The Value of Beta Testing

Well, to follow up on my blog yesterday morning, I decided that I was going to find a different writing voice. I had one in mind, copying the style of Cormac McCarthy. What I found was that it was harder to change my writing than I thought it would be. One gets used to writing a particular way, and it’s hard to switch.

My goal was to transition from a traditional viewpoint that included internal dialogue and exposition when needed to one with no exposition and no internal dialogue. In addition, punctuation, especially around direct quotes would be limited, if not eliminated entirely.

I found that in recreating a scene that I had already written, because I couldn’t do internal dialogue, I had to rely on description more. That’s good, and it’s something I knew I had to fix in my own writing anyway. But there were obvious problems as well.

So what I want to do here is share two very brief passages in the old style and the new style, and let you tell me what you think. I have already shared it my student writing group, and their response was surprising. But because I don’t want to influence you in your judgment, I won’t tell you what they said.

Here’s Sample A, representing my Traditional writing style:

What were the others doing? Were they OK? Did they get the message in time? She heard a siren in the distance. Was that for them? And then another, and a third. Something was definitely going on, and she felt a chill go down her neck. She had grown up with a tough exterior, afraid to show her feelings, believing she could never care for another person, but all the time frightened like a tiny rabbit. It wasn’t until she joined the others here in L.A. that she discovered how vulnerable she really was. It wasn’t until Jesus touched her life that she really understood how incomplete, how needy she was.

The past six months were the happiest time of her life. And now it was all over.

She waited patiently as the elderly woman ahead of her bought a ticket, then stepped up to the clerk. She took a long moment to look at the list of departures on the wall behind him. Then she turned back to him.

“What’s the next bus out of town?” she asked.

The man shrugged. “Northbound leaves in ten minutes. Last stop is Sacramento. That’s $99.”

She looked in her pocket and fished out two $20 bills.

“How far will this get me?” she asked. The clerk raised one eyebrow and printed out a ticket for her.


And now here’s Sample B, the Experimental style:

Lifting her head, she paused for another long minute before continuing her run down Fifth Avenue. In all the darkness, lit only by an occasional streetlamp, her feet took her to her apparent destination. The sign read Capital Bus Lines. It was straight ahead, and she ran the last six blocks with renewed energy.

She entered the cinder-block building and joined the only two other people there; one was a balding man in his 50s selling tickets, obviously bored of an otherwise boring job in a boring location. The other was a woman who seemed close to 70, and apparently was having a hard time deciding where she wanted to go.

Taupe waited behind the old woman, tapping the steel toe of her pink boot and looking around her.

How much to Sacramento? the woman asked.

One-thirty five fifty.

She muttered to herself.

I took the trip not five years ago, and it wasn’t that much.

I understand, said the teller, his boredom showing even more.

The woman pulled out her purse, slowly slipped seven $20 bills from her billfold and handed them to the man. The clerk gave her change, then printed off her ticket. The woman stepped aside, and Taupe stepped forward.

What’s the next bus out of town, she said, obviously trying hard to slow down her breathing.

The clerk shrugged.

Northbound leaves in ten minutes. Last stop is Sacramento. One thirty five fifty.

Taupe looked deep into her pocket and fished out two $20 bills.

How far will this get me? she asked.

The clerk raised one eyebrow, took her $40 and printed out a ticket for her.


Note that some minor details have changed, but don’t let that bother you. The issue is the voice of the writing. Which one do you prefer? Leave a comment here and help a fellow writer out.

5 thoughts on “The Value of Beta Testing

  1. Sample A, hands down, no question. :^) But not just because of the style/voice better…the details you included in the first sample were more interesting to me.

    But let us know what the students thought. I’d like to hear their opinion.

  2. You know what it is? The internal dialogue makes me care about her more. It makes her seem more real. The other one makes me feel as though I’m a security camera just watching the story rather than being actively involved.

  3. As a counterpoint view to Celete’s, I myself am not a fan of internal dialog. At the same time, I’m not a fan of missing quote tags and dialog either. In looking at both samples, there is a happy medium to be found, in my opinion. Perhaps some application of minimalist style while maintaining a much lower percentage of internal dialog?

    I’ve been told I should offer more internal dialog to give deeper connection to the character(s) in question. Celeste’s input seems to echo that idea. Like I said, I’ve never been a fan of it, and don’t do it myself. There are, of course, myriad other ways to make a reader care about the character(s), but internal dialog has been one I’ve tried to avoid. If I want that level of intimacy for the reader, I’ll make the book first person POV.

    Just my $.02, which is worth less at today’s exchange rates. 🙂

  4. Not sure about the boy/girl thing. I think there could be some of that, although there are always exceptions. I could almost guarantee that my daughter would pick Sample B without question. But then, she was an English major. Regarding intimacy/connection: I preach the value of the reader connecting with the main character because they have to care whether he/she lives or dies. Otherwise it’s a pretty flat story. In a day or so, I will tell you the results of my straw poll of students.

Comments are closed.