In the second part of my "Devolving" series (which may never formally end and will likely never conform to a schedule), I'll take a look at the book I consider to be the greatest work of fiction - The Green Mile. As I did in the first of this series, i am breaking down the text to a very basic and logical level so I can better examine the original lines.
I was undecided on how much I appreciated this book until about two years ago when I began this process of devolving author's texts. As a casual reader I considered this book to be a very good story but wordy. Now that I'm studying it, I realize it's quite concise. For this column I've picked out my favorite two lines from The Green Mile to show you what I mean.
Stephen King: "They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair then..."
Devolved: "They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was green.
We had the electric chair then..."
I did two things when devolving this. I took out his detail of "the color of faded limes" and substituted it with "green." The difference is obvious, and I won't belabor the point other than to say that he chose something out of the ordinary. He didn't choose "grass" or another easy word. He went with "limes" and took it one step further: Faded limes.
That's the easy part of these two lines. What I also did was start a new paragraph when he started talking about a new subject - the electric chair. Students are taught to begin a new paragraph when changing subjects, and that's important. However, The Green Mile isn't a term paper, and it isn't an exact piece of classic literature. It's the memoir of an old man telling us about his time on the Green Mile. In doing so, the man rambles and is engaging us in dialogue.
What I've recently seen from fiction hasn't been impressive because its dialogue is fundamentally broken, whether or not it's presented in a first- or third-person narrative. The dialogue is broken but a simple fix exists: Recognize that human dialogue and train of thought does not simply run on one track. It does not always include paragraph breaks at logical moments. It runs together:
"They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair then..."
I realized what Stephen King was doing with his dialogue and narration,
I knew I had to incorporate some of that into Red Lory. My book is
written in third-person so I had fewer opportunities to give this a try,
but I found an opportunity midway through the book to capitalize on
abrupt changes in thought or abrupt lines:
"How has your evening been?”
Donnie looked down and began to breathe quickly. “It’s been fine. I was just borrowing some books.”
“At this time of night?” He [Doctor Howard] pointed over his shoulder. “With her?”
Douglas looked the young man down, studied Donnie’s shoes, and looked back up with a smirk. “You smell nice.”