie that comes with those kind of circumstances and the loss of that when you come home - and the conversations which happens out loud. How to intertwine them in such a way that the surface dialogue conveys the inner turmoil they are hiding.
I wonder sometimes if I'm writing more complex stories now, or if because of school I'm letting my stories become more complex.
I remember the days when sitting down to write a story was just about writing the story. And going to a bar with some friends was just a conversation among friends. But I would't change a thing about either.