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Doctor in Petticoats
Here’s what I look for as I give a finished book a final read through.
1) Grinding action to a halt--Read about that HERE
2) Consistency—Feel free to review that HERE
3) Telling--Hunt that up HERE
4) Dialogue tags I talk about that HERE
Today I'm writing about Comedy.
Let's all pause for a prayer, because it's hard to explain comedy.
I wrote a blog a year or two ago about comedy, you can read that HERE
I remember one time watching a Jerry Seinfeld stand up comedy routine, back in his 'Regular on the Johnny Carson Show' days, and thinking what he'd done was take a very NORMAL situation, and EXAGGERATE it. This is the heart of his Show That's About Nothing.
A lot of comedy is simply exaggeration.
Really good comedy is exaggeration with a twist.
Really, really good comedy is exaggeration with a twist, dropped in with exactly the right timing.
How many times have I told you to EXPLODE your opening? Huh?
There is proof HERE
Well, the opening of Doctor in Petticoats is about 30 pages of explosion.
A runaway stagecoach. A wreck with people dead or injured. Beth McClellen my heroine running from one to the other trying to save them. Alex Buchanan the hero withdrawing to escape nightmarish (to him) blood and pain
There are comic moments thrown in regularly in that thirty pages of mayhem.
We start chapter four toward the end of the explosion, most of the bleeding has stopped, Beth has forced Alex to help, everyone is mostly bandaged.
Beth got what she needed from Alex and she's impressed with his skill but Alex isn't kidding about hating to be a doctor. This is what follows after he helps re-seat a dislocated shoulder and listens to the man he's helping scream in agony. He crawls away from the man and vomits over the edge of the cliff their stagecoach almost went over. Very intense. This is the end of the first scene in Alex's Point of View. Up until now, about page 25, it's been all Beth.
Doctor in Petticoats
Then Alex's eyes sharpened on the broken crags beneath him, and he saw that they hadn’t counted all the dead. A young woman lay down there, way off to his right. Her eyes, wide, locked right on him, looked into him as if she hated him for not saving her.
He had to get down there, help her somehow. Alex launched himself to his feet. His legs went out from under him.
The spitfire knocked him away from the ledge, flipped him on his back, and wrapped his hands in something that immobilized them. “Give me strength,” the woman muttered under her breath.
Why would she want even more strength than she already had? Near as Alex could make out, the woman could have subdued the entire unsettled West with one hand tied behind her back.
“What are you doing?” He found himself hog-tied as tightly as a calf set for branding.
She knelt beside him and glared down into his eyes. But her voice was sweet as sugar. “ I still need you, so you’re not going down there.”
“I’ve got to save her.”
“She’s dead,” the spitfire hissed as if someone had splattered water on her red-hot temper. She took a quick look behind her, and Alex realized Mrs. Armitage, now cradling her husband’s head in her lap and cooing to him, was listening to every word they said.
Was that young woman at the bottom of the cliff the Armitages’ daughter? He couldn’t know, but a shouting match over the poor thing wouldn’t help anyone.
He quit struggling. “Untie me.”
“No?” He wanted to launch his body at her, tackle her, but he didn’t.
“That’s right. No. You understand short words. That’s a good sign, but even half-wits understand that, so I’m still leaving you tied up.”
“You can’t just say no.”
“Can and did. You’re staying right here until I believe you’ve got yourself under control.”
Alex saw the stage driver kneeling beside someone else. Another victim. Alex hadn’t even gone to take a look at this one.
He looked back at Miss Spitfire. He was on real thin ice. . .as if there’d ever be anything so cool as ice in this brutal, arid stretch of Texas. He decided to try and act sane. . .for a change.
“I— I know she’s—” He couldn’t say it.
“Dead.” The fire faded from her eyes, replaced by worry. “I’m sorry but the word you’re looking for is—dead.”
Alex flinched. “I’m not looking for that word.”
“You say you need to go down and help her, but it seemed to me like you were getting ready to throw yourself off a cliff. Considering the semi-lunatic behavior you’ve exhibited up until now, I suppose it’s possible you thought you could help her. But since there’s no path, nothing but a sheer drop, it amounted to killing yourself. I decided to act first and ask questions later. Not much good asking questions once you’d pitched yourself over the edge, now was there?”
He tasted the panic over seeing that girl down there, obviously another victim of this stagecoach accident. It was a terrible fall. Of course she was beyond help. He was looking for the word dead.
“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking clearly. All I could hear was her—” No sense removing all doubt from her mind that she was dealing with a crazy man. Alex had gotten lost in the gaping eyes and the woman’s hate for him because he failed her.
“She seemed to be begging for help. I heard it, too.”
He snapped back into the present and looked into the spitfire’s eyes. Blue eyes. Blue. So blue. His were as dark as his broken soul. Her voice, too. She had the gift of soothing with her voice. A caretaker’s voice. He shared that with her. Except he hadn’t shared his soothing voice with anyone for a long time. And he hoped to never share it again.
Now she was soothing him. He wanted so desperately to believe that was possible, to calm the madness of his memories.
She’d called it right. He was a crazy man.
“I’d like for you to untie me. I need to check the other victims and make a sling for Leo’s arm.”
She studied him, weighing his demeanor, thinking, he knew, about that moment when he’d almost gone over that ledge. Then she produced a knife that gleamed in the late afternoon sun and slashed the leather straps on his arms. “I can use the help. We’re going to have to get that other stagecoach out of the way so we can drive on. It’s going to take all the strength we have. And then some.”
Alex sat up. The spitfire stood and extended her hand. He took it but did his best to stand on his own and not tax her strength, though she had so much.
When he was upright, he found himself far too close to those blue eyes and a craving was in him to hear her voice again, soothing him. “Thank you.”
“You’re a doctor.” She wound the strips of leather around her waist. She’d tied him up with her belt?
He hadn’t noticed it there before, but he didn’t notice much anymore. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. You handled that dislocated shoulder with too much skill to have picked up some tricks on the trail. You’ve had training. You’re a doctor.”
“If you can call four years sucked into the carnage of war training. If hacking off limbs with little more than a butcher knife, digging bullets out of the arms and legs of screaming men, and using a branding iron to cauterize a wound is training, then yes, I guess I’m a doctor.”
“It counted today. You helped that man.” Such kindness, such a beautiful tone.
He felt like he dared to admit some of what boiled inside. “I had to hurt him to help him.”
The spitfire used her eyes on him, as if she was hunting around inside his head, looking for—what? Some sign of intelligence probably.
“It figures you’d look at the help you gave that man and find a reason to hate yourself for healing him. It just figures.”
Alex knew he shouldn’t ask. He’d lived too long to ask. But she was so lovely, and her eyes were so blue, and she was talking and he wanted her to keep on. “Why does it figure?”
“Because, Alexander Buchanan”—
He saw it in her eyes and he’d asked, so he had it coming.
—“you are measuring up to be a complete idiot.”
This is the chapter end, and it's a comedic break. There are several others salted in. The aside about ice in Texas for example.
I push the reader into about as intense an experience with Alex as I can. He's over the edge of crazy, his actions border on suicidal, add a dead woman, nothing much funny here. So you play with emotions. You've got your reader pulled all the way deep into the story, their emotions are wide open and you pounce.
In fact, in this one scene, I've given the reader Action in a way that I hope doesn't ever grind to a halt.
There are the Five Senses inside and out of Alex's head, his memories as well as what he's seeing, feeling, hearing now.
Plenty of Dialogue - no long strings of internal thought.
I SHOW instead of TELL. In fact when Beth grabs him and hog ties him you have to pay attention because I only mention it in passing, how they react to it rather than her doing it.
There is Consistency, Alex came through when Beth needed him but he is still crazy as a loon, but now with a heart revealed so tender, so fragile, that the caretaker in Beth needs to heal him at the same time the tough Texas cowgirl in her wants to slug him.
And there-in lies the Comedy.
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