Well, either I'm so far out of learning mode that my brain doesn't work any more or I just don't understand Hemingway. I was under the impression that with short fiction every single sentence has to work towards the goal of the story. However, on first reading of this piece I couldn't even decide what the scene goals were. It honestly just seemed to be random story with random characters just talking about completely random things. Eventually I settled on the idea of lost love/the passage of time for lack of anything better. A quick google search tossed up quite a few people who seemed to agree with me, so I guess I'm not too far from the mark. Conflicts seemed to come out easier. Nick vs Marge's mother was a big one, Nick vs his own feelings, Nick vs commitment, Nick vs Bill's opinions on the Marge matter and Nick vs endings.
So, armed with my trusty highlighter pen, I went searching for any dialogue which had to do with either the scene goals or those central conflicts. It took me until page five to find anything. Needless to say, those first five pages didn't work for me. Here and there was a good line which could be twisted to fit one of the conflicts if I squinted and turned the page upside down, like the following:
'”It's getting too late to go around without socks,' he said.
“I hate to start them again,” Nick said.'
Yes, admittedly, they're talking about socks, but I got the sense that it could be meant as a subtler indication of passing time. Maybe Nick doesn't want to wear socks again not only because he prefers not to, not only because it's a reminder that summer is gone and another year is heading to a close, but because the year is closing and he's still in the same place in his life. I realise this is a stretch. In the first five pages, this is as close as I came to dialogue that worked. At least for me.
Finally, on page five, something more closely resembling a contribution to the passage of time theme which also touched on some of the main conflicts. Here Nick and Bill are discussing their fathers:
'”He's missed a lot,” Nick said sadly.
“You can't tell,” Bill said. “Everything's got its compensation.”
“He says he's missed a lot himself,” Nick confessed.
“Well, dad's had a tough time,” Bill said.
“It all evens up,” Nick said.'
Here you get a good look at the dichotomy of Nick and Bill's view of the world through their view on their father's lives. Nick focuses solely on what his father has missed, hinting at what he himself feels he has missed or is missing due to the now ended relationship, and perhaps where he sees himself at his father's age if he continues to be without a meaningful relationship. Bill, on the other hand seems to think that it doesn't really matter what road you choose in life, whether you choose to spend it alone, with one woman, or with a series of women. So despite the fact that they aren't discussing the central issue of the story, once applied to it, you can see already where they will stand on that issue through these lines of, seemingly, frivolous dialogue. I appreciate the craftiness of this little transaction – although I appreciate it more where it doesn't seem pointless through first reading but takes on a completely different meaning once you have the value of hindsight, like watching Sixth Sense once you know Bruce Willis is dead, or Fight Club once you know Edward Norton is Tyler Durden. Here it seems a little too pointless the first time round, but perhaps that's just because I don't appreciate this particular story. I'll reserve judgement on Hemingway until I've read more of his work.
To me, though, it wasn't so much how Hemingway used dialogue as how he didn't use it that made more of an impact. Through Bill's whole monologue on why it was such a good idea for Nick to break up with Marge and why he shouldn't ever get married, it was the way Nick didn't respond, or resorted to one word answers, which spoke the most. As in this example:
'”You came out of it damned well,” Bill said. “Now she can marry somebody of her own sort and settle down and be happy. You can't mix oil and water and you can't mix that sort of thing any more than if I'd marry Ida that works for Strattons. She'd probably like it, too.”
Nick said nothing.'
Bill's opinion is made pretty obvious through his verbosity on the subject, while Nick's opinion is equally obvious due to his silence. Bill has obviously hit a sore spot here, and even without any description or any explanation of what he is feeling, it's clear that Nick feels badly about the breakup and regrets being alone again.
Those are just a few points, but I think you get it.
So what have I brought out of this? I've learned that I should think carefully about what characters say when they're just chatting about nothing, because even then what they choose to say and the opinions they hold can be quite telling. I've also learned (relearned?) that silence can be just as powerful as speech, and that I don't have to have my characters saying anything for them to be powerfully heard.
I'm afraid that although I am posting the dialogue scene I'll be working on, I'm posting it friends locked because I'm completely and utterly paranoid about characters, plot, entire storyline, lines of exposition and dialogue being stolen by some unscrupulous fellow. So if you don't see it, it's because I'm paranoid and very protective of my baby. Sorry. Hopefully you'll get to see the better version in print in a year or so :D