Saturday’s Dust, Unsettled 01

Dust, UnsettledThis is a series of posts appearing each Saturday morning, sharing the story of the editing of Dust, Unsettled, a western romance written in the 1980s by the teenage version of myself. To learn more about this exercise, check out the original post.

The first section is the original writing. It’s filled with poor dialogue tags, unnecessary words and poor story telling. In the brackets [ ] I’ll point out issues with the writing. I won’t point out every issue, only three or four per Saturday.

Word Count Comparison

  • Original: 391
  • Edited: 342
  • Difference: 49

Dust, Unsettled

Chapter 01

Original Story

“Christ, no, I don’t want to work!” Jessica shouted at her mother, “but Rachel has no one else to come in!”

“But we were going shopping,” her mother persisted, slamming the microwave door. She never understood why Jessica, her youngest of two daughters, always said yes to her boss when she called for her to work on her day off. [I hopped heads back then. This scene is from Jessica’s point of view, but here we are in her mother’s head.]

“Well, I guess we can’t! Shit!” Jessica screamed as the button broke off of her dress pants. “I hate these pants! I wish I could wear my jeans!” [As you can see, I used a lot of exclamation marks.]

“Why don’t you put on your brown pair and I’ll fix that button for you.”

“My brown ones are dirty. I’ll have to wear my ugly black ones.” Jessica mumbled on the way to her bedroom.

Jessica reentered the kitchen, tucking in her white blouse. “I don’t know why people have to call in sick. I never do” She looked at the bottom of her pants. The hem barely reached her ankles. She hated short pants. “I work when I’m sick. Why stay home and suffer. Rachel probably ain’t sick anyways. She’s probably suffering from a hangover or picked up something at a bar last night.” Jessica noticed her boss’s behaviour had changed dramatically since her divorce was finalized seven months ago. She became a fanatic about her appearance and chased every man from 16 to 30, even though she herself was 33. “Yeah, that’s probably what it is. The tramp.”

“Jessica!”

“Well, it’s true. She’d pick up anything and take it home.” Jessica reached for the truck keys and on her way out the door said, “I’ll be home for supper.” She closed the door and stood on the cement slab which was to be a front step. “What a day,” she mumbled as she studied the rows of houses on her street. They were all split-entry homes, identical in design and property. The warm sun caressed her skin and she looked up into the blue sky. “Summer’s comin’. Nothing fantastic, but it’s comin’ anyways.” Jessica took a deep breath and climbed into her Ford half-ton truck, checking her long dark hair in the rearview mirror. Her fingers flipped back her bangs, but they fell limplessly into her brown eyes. She stared at her eyes for a moment, wishing the pupils would grow larger. Her eyes were prettier when they were darker. [I didn’t use a lot of ‘said’ dialogue tags. That’s directly related to the way I was taught to write in the public school system. They wanted us to expand our vocabulary by using ridiculous tags like hissed, groaned, growled and many other colourful, wrong words. Instead, they should have expanded our vocabulary by teaching us stronger verbs.]

Edited Story

“I don’t want to work,” said Jessica, flinging up her arms in frustration. “But Rachel doesn’t have anyone else to call.”

“We were supposed to go shopping.” Her mother removed her reheated tea from the microwave and slammed the door.

“Well, we can’t. Damn!” Jessica growled as she held up the button broken off her dress pants. “Great. Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Wear your brown pair, and I’ll fix the button for you.”

“They’re dirty, and I don’t have time to fix this pair.” She marched back to her bedroom. The ugly black pair in the back of her closet—the last resort pants—would have to do.

A quick change and Jessica returned to the kitchen. She laboured to tuck in her white blouse. “I don’t know why people call in sick. I don’t.” She glared at the bottom of her pants; the hem barely reached her ankles. Short pants were her pet peeve. “Why stay home and suffer. I’d rather get paid to suffer.” She tugged on her pants to lower the hem. “I bet Rachel’s not even sick. She’s probably got a hangover, or she’s sleeping in with whatever she picked up at the bar last night.”

Rachel’s behaviour had changed drastically in the past six months. Since her divorce became final, she’d become a fanatic about her appearance, and she flirted heavily with every male customer between the ages of sixteen and thirty. Although she was the manager, she acted more like a new employee. The woman just turned thirty-three; she should act more mature. “Yeah, that’s probably it. She’s lying under something half her age.”

“Jessica!”

Truck edited“I’m only saying what’s true.” Jessica grabbed a set of keys. “I should be home for supper,” she said as she left the house. The warm, sunny day only made her feel worse. After shopping, she had planned to work in the garden. She released a heavy sigh as she climbed into her truck.  Checking her hair in the rear view mirror, it reminded her she needed a haircut.


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8 thoughts on “Saturday’s Dust, Unsettled 01

  1. I find coming across an old piece of writing enthuses me as it is proof my writing has improved over the years – though I often don’t feel I have made progress. So interesting to read your ‘before’ and ‘now’ pieces.

    • After long weeks and months of writing, it is easy to feel we haven’t made progress, haven’t improved. But by saving those old drafts and stories, and looking at them again, we can clearly see–if we continue to learn and work at our craft–that we have indeed improved. Good luck with your writing.

  2. Sounds like an interesting beginning, even if it is going to be cut as you say in the above comment. At least you had something to work with.
    A few years back I stumbled on a box of papers I had written when I was at Saint Marys. “Proof of the existence of God” stands out in my mind as one title. The Jesuits ran the place then, maybe they still do. I had to check to make sure my name really topped the paper. They were bad, really bad, bad beyond repair.
    I look forward to following your thought process as you do your rewrite. Seeing the original morph into something so much better is much more helpful than merely talking about why certain rules or suggestions should apply to our writing.
    Until next week.

    • Yes, it may be cut or shortened or merged with the next chapter. If memory serves me correctly, I think I took forever to get the story started, and I now know that I shouldn’t do that.

      Regarding the box you found: If you recognised it as bad, then it shows you have improved greatly since then. Writing badly is the road to writing…goodly. lol I’m sure there were things I wrote when I was very young that was worse than “Dust, Unsettled”, but I haven’t uncovered them yet. This western was the third novel I finished. How many words did I write between the ages of 13 and 20? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million or more.

      When I find the coil notebooks of the original “Shadows in the Stone” novel, I’ll share a few pieces. As they taught us in school, I described every character in detail: I stated their eye and hair colour, their weight and height, every piece of clothing they wore (colour and material), any scars or markings…basically I was filing a missing person report. 🙂

      Hopefully this Dust, Unsettled Saturday segments will do just that: help others see how the rules of writing can be applied to improve a story.

      Thanks for commenting, Art.

    • Thanks, Darlene. After all these decades, dress pants and short pants are still my pet peeves. Somethings never change.

      As I was editing the next segment for next Saturday, I realised much of this first chapter may be removed in the next edit. In “Shadows in the Stone”, I removed the entire first chapter. We often don’t know where to start the story until the serious editing begins.

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