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A Dash of Style

Tomorrow up on Shotgun Honey we are hosting our fifth story from Jersey native Kieran Shea. It’s called “Going All Shatner.” I have to admit I was sold the moment I saw the title. Quirky titles get me, and I get them. All of the stories we’ve hosted for Kieran have been in what I’ve come to call a “Morse Code” style. Nearly pure dialog, little if any narrative, accentuated with dashes and dots.

Excerpt from “Man Full of Stones” on Shotgun Honey:

-Hey, Morgan.
-Well, well.  Look at what the tide dragged in.  S’up, Mikey?
-That him?
-The guy in the corner.  Watching Vlatka on stage.  Bony-looking dude with the glasses.
-Yeah.  That’s him. Guess who gets to take that creep to the airport in an hour?
-Atlantic City?
-Nope.  Philly.  God, I’m looking forward to that like a punch in the nuts.

-So what?
-Is it true?  I mean, what they say about him?
-Believe it or not it’s true.
-That’s hilarious.
-But hey, he’s good at what he does and Mr. Donofrio likes him so what do we care if he’s a freak?  To each his own, that’s my motto these days. To each his fuckin’ own.  Throwing some deadbeat clown a beating is one thing but that other nasty stuff?  Do me a favor and leave me the hell out of it.  If Mr. Donofrio wants to contract those grisly details out to some Rain Man-talking sideshow from Boston, he can be my guest.
-I’m going to go talk to him.
-I wouldn’t do that if I was you, Mikey.
-Why not?  What’s the worst that could happen?

-Come on.  I just want to see what he’s like.  Where’s the harm?

Each line of dialog is marked with a dash. Quotation and attribution are absent. The conversation is a rapid flow of give and take, the conversation carrying the tone and direction of the story. Clustered together and broken up by the pregnant pause of single lined ellipses, building tension with each returned line.

It isn’t often that style is used to build the story. I have seen writers created their own styles, but not to manipulate the reader and not structure the pacing. Of course I may not be as well versed or read as I like.

The first time I saw the use of the dash to signify dialog was with Charlie Huston. I thought it was unique and I like the dialog separate and alone, not depending on exterior events to give weight to the words. The dialog is an event in itself. Especially with how Kieran manages it to flow free, fresh, natural.

Cormac McCarthy is often lauded, and he does tell a hellava story that blends genre into a sprawling literary narrative, but I have to admit I struggled following his dialog, quotes painfully absent. It was something I had to adjust to, but end the end was transparent to the power of the words he had written.

Kieran’s “Morse Code” style is easy to digest, to understand. If it’s not his own, I don’t want to know, because his ability to talk through a story and create tension without descriptors is unique. I read so many stories that struggle with dialog surrounded by well written narrative. I myself have to write dialog multiple times until I think it’s half worth to see the light. Even then…

I’m not asking anyone to adopt this style–Kieran’s Style–I don’t think I could ever accept a story that did. I do encourage people to experiment with their writing, to explore what makes a story from voice to style, narrative to dialog. Creativity is how you manipulate the reader.

Be creative.