I’m currently on the second draft of Emma’s Story and as described in this blog post I had some issues with the introductory conversation in the first chapter.
The first version was a bit overly aggressive and lacked some character and atmosphere, so I decided to try another approach. In essence, it’s the same scene, but it’s also very different. I’m quite pleased with the changes I made. Then again, I made them last night while having a few pints, so maybe I won’t feel so kindly about it in a few days.
I also took the opportunity to experiment a little, and hopefully learn something from it. The scene itself is different, but the lines of conversation the characters say are the exact same. I’ve included both scenes below here for comparison, and if you want to check out the original version it’s in the first draft of chapter one, here.
Post Dinner Conversation
Emma stepped into the dining room and stopped, just inside the door. She clasped her hands in front of her and curtsied. “Mother, father.”
Sitting at each end of the long empty table her parents both turned to look at her. Neither of them spoke.
She cleared her throat and began counting on her fingers. “The kitchen’s set to order. The dishes are done, the trash has been taken out, and the left-overs wrapped up for tomorrow.”
Herman leaned back in his chair, stroked his chin, and nodded. Kerstin sipped her tea, but she kept her eyes on Emma over the cup.
“I put Elmot to bed right away after the meal and he was sleeping when I checked just now. Edgren and Viola are getting the rest of them ready for the night.”
Her father raised a finger. “Wasn’t Edgren supposed to go to Stefan and Lisa to look after their little one so they could go to the meeting?”
“Yes.” Emma nodded. “I’ll send him over as soon as I’m done here. You’ll be leaving soon, right?”
“Yes. Indeed.” He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands over his belly. “We just wanted to hear you had everything under control with the kitchen and the bedtimes.”
Kerstin set down her teacup and cleared her throat. “You will be joining us once you’re done here?”
Emma pulled a smile to her face. “Yes mother.” She just needed a few minutes to herself – just a quick breather. “Viola has promised to stay awake until we’re back. She’ll be there for the kids if they wake up and need anything.”
Still smiling, she turned from her mother to her father, nodding to each in turn to confirm neither of them had any objections to how she’d chosen to run the burrow.
“Good.” Stroking his chin, her father gave a slow nod. “Very good. Just don’t take too long. It wouldn’t look good if you arrived late for the meeting.”
Emma suppressed a sigh. “No father. I know.” She coughed into her hand and forced the smile back on. “I’ll be on time. There’s not much left to do.” There’d better not be.
“Excellent.” Herman smiled back at her and then shot his wife a quick glance.
Emma swallowed and steeled herself. Here we go again.
Without glancing back, Kerstin straigthened up and turned to Emma. “I’ll be going home right away afterwards. You should stay behind and have a chat with your friends for a bit.” She paused for just a moment, making sure she had Emma’s full attention. “Torkel will be there you know.”
Before Emma could stop herself a sigh escaped her and she rolled her eyes. Groaning inwards, she wiped the smile from her face, straightened up, and clasped her hands behind her back. “Yes. Mother.”
Kerstin slammed her fist into the table so hard the teacup rattled. “Do not roll your eyes at me daughter.” She raised her hand to point and stared down her finger at Emma. “You’re the one dragging things out and making us all look like fools.”
Emma glared back. Lady’s dirty toes. This again. Every single day. Always the same. Always. She clenched her teeth and forced herself to keep her face straight.
“Now, now.” Herman cleared his throat and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “There’s no need to be harsh.” He took a deep breath, splayed his hands, and put on his friendliest, most reasonable smile. “It’s a big decision, and we all know what Torkel is like.”
“That’s no excuse,” Kerstin snapped. She glared at him for a moment and then turned to Emma with her head held high. “Daughter. You have to make your mind up about this soon.”
Emma clenched her teeth. She met her mother’s gaze. She didn’t move an inch. “Yes. Mother.”
Her father swallowed, rubbed at his nose, and then rested his hands in his lap. “Your mother is right.” For a moment, he just looked at her, his face serious. “You don’t have to marry Torkel, but you do have to tell him yes or no. People are talking.”
“Yes father.” She sighed. She didn’t even bother trying to hide it. “I know.” She stuck her chin out and rapped her knuckles against it. “It’s me they’re talking about. Me!”
Herman crossed his arms over his chest and sat absolutely still. He barely even breathed.
“This isn’t just about you.” His eyes didn’t leave her for a moment.
Emma glared at him. She clenched her jaws and pressed her lips together. Her father stared back – unmoving. She turned to her mother, but she too sat with her arms crossed, looking at her, completely still.
Closing her eyes, Emma bowed her head. Edgren. Viola. They would want to get married too. Soon. It really wasn’t just about her.
Her shoulders slumped and a weak breath sighed out of her.
For a moment she just stod there. Still. Silent. It wasn’t even unfair. They were right. She had to make her mind up and that was that. She just needed some time.
Emma shrugged. It would have to wait. She still had a burrow to run – brothers and sisters to put to bed. She opened her eyes, raised her head, and straightened her back. “Are we done here?”
Emma stepped into the burrow’s dining room and stopped, just inside the door. Most of the candles on the table had burned out, and in the fireplace in the far wall thin flames licked the last log. She should put in another before she left for the meeting.
Over in the corner, in the big armchairs, sat her parents, letting their bellies settle after dinner. In the warm twilight she more sensed than saw how they turned their attention to her. They’d let their candle go out, or not bothered lighting one.
“Mother, father.” She nodded in their direction and started around the table to the other corner, where they kept the firewood. Might as well sort that out right away. “The kitchen’s set to order.”
Squatting by the big wickerwork basket, she felt around inside for a suitable log. “The dishes are done, the trash has been taken out, and the left-overs wrapped up for tomorrow.”
Not a word came from the chairs over in the corner, but she heard her father, Herman, exhale and his chair creak as he shifted in his seat.
“I put Elmot to bed after the meal and he was sleeping last I checked.” She found a big chunk of wood she felt good about, and with both hands she hauled it out of the basket. “Edgren and Viola are getting the rest of them ready for the night.”
Her father cleared his throat. “Wasn’t Edgren supposed to go to Stefan and Lisa to look after their little one so they could go to the meeting?”
“Yes.” Emma carried the log to the fireplace and set it down. “I’ll send him over as soon as I’m done here.” Kneeling by the hearth she studied the flames for a moment, and then she looked up and peered into the corner at her parents. “You’ll be leaving for the meeting soon, right?”
“Yes, indeed,” came her Father’s voice. “We just wanted to hear you had everything under control with the kitchen and the bedtimes.”
Emma said nothing. Of course she had. She’d done this for a while now. They knew that.
She took a deep breath and turned her attention back to her log and the fire. She’d probably be the same when her children started trying to run her burrow. If she got any. If.
She pressed her lips together, stared into the flames, and tried to think about where best to put the log.
“Will you be joining us once you’re done here?” said her mother – Kerstin.
“Yes mother.” Emma nodded in her direction. “Viola has promised to stay awake until we’re back. She’ll be there for the kids if they wake up and need anything.”
“Very good,” said her father. “Just don’t take too long. It wouldn’t look good if you arrived late for the meeting.”
Emma suppressed a sigh. “No father, I know.” She clenched her teeth, lifted up the log, and placed it on top of the charred remains of the previous one – taking care not to drop it down too fast and have burning embers scatter all over the place.
“I’ll be on time. There’s not much left to do.” There wasn’t. She was pretty much done. Everything was set. She’d even dawdle a bit to give them time to leave so she wouldn’t have to walk with them up the hill to the inn. She didn’t mind her parents, not really. They’d just been a bit much lately. A bit of time on her own would be good.
“Excellent.” Her father yawned, stretched his arms in the air, and wiggled a little to settle down comfortably into his chair again.
Her mother straightened up and tapped her fingers against the armrest of her chair. “I’ll be going home right away afterwards. You can stay behind and have a chat with your friends for a bit. Torkel will be there you know.”
Emma sighed, and her shoulders slumped. A bit much indeed. “Yes mother.”
Her mother slapped her hand against the armrest. “Don’t you roll your eyes at me daughter.” She cleared her throat and drew herself up straight. “You’re the one dragging things out and making us all look like fools.”
Thin flames clutched at the new log, licking at it edges, already charring it in places. Emma stared at it. Stared without seeing. She knew. It was her life – her future. Lady’s dirty toes did she know.
Her father reached out and put his hand on her mother’s arm. “There’s no need to be harsh.” He took a deep breath and softened his voice. “It’s a big decision, and we all know what Torkel is like.”
“That’s no excuse.” She shook his arm off without even turning to look at him. “Daughter. You have to make your mind up about this soon.”
Hanging her head, Emma took a deep breath and slowly let it out again. “Yes. Mother.” They were right and she knew it. That didn’t help at all.
“Your mother is right” Her father shuffled forward to sit at the edge of his seat. “You don’t have to marry Torkel, but you have to tell him yes or no.” He put his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. “People are talking.”
Emma’s head shot up and she glared at her father in his big comfortable chair in his nice warm burrow – that she ran for him. “I know father.” She got to her feet and without taking her eyes off of him she stuck her chin out and rapped her knuckles against it. “It’s me they’re talking about.”
Her father crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair, and for a long time he just looked at her.
Silence fell over the room.
The fire crackled to itself.
Maybe she shouldn’t have done that.
Eventually, he sighed. “This isn’t just about you.”
Emma grew cold inside. Edgren. Viola. It wasn’t their fault. They’d want to get married too one day.
Her mother just looked at her, not saying a word.
The little ones. They’d grow up too. Hers was a good family – she knew that, everyone knew – but what good were they if they couldn’t even get their firstborn daughter married?
She had to make her mind up.
Emma sighed, and her shoulders slumped. “I know.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and another. She clenched her fist, and raised her head. Standing tall she looked back and forth between her father and her mother. She didn’t have time for this. She had a burrow to run. “Are we done?”
Her father nodded. “We are done.”