Purpose: exploring genre and literary fiction; writing purposeful dialogue; learning to think and create characters.

Scene to be rewritten

With an incredibly effective, practiced motion, Cliff Boner was pulling a weapon from the breast pocket hidden under the bulk of his black leather jacket when there was a flash of blue light–like a strobe, as a stun-gun discharged, followed by a gasp of pain from Harmon Collander as two million volts of electricity went through his body.  His eyes were wide as he slumped over in his chair.  Colander was motionless. In a few seconds, towering over the man whose eyes now showed fear, Boner was salivating like a hungry carnivore about to consume his injured prey.  Boner savored the moment.  He was feeling satisfaction.  He took a sip of coffee.

Collander was twitching.  His mouth was moving; he was trying to speak.  Boner leaned over, still enjoying the look of pain in the man’s eyes.

“Why?” Collander finally said.

“Why do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh.  You must have some idea.”

Collander was looking totally bewildered.  “Money!  Was it for money?”

“You think it’s for money?  You’re a fool.”  Boner smiled.  He needed knowledge.  That would of course bring money.  But it was knowledge that he now wanted.

“If it’s not money.  What is it?”

“You know a secret.  And you will share it with me. If not now, when you are thinking clearly. “

“Leave me.”

“No.  Only when you tell me where the car is.”

“I don’t know where it is.”

“You stole it.”

“You have  no proof?”

Cliff Boner hit him across the face with the back of his hand.  Collander’s head snapped to the side.  He turned his head to face Boner, and spat, the foul saliva hitting Boner on the cheek just under his left eye.

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What to do.

This is an action scene and in the moment (made up and based on best-selling style of commercial genre fiction).  Your purpose is to revise this scene as a writer of literary fiction.  Change what you need to; the only thing to keep is a man uses a weapon on another man to capture him and then hits him in the face when he won’t divulge needed information.  Everything else is open for you to make a dynamic, purposeful passage in scene with action and with dialogue (example follows) that relates to a full story you have imagined.

The scene, as is, is boring.  Provides little if any characterization.   Cliche’s abound: savored the moment, towering over, for examples.  And  just bad writing: “. . . was salivating like a hungry carnivore about to consume his injured prey.”

Use your imagination.  Freshen the plot.  Build characterization while reconstructing the scene.

Here are more specifics.  1) Create dialogue that reveals character, advances plot, and provides exposition (hard to do in dialogue), adds to setting, and is consistent with the emotions of each character, as well as appropriate for the desires and intensity for the moment.  (Would a reader of serious fiction believe, for example, a character who has just been immobilized with two million volts think first if money was a reason for the attack?  Wouldn’t he be wondering if he were going to die, thinking about getting away, or if he would be shot again (it hurts).  In rewriting, ask how would that affect the progression of the dialogue?  The syntax.  The word choice?  2) Determine what story-information (from the story you’ve imagined) and how much you need to reveal in the scene (the tendency is to try to tell too much).  Then reveal information through action, dialogue, and narrative descriptive passages.  To be effective, try not to deliver exposition through narrative telling for the exercise, unless absolutely appropriate.  3) And think of action, thought, and internal reflection for building unique characters.  4) Determine each character’s emotions and desires in the scene, essential for good dialogue and credibility.  5) And show, not tell.  (For example, try to avoid writing, “He was feeling satisfaction.”  If this feeling is important for the story in this scene, it is more effective (and logical, and credible) delivered through in scene action-gestures and dialogue).

After you’ve got your scene down, revise for craft improvement: word choice, momentum, syntax, avoidance of passive constructions, spelling and punctuation.

Your goal is to have a quality scene of a literary story that has a beginning, middle and end, that is dramatized (conflict, action, resolution), and has a purpose.  You are honing the skill of creating stories and characters that have a purpose, that have something to say to a reader, and not just describing events and people (real or imagined).

It helps to think about characters and plot before your write.  Think about action and desires and emotions, think about logic, credibility and think about how to instill energy in plot progression and dialogue.  Think about what your character would do in situations you experience daily.  It’s not easy.  But it is a way to make you prose live, and your storytelling memorable, and the actual writing more effective.

Example of one solution.  This writing is also imperfect, to say the least.  It is presented to show how one writer approached the exercise.

Sam found Ray sitting on the dock with his legs dangling at the calm lake near his white skiff with a 9.9-hp outboard motor.  He was tying flies, ready to go fishing.  He saw Sam.  Ray stood, knocking over the tackle box beside him.  His only escape was down the dock past Sam.

Sam realized Ray would never cooperate; he saw the anger and fear in his eyes.  Sam pulled the stun-gun from his pocket.  “Stay where you are,” he said.  Ray lowered his shoulder hitting him chest high.  He went down; Ray oriented himself and began to run.  Sam rose to one knee and fired the gun.  Ray collapsed, motionless.  Sam went to him and turned him over.

Ray began twitching.  His mouth moved; he tried to speak.  “Why?” he finally said.

“Tell me where Roberta is,” Sam said.

“I haven’t seen her.”

“She’ll die without treatments.”

Ray closed his eyes.  He shivered slightly at the distaste he had always felt for Roberta.  He’d never liked her. Never. That ruled out seducing her.  He’d used infected needles for mainline drugs.  That was the easiest way, and, when he’d thought about it, more reliable.  “Everyone dies.  She’s no exception.”

Sam raised the stun-gun again.

“Are you going to kill me?”

After a few seconds, the gun barrel trembled and Sam lowered the gun.  He couldn’t hurt him again.  “You’ve robbed her of any happiness.”

Ray let out a cold, humorless laugh, “Where is the happiness other’s deserved while she was enjoying her privilege.”

“She deserves treatment.  A chance to turn her life around,” Sam said.

Ray laughed cruelly, his vision blurred, his mouth dry.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Sam said.  “Not from her AIDS.  It wouldn’t happen this fast.  You killed her?”

“Did I say that?”

“You admit it then?”

“Fool.”  Ray tried to stand, but could only get to his hands and knees, his head down.

Sam kicked him, the toe of his boot catching him under his jaw, his head snapping back.

“And you think you’re better than me?” Ray said, losing consciousness as he slumped, still partially paralyzed, onto the dock.

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750 word limit


   Work submissions for Assignment 2: Rewriting a scene

Revision

“Watch your step, man.”  Marvin tugged at Lance’s sleeve.  “Snakes lie closest to the trees.”

Lance moved away from the trees as guided.  He timed his steps in tandem with Marvin’s as their boots crunched upon the multitude of dried leaves.  The morning fog obscured his view of the ground.  He missed a step and stumbled forward.  He sprung up before Marvin could notice.  “Do you hunt often?” he asked, eager for Marvin to slow down.

Marvin kept on a few steps ahead.  Lance blushed, proud to see he had found the same hunting vest and boots as Marvin had, although his vest was one size too large.  

“Last time I went hunting was as a kid with my dad.” He hollered over Marvin’s shoulder as he half-stepped to catch up.

“We should break soon.  I need a smoke,”  Marvin said. 

Lance tensed up, then relaxed.  “Yeah, I uh, need one too, if you got an extra.”

Marvin stopped short, Lance took an additional step and in a single swoop a long rope hit then spun around his ankles, whining as it cut the wind.  It tightened and yanked him off his feet.  He shrieked and coffee from earlier spilled back into his throat.  He sputtered as the rope raised him several feet into the air, his head near-missing the ground.  Coins fell from his pockets. 

“Boy oh boy,” he cried.  “I’m gonna need your help here!”  He tried to yank his body loose but the rope cut deeper into his skin.

He relaxed and let his arms dangle as his body swung back and forth.  He peered over at Marvin – first his shoes then up toward his face.  He watched as Marvin lit a cigarette then while squinting an eye, sucked in a deep puff.  Lance scoffed at himself for not watching where he was going.

Marvin moved in closer, slid his backpack off his shoulder, then plopped down on the ground just beneath him.

Lance chuckled, “Clumsy me . . .how did I get myself in such a –“

Marvin reached up, grabbed ahold of Lance’s mussed hair, and yanked his head back.

“Now,” Marvin said, as he blew a puff of smoke in Lance’s face,  “I’m only going to ask you once.”   He stuck his nose less than an inch from Lance’s.   “Where are the tapes of you and my daughter?”

“What? . .  wait. . . I can’t breathe . . . I- I –”

“You’re talking, you can breathe.”  Marvin growled.

Lance felt a rumbling in his stomach.  Nausea traveled toward his throat.  He took a deep breath before a stream of coffee spewed from his mouth, just missing Marvin.

Marvin pinched the cigarette from his mouth and let the glowing end lengthen.  He put it near Lance’s eye.

Lance panted.   “I don’t know what you’re talking ab –.”  He put his hands up to shield his face, but not before Marvin darted the cigarette between them, brazing Lance’s eyelashes.   Lance hollered and covered his face with his hands. 

“You want it again?”  Marvin shouted still gripping his hair.

“I just tutored her in Art Hiss -torrry,”  Lance bawled.

“Why!”

Lance tried to lean his head away.
“Hmph?”  Marvin asked.

“She wanted extra credit –“

“You mother –“ Marvin swung Lance’s head back then smashed the cigarette into his nose.   Lance convulsed into hip and arm thrashing while the rope swung his body in a pendulous fashion.  He kept his lips pursed and tried to blow his nose.   He cupped his hand over it as blood dripped among the leaves.  His nostril swelled until it felt stuffed with a hot potato.  Marvin pulled at his hair again.

“The tapes!”  he shouted.

“They’re  destwoyed,” Lance answered in a nasal voice.                          

“What?”

“De-de –destwoyed.”

“No they’re not. You have those tapes.”

At that moment Lance opened his eyes.  A diamond-back snake was slithering down a tree trunk headed toward Marvin’s back.  It was huge.  A few seconds seemed like a minute as he pondered whether to alert Marvin.  Did he want him bitten and to suffer an agonizing death, or did he want to alert him and save his life only to have him continue this charade.  He didn’t know the girl was Marvin’s daughter.  He realized it after the fact.  Maybe Marvin would be grateful for him saving his life, and accept his deepest and sincerest apologies.  He kept his hand over his nose and looked Marvin in the eyes.

“Mahvin, don’ mwove,” he said.

Instructor Response

Comment by William H Coles on Jac Howard’s submission.
Assignment 2 revised.
6/26/16

Jac–

This is excellent.  Now is the time to leave this segment moving on to other things–then, if that’s your plan, finish story as a whole or work on something else.  I say this, because most authors in revision begin to excessively tinker with changes that are diminishing in productivity and effectiveness.  You haven’t done that yet but every piece needs to be put aside after a revision.  Of course come back to your work, but there is the necessity of allowing time to give you fresh perspectives and make further revisions, if necessary, valuable.  It’s really a good habit to get into.

I have only one observation.  I think your dialogue with dialect is effective.  But I wondered if a teacher of art history would be using this accent and voice.  Just something to think about.

Thanks for the submission.

All the best,

Bill Coles

Revision

“Watch your step, man.”  Marvin tugged at Lance’s sleeve.  “Snakes lie closest to the trees.”

Lance moved away from the trees as guided.  He timed his steps in tandem with Marvin’s as their boots crunched upon the multitude of dried leaves.  The morning fog obscured his view of the ground.  He missed a step and stumbled forward.  He sprung up before Marvin could notice.  "Do you hunt often?” he asked, eager for Marvin to slow down.

Marvin kept on a few steps ahead.  Lance blushed, proud to see he had found the same hunting vest and boots as Marvin had, although his vest was one size too large.  

“Last time I went hunting was as a kid with my dad.” He hollered over Marvin’s shoulder as he half-stepped to catch up.

“We should break soon.  I need a smoke,”  Marvin said. 

Lance tensed up, then relaxed.  “Yeah, I uh, need one too, if you got an extra.”

All the above is good storytelling.  And good writing.  I’m impressed!

Marvin stopped short, Lance took an additional step and in a single swoop a long rope hit then spun around his ankles, whining as it cut the wind.  It tightened and yanked him off his feet.  He shrieked and coffee from earlier spilled back into his throat.  He sputtered as the rope raised him several feet into the air, his head near-missing the ground.  Coins fell from his pockets. 

“Boy oh boy,” he cried.  “I’m gonna need your help here!”  He tried to yank his body loose but the rope cut deeper into his skin.

He relaxed and let his arms dangle as his body swung back and forth.  He peered over at Marvin – first his shoes then up toward his face.  He watched as Marvin lit a cigarette then while squinting an eye, sucked in a deep puff.  Lance scoffed at himself for not watching where he was going.  I admire the way you’ve incorporated so much characterization in this draft.

Marvin moved in closer, slid his backpack off his shoulder, then plopped down on the ground just beneath him.

Lance chuckled, “Clumsy me . . .how did I get myself in such a –“

Marvin reached up, grabbed ahold of Lance’s mussed hair, and yanked his head back.

“Now,” Marvin said, as he blew a puff of smoke in Lance’s face,  “I’m only going to ask you once.”   He stuck his nose less than an inch from Lance’s.   “Where are the tapes of you and my daughter?”

“What? . .  wait. . . I can’t breathe . . . I- I –”

“You’re talking, you can breathe.”  Marvin growled.

Lance felt a rumbling in his stomach.  Nausea traveled toward his throat.  He took a deep breath before a stream of coffee spewed from his mouth, just missing Marvin.

Marvin pinched the cigarette from his mouth and let the glowing end lengthen.  He put it near Lance’s eye.

Lance panted.   “I don’t know what you’re talking ab –.”  He put his hands up to shield his face, but not before Marvin darted the cigarette between them, brazing Lance’s eyelashes.   Lance hollered and covered his face with his hands. 

“You want it again?”  Marvin shouted still gripping his hair.

“I just tutored her in Art Hiss -torrry,”  Lance bawled.

“Why!”

Lance tried to lean his head away.
“Hmph?”  Marvin asked.

“She wanted extra credit –“

“You mother –“ Marvin swung Lance’s head back then smashed the cigarette into his nose.   Lance convulsed into hip and arm thrashing while the rope swung his body in a pendulous fashion.  He kept his lips pursed and tried to blow his nose.   He cupped his hand over it as blood dripped among the leaves.  His nostril swelled until it felt stuffed with a hot potato.  Marvin pulled at his hair again.

“The tapes!”  he shouted.

“They’re  destwoyed,” Lance answered in a nasal voice.

“What?”

“De-de –destwoyed.”

“No they’re not. You have those tapes.”

At that moment Lance opened his eyes.  A diamond-back snake was slithering down a tree trunk headed toward Marvin’s back.  It was huge.  A few seconds seemed like a minute as he pondered whether to alert Marvin.  Did he want him bitten and to suffer an agonizing death, or did he want to alert him and save his life only to have him continue this charade.  He didn’t know the girl was Marvin’s daughter.  He realized it after the fact.  Maybe Marvin would be grateful for him saving his life, and accept his deepest and sincerest apologies.  He kept his hand over his nose and looked Marvin in the eyes. Good!  And I’ve got the story now!

“Mahvin, don’ mwove,” he said.

 

  1. Thanks for the advice and for your time!

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“Watch your step, man.”  Marvin tugged at Lance’s sleeve.  “Snakes lie closest to the trees.”

Lance moved away from the trees, as guided.  He glanced over at Marvin and chuckled, “you’d think I’d know that, being den leader of my son’s cub scout group.  Do you hunt often?” 

 They walked in tandem on the cool damp morning, both armored in hunting vests and Timberland boots, their steps crunching the dried leaves layered on the ground.   A multitude of trees filled the area, splitting rays of the sun that hit and warmed them.   Crows fluttered overhead, unseen critters scurried away into the distance.

“Hey, I appreciate you inviting me on this outing,” Lance said after a long period of silence.  “I was feeling isolated, like at that last barbeque in your backyard for the men . . . everyone seemed to be drawn to you–“

“We should break soon.  I need a smoke,” Marvin said.

“ .  .  . Of course.  You got an extra?  I don’t usually smoke, but I’d be willing to try it.”

Marvin stopped short, Lance took an additional step and in a single swoop a long rope hit then  spun around his ankles, whining as it cut the wind.  It tightened, and yanked him off his feet.  He shrieked and coffee he had drunk earlier re-entered his throat.  He sputtered as the rope raised him several feet into the air, near-missing his head hitting the ground.  Coins from his pockets fell to the ground.  He tried thrusting his body around, but the rope cut deeper into his skin.

He stopped struggling, let his arms dangle, looked at Marvin’s shoes then up toward his face.   

Marvin returned no eye contact, but lit a cigarette. He plopped down onto the ground below Lance’s head.  He reached up and took ahold of a tuft of Lance’s mussed hair.

“Now,” Marvin said, pulling as he blew a puff of smoke in Lance’s face.  “Your discomfort can be short-lived if you cooperate.”

“Ugh. . .  Oh. . . I can’t breathe, please.”

“You’re talking, you can breathe.”  Marvin replied.

Lance closed his eyes and scrunched his face.  He took a deep breath and a stream of coffee spewed through his mouth and nose, just missing Marvin.

“My daughter said you made some tapes.  I want them.” Marvin said.  “Where are they?”

 “Tapes?  What are you talking about?,” Lance asked, panting.  Droplets of brown liquid back dripped from his nostrils.

“You know damn well what I’m talking about.   My daughter told me everything you did to her.  Sadly, it would be her word against yours without those tapes.”

“I just tutored her in Art History, that’s all.”

“Who the hell needs tutoring in Art History?  As far as I know, she wasn’t failing any classes.”

“She wanted an A.”

“You mother –“ Marvin swung his fist through the air and struck Lance’s face.  “Where are the f- tapes!”

The hit threw a loud, continuous ringing into Lance’s ears. 

“I ain’t got all day.”  Marvin said.

Lance couldn’t hear as well.  He felt submerged in a vacuum.  He closed his eyes and wondered what could have led Marvin’s daughter to tell her father whatever she told him.   And he had tapes of every class room session since school began; they were erased daily, it was routine. 

He opened his eyes as he hurt from the tension Marvin had pulling his hair.  Then he froze.  A large diamond back snake was gliding up toward Marvin from behind.

 At that very moment, a few seconds seemed like a minute as he pondered what to do.  The neighborhood would blame him if Marvin was attacked and killed.  He would never recover from the shame.  They would shun him at home association meetings and at the grocery store.  He might lose respect from the community, including his students and especially the cub scouts.  Such a situation would be his most dreaded nightmare.  On the other hand, if Marvin survived, he would pursue this personal vendetta.  It would be a hard allegation to fight.  He weighed his options.  He decided on the option that worked best in his favor.   

“Don’t move a muscle,” he said in a low voice.  

They both heard the rustling of the snake, incongruent with the wind.  Marvin paused and loosened his grip. 

“It sounds huge,” Marvin said, afraid to look around.

“Don’t move.  Trust me. . . friend, ”  Lance said, being sure not to move a muscle himself.

Instructor Response

Hi Jac.  Thanks for submission.  I’ll make my comments and highlight.  Excellent work.  Good story and you kept to the guidelines very well.  Most of my comments are not specific to wrongdoing but rather overall observations about creating dialogue and pacing including rate of release of ideas.  These are ideas are to stimulate useful self-criticism when revising; the ideas on pacing are applicable to anything you write, not just related to correction of what you’ve written.  

 

     Dialogue. There are two things in fiction that usually don’t go well in dialogue: exposition and stage direction.  (Back story too, which is a type of exposition.)  Exposition is story background.  In dialogue it might sound something like this.  "Watch your step there, Clem.  Them shoes was made by Obediah.  Worst cobbler ever set up shop in Lincoln."  And stage direction.  "Look over there near the window where that straight back chair blocks the door."   This is the author speaking to the reader trying to get story information in.  It’s not how characters credible in fiction stories would talk.  I’ve highlighted in yellow some examples in your story.  Again, not suggesting a need for change but just to increase awareness.

 

The second thing is pacing, which is essential in all aspects of fiction.  A major pacing consideration is the rate of information release.  Both too much information too rapidly or too little information presented slowly pushes the reader away from the story.  Again, you’ve done nothing wrong but one of the purposes of the exercise is to illuminate for an author consideration of the rate of information release in your short piece.  I’ll highlight information in grey and I’ll make comments on whether the information seems in the right place at the right time.  Much of this is deciding the purpose of a sentence in dialogue.  Does the sentence or paragraph have a story purpose: characterization, plot progression, provide conflict, imagery, etc. and does it follow a logical integrated story pattern for the reader?  I think you’ll see what I mean.

 

            –“Snakes lie closest to the trees.”  Does the danger inherent in wildlife fit in this story at this point.  Here, it doesn’t do enough for characterization or plot progression, I think.

            –"the cool damp morning, both armored in hunting vests and Timberland boots, their steps crunching the dried leaves layered on the ground."  This is interesting.  You have feeling (cool), character description (vests and boots), and hearing (crunching).  Effective writing, but is it too much at this moment.  Does it need to be trimmed to a few words for each idea?

            –"A multitude of trees filled the area, splitting rays of the sun that hit and warmed them.   Crows fluttered overhead, unseen critters scurried away into the distance." This is more setting, nicely written, but does it contribute to the purpose of the story at this point that is to get to the conflict between the two men?  It’s not necessarily wrong, and it depends on what you the author want to do.

 

“Watch your step, man.”  Marvin tugged at Lance’s sleeve.  “Snakes lie closest to the trees.”

Lance moved away from the trees, as guided.  He glanced over at Marvin and chuckled, “you’d think I’d know that, being den leader of my son’s cub scout group.  [Exposition.  Better in narrative.] Do you hunt often?” 

 They walked in tandem on the cool damp morning, both armored in hunting vests and Timberland boots, their steps crunching the dried leaves layered on the ground.  Good. A multitude of trees filled the area, splitting rays of the sun that hit and warmed them.   Crows fluttered overhead, unseen critters scurried away into the distance.  This seems too much setting for me.  Your judgment, of course.

“Hey, I appreciate you inviting me on this outing,” Lance said after a long period of silence.  “I was feeling isolated, like at that last barbeque in your backyard for the men . . . everyone seemed to be drawn to you–“ [Exposition.  Y0u might have used it for characterization.  But it seems a bit of back story that doesn’t do as much as it should for the sapce taken up.]

“We should break soon.  I need a smoke,” Marvin said.

“ .  .  . Of course.  You got an extra?  I don’t usually smoke, but I’d be willing to try it.”

Marvin stopped short, Lance took an additional step and in a single swoop a long rope hit then spun around his ankles, whining as it cut the wind.  It tightened, and yanked him off his feet.  He shrieked and coffee he had drunk earlier re-entered his throat.  He sputtered as the rope raised him several feet into the air, near-missing his head hitting the ground.  Coins from his pockets fell to the ground.  He tried thrusting his body around, but the rope cut deeper into his skin.  [Vivid!  Nice imagery perfect for scene visualization and progression.]  This is nice pacing!

He stopped struggling, let his arms dangle, looked at Marvin’s shoes then up toward his face.   

Marvin returned no eye contact, ["looked away"? "looked to the side"? maybe.  As it is itseems in a style stiff and formal.  It’s in the syntax and word choice; it has to do with showing rather than telling too.] but lit a cigarette. He plopped down onto the ground below Lance’s head.  He reached up and took ahold of a tuft of Lance’s mussed hair.

“Now,” Marvin said, pulling as he blew a puff of smoke in Lance’s face.  “Your discomfort can be short-lived if you cooperate.” This is strongly implied by the storytelling and probably would be best left out.  Redundancy can make readers unenthusiastic about the writing and telling.

“Ugh. . .  Oh. . . I can’t breathe, please.”

“You’re talking, you can breathe.”  Marvin replied. [Great.]

Lance closed his eyes and scrunched his face.  He took a deep breath and a stream of coffee spewed through his mouth and nose, just missing Marvin.

My daughter said you made some tapes[Exposition.} I want them” Marvin said.  [You might consider just; "I want them tapes."  It’s brief, the way people talk when the emotional valences of the characters are heating up.   “

 “Tapes?   Lance asked, panting.  Droplets of brown liquid back dripped from his nostrils.

“You know damn well what I’m talking about.   My daughter told me everything you did to her.  Sadly, it would be her word against yours without those tapes.” [Try letting the narrator tell this outside of dialogue.  It’s exposition, which affects dialogue.]

“I just tutored her in Art History, that’s all.”

Who the hell needs tutoring in Art History?  As far as I know, she wasn’t failing any classes.”

“She wanted an A.”

“You mother –“ Marvin swung his fist through the air and struck Lance’s face.  “Where are the f- tapes!”

The hit threw a loud, continuous ringing into Lance’s ears. 

“I ain’t got all day.”  Marvin said.

Lance couldn’t hear as well.  He felt submerged in a vacuum.  He closed his eyes and wondered what could have led Marvin’s daughter to tell her father whatever she told him.   And he had tapes of every class room session since school began; they were erased daily, it was routine.  This is crucial information and should always have a priority if the revelation of information. 

He opened his eyes as he hurt from the tension Marvin had pulling his hair.  Then he froze.  A large diamond back snake was gliding up toward Marvin from behind.

 At that very moment, a few seconds seemed like a minute as he pondered what to do.  The neighborhood would blame him if Marvin was attacked and killed.  He would never recover from the shame.  They would shun him at home association meetings and at the grocery store.  He might lose respect from the community, including his students and especially the cub scouts.  Such a situation would be his most dreaded nightmare.  On the other hand, if Marvin survived, he would pursue this personal vendetta.  It would be a hard allegation to fight.  He weighed his options.  He decided on the option that worked best in his favor.  [This wasn’t clear to me.  That is, what he decided and how it was in his favor.]   

“Don’t move a muscle,” he said in a low voice.  

They both heard the rustling of the snake, incongruent with the wind.  (This is sort of poetic, but seems totally out of purpose for this section.  Use it somewhere else?) Marvin paused and loosened his grip. 

“It sounds huge,” Marvin said, afraid to look around.

“Don’t move.  Trust me. . . friend,” Lance said, being sure not to move a muscle himself.

 

I hope this provides some ideas for revision and some appreciation for concentration of having purpose for writing and identifying continuity and appropriateness of information for the story in every stage of writing.

 

Very nice work and all the best,

Bill Coles

  1. Thanks for the review. I appreciate the harshest of critiques. After reading some how-to books on writing, I realize I make every mistake possible. I’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go.

    I have redone the piece using some of the pointers you made. It’s a start, anyway.

    Thanks again!

  2. To clarify – I appreciate any harsh critique, not that this one was harsh.

    Thanks.

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Cliff Boner, clad in a bulky leather jacket, reached into his hidden breast pocket, and quickly with premeditation pulled out, and discharged a stun gun. The bright blue strobe pierced the darkness, as a gasp of pain escaped the chapped lips of Harmon Colander. As two million volts of electricity shot through his body making him slump motionless in his chair. Within seconds Boner was savoring the moment he looked into Colander’s fearful gaze, he was quite satisfied. He was the powerful carnivore and Colander was the doe, who shuttered in fear. He sipped his black, bitter, acidic coffee.

Collander was Twitching violently and trying to form words with his weak lips, Boner leaned over, still overly satisfied by the pain that radiated through His victim’s body.

“Why?” Collander finally said, weakly.

“Why do you think?” Asked boner as if the answer was obvious.

“I don’t know”

“Oh, you must have some idea.”

Collander looking very confused said, “Money! Was it for money?”

“You know a secret.  And you will share it with me. If not now, then when you are thinking clearly. “

“Leave me alone.”

“No.  Only when you tell me where the car is.”

“I don’t know where it is.”

“You stole it.”

“You have  no proof?”

Cliff Boner backhanded him.  Collander’s head snapped to the side fiercely.  He turned his head to face Boner, and spat, the foul blood streaked saliva hitting Boner on the cheek just under his devious left eye.

Instructor Response

Very well done.You’ve captured the assignment goals very well.
I’ll give you a few (of course, subjective, and not meant to be any more than observatiions rather than corrections) suggestions for “tightening” the writing.  Mostly words that may be redundant, and ideas as to keep story on a tight progression taking loosely related ideas and placing them elsewhere.

Cliff Boner, clad in a bulky leather jacket, reached into his hidden  (a breast pocket is hidden, almost always) breast pocket, and quickly with premeditation(the idea of premeditation isn’t quite right here, I think.  It can be very important, and if so, maybe build it in another scene.  Here it’s presence stops the momentum of the scene.) pulled out, and discharged a stun gun. The bright blue strobe pierced the darkness, as a gasp of pain escaped the chapped lips you might consider another image, more supportive of scene content, something like “the bleeding lips” or the like.) of Harmon Colander. As two million volts of electricity shot through his body making him slump motionless in his chair. (This phrase is awkward.  Try getting a verb (contributes to action) with subject, and work on the syntax and fewer words.  Here’s a suggestion: He slumped in the chair as two million volts shot through his body.  I suggest removing some of the ideas to make the following sentences strong.  See what you think.  Within seconds Boner wassavoringed the moment he looked into Colander’s fearful gaze; he was quite satisfied. He was the powerful carnivore and Colander was the doe, who shuttered in fear.  I would definitely take this out.  It’s too much writerly writing, and detracts from the story.  He sipped his black, bitter, acidic coffee. This is perfect.

Collander was Twitchingtwitched (avoid passive constructions) violently and trying tried to form words with his weak lips; Boner leaned over, still overly satisfied by the pain that radiated throughwith Collander’s bodypain.

 “Why?” Collander finally said, weakly.

“Why do you think?” Asked boner as if the answer was obvious.  This is fill.  Not necessary for conversation.

“I don’t know”

“Oh, you must have some idea.”

Collander looking very confused said, “Money! Was it for money?”

“You know a secret.  And you will share it with me. If not now, then when you are thinking clearly. “

“Leave me alone.”

“No.  Only when you tell me where the car is.”

“I don’t know where it is.”

“You stole it.”

“You have no proof?”

Cliff Boner backhanded him.  Collander’s head snapped to the side fiercely. (Adverbs are tricky.  This doesn’t seem the right one for “snapped.”)   He turned his head to face Boner, and spat, the foul blood streaked saliva hittinghitBoner’s on the cheek just under his devious left eyeThis seems like an extraneous idea not closely related or necessary for scene.

Overall, it helps to keep single ideas clear with succinct (in an action scene) word choice, avoidance of passive constructions, and a progression of ideas in a smooth logic order (you do this!).  Great work.  I hope comments help with thoughts about creating syntax.

Thanks,
Bill

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‘P’ta humph.’ Harmon Collander slumped to the ground with a hiss of pain. The blue-light strobe accurate and efficient had found its target. Boner at his most lethal. He kicked over the twitching body with his left foot and grimaced into Collander’s wide-eyed stare.

‘Where is it?’ he demanded, turning and sauntering to the window, his weapon casually by his side.

Collander slunk further into the corner, a snake under the woodpile of chairs, his movements awkward with the electricity.

‘T… the money?’ He finally got the words out.

Boner’s laugh echoed hollowly in the deserted warehouse.

‘No. This is a new game. There’s more at stake than the money.’

He checked his mobile before levelling the stun gun at Collander, watched him squirm against the rotting cartons, wariness in his eyes.

‘We can do this the easy way…,’ he said as if imitating a B grade actor, ‘or the hard way.’

Rain pummelled the metal roof. Boner’s eyes flicked momentarily when the wind slammed a swinging door closed somewhere behind them.

The urgent bip, bip of the phone stabbed through the din of the storm. Boner answered, a slight quaver in his voice.

‘Yes… Got it… OK.’ His eyes never moved from his quarry.

‘Your master’s voice?’

‘Fuck you!’ His words delivered with a backhander that snapped Collander’s head sideways.

But the volts were grounding. He turned like a cornered cat, his spit hitting Boner on the cheek just under the left eye.

Instructor Response

Impressive and excellent work.  Congratulations.  You are a very good writer.  Comments below do not imply wrong, instead they are suggestions for you consider as you continue your writing.

‘P’ta humph.’ Harmon Collander slumped to the ground with a hiss of pain. The blue-light strobe accurate and efficient had found its target. (This is awkward syntax in a paragraph of rapid action requiring prose with momentum.  As you have it, you have two ideas—description of image light and then a comment on the nature of strobes which is rather abstract and nonspecific, and which you might argue is enhancement of description.  But always strive for the concrete, be brief and accurate, especially in action scenes.  Consider something like this:  “The blue-light strobe quickly found Collander’s twitching body and wide-eyed stare.”  Not great but short and to the point and expresses, I believe, everything you have in your sentences.) Boner at his most lethal. He turned over the body with a brutal kick.  He kicked over the twitching body with his left foot and grimaced into Collander’s wide-eyed stare.

‘Where is it?’ he demanded, turning and sauntering (Let him saunter, even if he has to turn, no need to express it.) to the window, his weapon casually by his side.

Collander slunk further into the corner, a snake under the woodpile of chairs,( a confusing image; if you want a metaphor here, create a better one.) his movements awkward with the electricity.  (Electricity doesn’t seem awkward to me and it spoils the nice momentum of the prose.)

‘T… the money?’ He finally got the words out. Use “finally said”.  In general look for ways to avoid wordiness.

Boner’s hollow laugh echoed hollowly echoed in the deserted warehouse.  This is good scene setting.

‘No. This is a new game. There’s more at stake than the money.’

He Boner (avoid any possibility of confusion with pronoun usage) checked his mobile before levelling the stun gun at Collander, watched him squirm against the rotting cartons, wariness in his eyes.

‘We can do this the easy way…,’ he said as if imitating a B grade actor, ‘or the hard way.’

Rain pummelled the metal roof. Boner’s eyes flicked momentarily (All flicking is inherently brief, no need for redundancy) when the wind slammed a swinging door closed somewhere behind them.

The urgent bip, bip of the phone stabbed through in the din of the storm.   (Keep it short.  Don’t strive for too much.  It leads to overwriting.)  Boner answered, a slight (cliché) quaver in his voice.

‘Yes… Got it… OK.’ His eyes never moved from his quarry.

‘Your master’s voice?’

‘Fuck you!’ His words He delivered a backhander that snapped Collander’s head sideways.

But The volts grounded  (simple past better here than progressive passive). He turned like a cornered cat,(not a good metaphor, it’s hard to imagine) his Spit hitting Boner on the cheek just under the left eye.

 

Nicely done.  Watch use of excessive adjectives and adverbs, especially if they don’t add much to the prose—that is, characterization and plot progression.  Study metaphor construction.  Then use only your very best.  A bad metaphor in fiction is like a inferior ballet performance; it’s just not very enjoyable.

Thanks for the submission.  And all the best.  WHC

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Clifford Boner was a rookie on the streets, new to the force, and naïve he walks down the dark alley without back up. The chain length fence marks the property line, reflects the street light into his eyes, and the Doberman barks and alerts the gang members inside the Victorian home someone’s near on the property.

Smoke Dog walks out on the porch, his tobacco shines an orange ember, the whites of his eyes peek out into the night under the brim of his Yankee’s baseball cap.

Clifford grabs his weapon from the pocket of his leather jacket.

Strobes of light shoot up in the sky, Smoke Dog shoots off a second round. The emergency flare alerts the rest of the gang in the neighborhood there is an intruder.

Smoke Dog lurks in the corner of the porch waiting for Clifford Boner to make the wrong move. His long legs push the porch swing back and forth while he holds his 40 caliber in-between his legs. Any move is the wrong move.

Pony Dog stands on top of the roof next door, signals to Smoke Dog on the porch across the alley with a mirror, that Clifford is right there, three feet away.

Smoke Dog fires five shots, reloads, and fires two more. He didn’t think twice. He laughs without hesitation.

Clifford stares Smoke Dog in the eye in fear, rests his head on the roots of a tree that breaks through the sidewalk. Breathless he gasps for air, and glances into the stars. Memories of his wife and kids bombard his thoughts, the beauty of their smiles, the tenderness of their embrace comforts him.  Fingers grip his gun, but he’s too weak, exhaustion sets in, he can’t fire back one shot. Cold one minute, sweaty the next, his body feels the shock. Dying by the second, his words escape him. He’s made a grave mistake.

Smoke Dog kicks his side, watches Clifford die in silence, and waits for the right opportunity. Fifteen minutes later both of them search down his body. Both of them steal his wallet, his watch, and a diamond ring from his pocket. Death smells of white sewer.

“What do you say? We have a PIG here, brother.” Pony boy says. He flips through the family photographs, yanks out the twenty dollar bill, and throws his wallet in the sewer on the curb of the street. “We could be spending some hard time for this one.”

“Shut your mouth brother.” Pony Boy says. “We aren’t talking to no one about this.”

“You got that right Homie.” Smoke dog says. “This is all about money and street credentials. This poor loser don’t have no brains popping up on these streets. What’s wrong with him man.”

“What’s wrong with you, killing a cop?” Pony Boy pops him one in the eye. “You stupid brother.” He says.

Smoke Dog punches him in the gut. “I am doing this for the money.” He says. “You’re the one that signaled to me. I should pop you one brother. Keep your mouth closed.” 

Instructor Response

Clifford Boner was a rookie on the streets, new to the force, and naïve he walks down the dark alley without back up. The chain length fence marks the property line, reflects the street light into his eyes, and the Doberman barks and alerts the gang members inside the Victorian home someone’s near on the property.  Yes!  Great!

Smoke Dog walks out on the porch, his tobacco shines an orange ember, (tip of his cigarette? maybe for clarity)  the whites of his eyes peek out into the night under the brim of his Yankee’s baseball cap.

Clifford grabs his weapon from the pocket of his leather jacket.

Strobes of light shoot up in the sky, Smoke Dog shoots off a second round. The emergency flare alerts the rest of the gang in the neighborhood there is an intruder.  Change to:  there is an intruder in the neighborhood.  Keep looking for awkward syntax and rhythm (both in the prose and the ideation) on revision.

Smoke Dog lurks in the corner of the porch waiting for Clifford Boner to make the wrong move. His long legs push the porch swing back and forth while he holds his 40 caliber in-between his legs. Any move is the wrong move.Pony Dog stands on top of the roof next door, signals to Smoke Dog on the porch across the alley with a mirror, that Clifford is right there, three feet away.  Good.

Smoke Dog fires five shots, reloads, and fires two more. He didn’t think twice. He laughs without hesitation.

Clifford stares Smoke Dog in the eye in fear, rests his head on the roots of a tree that breaks through the sidewalk. Breathless he gasps for air, and glances into the stars. Memories of his wife and kids bombard his thoughts, the beauty of their smiles, the tenderness of their embrace comforts him.  Fingers grip his gun, but he’s too weak, exhaustion sets in, he can’t fire back one shot. Cold one minute, sweaty the next, his body feels the shock. Dying by the second, his words escape him. He’s made a grave mistake.  Yes.  A great improvement.

Smoke Dog kicks his side, watches Clifford die in silence, and waits for the right opportunity. Fifteen minutes later both of them search down his body. Both of them steal his wallet, his watch, and a diamond ring from his pocket. Death smells of white sewer.

“What do you say? We have a PIG here, brother.” Pony boy says. He flips through the family photographs, yanks out the twenty dollar bill, and throws his wallet in the sewer on the curb of the street. “We could be spending some hard time for this one.”

“Shut your mouth brother.” Pony Boy says. “We aren’t (maybe “ain’t”?)  talking to no one about this.”

“You got that right Homie.” Smoke dog says. “This is all about money and street credentials. This poor loser don’t have no brains popping up on these streets. What’s wrong with him man.”

“What’s wrong with you, killing a cop?” Pony Boy pops him one in the eye. “You stupid brother.”  (maybe “bro” for :brother”?  In dialogue, you want to be sure each character is speaking from his or her own world view.  Pony boy seems like an opportunity to increase quality in the writing by using a consistent vernacular.) He says.

Smoke Dog punches him in the gut. “I am doing this for the money.” He says. “You’re the one that signaled to me. I should pop you one brother. Keep your mouth closed.” 

Wow.  You’ve done it well.  One point about storytelling.  Look to insert suspense and mystery in the writing.  This is often done when conflict situations occur.  Think about Clifford dying in silence.  Dead people make lousy characters.  Why not keep Clifford alive until the end of the scene even if he says nothing, doesn’t move, and we don’t know his thoughts. Suspense to the end!  He’s there and he’s alive and he’s a better character alive than as a corpse.  And when he dies, dramatize it.  It’s an important moment and you miss an opportunity when you have him die silently.

Good going.  And all the best.  WHC

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Jamileh sat slumped on the couch in front of her TV, inhaling the tiny nub that remained of her joint. As she eased forward towards the ashtray, the caravan door burst open. Tony appeared, his eyes landing on Jamileh. He charged towards her, raised a fist-sized taser and planted 2 million volts into her side. She crumpled to the floor. Tony stepped back and pulled a chair out from under the picnic table.

Jamileh groaned.

“You know what we’ve come for.”

Jamileh looked outside the open door. A man in a suit as big as a refrigerator stood by a black vehicle. “I want my money,” she wheezed.

“I’ll give it to you once I get every copy of that video. Images, files, whatever you’ve got – hand them over.”

“How do I know you’ll pay me?”

Tony lurched forward and slammed the stun gun against her lower back. She screamed.
Tony stood up. “Where are you hiding it?” He bent towards her and frisked each pocket of her jeans. Retrieving her mobile, he slipped it into his breast pocket. Then he surveyed the room, his gaze landing on the kitchen bench and an open mac book. He picked it up. “It’s all in here, isn’t it?”

Jamileh levered herself up so that her back was against the couch.

“God help me girl. If there are any copies of that file lying around, or if you’ve saved them onto the internet, this is your last chance to speak up.”

She looked up at Tony but said nothing. He grinned.

The big man in black who’d been standing out front poked his head through the open door.  “We better go, Prime Minister.”

Tony strolled to the door, paused and turned to Jamileh.

“You’ll get the money when all this is clear. Or I’ll have your arse – again.”

He hopped out of the caravan and left. 

Instructor Response

Jamileh sat slumped on the couch in front of her TV, inhaling the tiny nub that remained of her joint. As she eased forward towards the ashtray, the caravan door burst open. Tony appeared, his eyes landing on Jamileh. He charged towards her, raised a fist-sized taser and planted 2 million volts into her side. She crumpled to the floor as Tony stepped back and pulled a chair out from under the picnic table.  You’re in action here and the setting detail slows down the action. 

This first paragraph is good.  It’s important too.  So let me be picky about the way you’ve arranged the ideas.  The idea about introducing characterization with the “joint” description is misplaced.  You want to keep the reader focused on what’s happening here.  Characterize later.  I’ve also removed words that seem unnecessary; these words tend to blunt the effect of action.  “Landing,” specifically.  See if removal doesn’t make the phrase more effective for you.  And if your going to use a verb form there, try something like “fixing”, which is more accurate than “landing” (which seems a little impossible for eyes to do—look at definitions, only one I found that had the application here.  When ever possible, look for more accurate words.).

Jamileh groaned.

“You know what we’ve come for.”

Jamileh looked outside the open door. A man in a suit as big as a refrigerator misplaced modifier.  The suit or the man is “big as a refrigerator”?  And you can do a better metaphor too (it’s hard to visualize a man that big existing except in fantasy), or maybe just not use a metaphor here.  stood by a black vehicle. “I want my money,” she wheezed.

“I’ll give it to you once I get every copy of that video. Images, files, whatever you’ve got – hand them over.”

“How do I know you’ll pay me?”

Tony lurched forward and slammed the stun gun against her lower back. She screamed.
Tony stood up. “Where are you hiding it?” He bent towards her and frisked each pocket of her jeans. Retrieving her mobile, he slipped it into his breast pocket. Then he surveyed the room, his gaze landing on the kitchen bench and an open mac book. He picked it up. “It’s all in here, isn’t it?”

Jamileh levered herself up so that her back was against the couch.

“God help me girl. If there are any copies of that file lying around, or if you’ve saved them onto the internet, this is exposition in dialogue and should be avoided.  It’s the author giving details that the character would not think about in this high-tension scene.  If you think the information is essential, you might use a back and forth exchange between them, or maybe have the narrator insert the possibilities.  this is your last chance to speak up.”

She looked up at Tony but said nothing.

He grinned.

The big man in black who’d been standing out front  this is unnecessary since it’s implied he’s outside when he pokes his head through the door.  Important to be concise.  poked his head through the open door.  “We better go, Prime Minister.”

Tony strolled Wouldn’t walked be better.  Does stroll (as through the park) really do what you want to do here?  to the door, paused and turned to Jamileh.

“You’ll get the money when all this is clear. Or I’ll have your arse – again.”

He hopped out of the caravan and left. 

 

Good work.  The exercise points up a need for careful word choice, and avoiding exposition in dialogue.  Also be sure to keep ideas integrated and interlocked, avoid non sequiturs or misplaces images, ideas, or actions.

 

Best,

WHC

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Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs.

          “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.”

          Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. Now he worried how crazy the guy actually was.

          Funny, a moment ago, Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at age twenty-seven. He had been sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseball. Now, in the hands of an unstable fool, he realized he did not want to die.

          Vance had glared silently at Derrick walking across the infield. He should have acted on his initial impulse, and punched the guy as soon as he got close. Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla. Fortunately, Nashla had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.

          “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him once more.

          “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”

          Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.

          His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.

          Nashla said that Derrick had only physically abused her once, but that he constantly berated her. He told her she was lucky to be with him, an athlete on his way to becoming a star, while she was a mere waitress in a second rate bar in a third rate town. When he was promoted to AA ball, she declined to go with him. That’s when he hit her. Vance gripped the steering wheel tightly. He hadn’t known her then, and Derrick was gone before Vance came to town, so he hadn’t seen her black eye.

          Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.

          He dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Then, looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.

          “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”

          “Nothing. She must have gone out.”

          “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”

          His stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen? “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”

          Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy again.

          Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”

          Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest.

          Derrick’s face flushed. He raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.

          Derrick raised the gun up over his head and sent it crashing into Vance’s face. He crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to crawl to a standing position. Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again across the face. Then there was nothing.

Instructor Response

Thanks, Russ, for the submission.  It’s well done.  Congratulations!

Here are comments.

 

Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs.

          “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.”

          Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. Now he worried how crazy the guy actually was.

          Funny, a moment ago, Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at age twenty-seven. He had been sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseballThis is back story.  It stops the very efficient action you have going and it seems like expository information that should go elsewhere, maybe established in another section, or buried in the action.  Back story has an entirely different feel than front story.  It can be used well when it advances front story in the immediacy of story present, but that is not often.  Here, you might consider already-mentioned alternatives to keep the integrity of the scene and action that you’ve so nicely put together.  1) You might start the section with this information, put it on a time line that will carry the reader into the present section.  2) You might take individual chips of information and embed them in the scene, say, as a modifier of a fleeting image or thought. Now, in the hands of an unstable fool, he realized he did not want to die. 

          Vance had glared silently at Derrick walking across the infield. He should have acted on his initial impulse, and punched the guy as soon as he got close.  Here you take the reader back again to a happening.  In the next sentence you are back in the present.  Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla.  Next two sentences are back in story present.  Fortunately, Nashla had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.

          Now we’re back into story present.  “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him once more.

          “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”

          Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.

          His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.  Great movement and nicely written.

          Nashla said that Derrick had only physically abused her once, but that he constantly berated her. He told her she was lucky to be with him, an athlete on his way to becoming a star, while she was a mere waitress in a second rate bar in a third rate town. When he was promoted to AA ball, she declined to go with him. That’s when he hit her. Vance gripped the steering wheel tightly. He hadn’t known her then, and Derrick was gone before Vance came to town, so he hadn’t seen her black eye.  Again, back story.  There is a sort of flow to your back story/front story alterations, and it may work well for you at times.  But consider that the writing and the storytelling could be stronger of you took all the back story and exposition and tried to bring it into the story chronologically. 

          Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.  Great.

          He (use noun here for clarity–?Vance—it’s clearer later on but don’t let fuzzy pronoun referrals weaken your writing) dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Then, looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.

          “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”

          “Nothing. She must have gone out.”

          “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”

          His (Vance’s) stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen?  (In Vance’s POV). “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”

          Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. (Narrator POV.)  The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy againThis back story is very effective, it contributes to the front story understanding and movement.  (Note, however, that you went into narrator telling through Vance’s character when you delivered back story.)

          Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”

          Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest.  

          Derrick’s face flushed.  (Here you’re in solid narrator perspective.  Perfectly acceptable, but you might consider restructuring it in Vance’s perspective for consistency and impact.  It may seem a petty point, but it’s how a good writer, as you are, becomes really good.)  He raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.

          Derrick raised the gun up over his head and sent it crashing into Vance’s face. He crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to crawl to a standing position. (The construction seems off.  Does one crweal to a standing position?  Maybe: Moaning, he crawled then tried to stand.) Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again across the face.  (In narrator perspective and well done.) Then there was nothing. (This seems to be Vance’s perspective, but could be the narrator too since you are in narrative perspective to this point.  It may help to always ask “Who is telling the story at this instant?” and be sure it’s clear to the reader and the perspective that does you, the author, the most good for entertaining your reader and keeping him or her engaged.  (For example, you could put this into Vance’s perspective like this: “Vance’s world went dark.”  Or  “Derrick’s image blurred [Vance’s perspective] and then there was nothing.”)

 

Just great going.  Lot’s of action well presented.

 

There is always the danger as a teacher to discourage a student by too much critique.  But you’re good at the storytelling with lots of momentum and conflict, so I’ve chosen to give some pointers that might be helpful about the writing in some detail.

            1) When writing, think of a timeline that relates to story present.  In general, keep your story moving along that timeline using back story only rarely and when it doesn’t stop story flow.  Then, learn to insert back-story information that is necessary seamlessly into the story in story time.

            2) Look to perspective shifts in the writing.  Be sure the perspective you want to convey is clear to the writer.  You’re choices are: one or more of the character’s, the narrator, and rarely if ever, the author in your style of writing.  Perspectives are mostly descriptive skills.  They are like point of view, but point of view carries more weight and often depends on either the narrator or a character’s world view, experiences, emotions, opinions, memories etc, as well as immediate and general perspective.  So point of view is limited to a character’s or the narrator’s worldview that is specific to the time you’ve given the character to live.  Perspective in scene is limited to the immediacy of the scene, and perspective in general is limited to what a specific character or narrator can perceive in the story world.  (This relates in your story to where Vance and the narrator’s perspectives are used; the narrator perspective is more distant, Vance’s more immediate.  Both are satisfactory as you used them.)  So be careful not to accidently violate perspectives in scene, or points of view, in storytelling in general.  It makes your writing weaker than your capabilities.  But I emphasize, you can change perspective with great effect but it must be under your control, not accidental.  Don’t let it stop the reader.  Again, it makes the writing fuzzy if you’re sloppy, and doesn’t allow the story to be as effectively transmitted to the reader as it should.

  1. Thank you for the critique. I appreciate your comments. I have rewritten the scene and hopefully improved the timeline and pov problems. Here is the rewrite.

    Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at the age of twenty-seven, sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands at night, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseball.
    Then he heard footsteps and looked up to see someone walking across the infield. Although they had never met, he knew it was Derrick, Nashla’s former boyfriend.
    Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs. Suddenly, he realized he did not want to die. He should have acted on his initial impulse and punched the guy as soon as he got close. “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.” Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. He worried how crazy the guy actually was. Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla. Fortunately, she had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.
    “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him with the gun again.
    “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”
    Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.
    His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.
    Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.
    Vance dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.
    “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”
    “Nothing. She must have gone out.”
    “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”
    Vance’s stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen? “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”
    Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy again.
    Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”
    Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest. He gritted his teeth.
    He saw Derrick’s face flush. Derrick raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.
    Derrick lifted the gun over his head and smashed it into Vance’s face. Vance crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to rise to a standing position. Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again, an uppercut swing, the gun smashing his nose. Vance’s world went dark.

    • Wow! Just great.

      About the revision, only one comment. The line by Vance, “I’m not going to tell you.” This is a throw away line. The reader already knows this, it’s not good dialogue, and it doesn’t do anything for characterization. It’s an opportunity maybe to reveal Vance’s feisty side, “She’s hiding in the salt shaker.” Or his wimpy side, “You know, I can’t remember.” Or even a jaunty challenging side, “I’ll tell you when you’re in your coffin with the lid closed.” Nothing usable, but it might get you imagination started.

      And a thought about story telling in general, not related really to what you’ve done so nicely in this piece. It’s about options the character has, options to act or think. When you close all the character options, the story effectively ends. Vance passes out in your story (or dies). The scene ends. But if you were in the middle of the story, you should keep his options open. He’s got to be able to think of new ruses, misdirections, potential action to get control of the situation, etc. Even when Derrick resorts to violence that results in removing his only hope of finding the girl, his options are closed. He can’t make any more choices to achieve his goal or desire related to the story. Over all, in creating stories, characters start out with unlimited options to satisfy their desires. As the story progresses, the number of options necessarily decrease as the story solidifies with motives and acts, and this narrowing of possibilities gives the effect of increasing the tension as to outcome. But again, when all the options are gone, the story ends.

      Excellent work. And all the best for continued successes. WHC

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Harmon Collander sat on a metal chair, hands tied behind his back, head down, drooling like he belonged in a home. Cliff Boner watched him, drinking coffee, should he wake. He did.

Collander inhaled as though he had been holding his breath. Without moving his head, he opened his eyes and peered up at Boner. “Ya prick, all you had to do was ask nice like. I woulda come.”

He poured coffee from a French press into a porcelain cup. “Hey, my wife got me a taser for Christmas. What do you want me to do? Shoot the dog?” He tasted his coffee. “You know, they make this coffee outta monkey shit. Not bad.”

Collander tried to move, but his feet were tied. “Whattaya want, ya prick?.”

“Might I suggest that you are not in a position to be calling people names. And you know goddamn well what I want.”

Collander raised his head finally and moved it from side to side. He spit a tooth. “The taser wasn’t enough for ya, ya had to clobber me?”

“You were hopping around making a terrible noise. Had to shut you up.”

“All right, you shut me up.” He gazed around the room. “What is this shit hole?”

Boner smiled. “You’re acting as though you’re the one standing over me with a shiny new taser and an anger problem. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but a little more respect in your voice wouldn’t hurt.” He put on a leather glove. “And this ‘shit hole,’ as you so delicately call it, is my basement. It’s going to be easier to clean when I’m finished with you.”

“You should get a new decorator.”

Boner put his cup down with a clatter and stood. “Where is it?”

“Where’s wha–”

Before Collander could pronounce the “t” Boner crashed his fist into his nose, knocking him back onto the plastic sheet he had put down for this discussion. Collander coughed and spit, and made sounds as though he might choke on his own blood, spit, and teeth. Boner righted the chair. He sat by the coffee, and poured another cup.

“You know,” Boner said, “I hate to do this. I have guys that do this for me, but I have a personal interest in your case. First of all, you’re my cousin. If anyone is going to be drilling eyeballs or cutting off fingers, it’s gonna be me. But before we get to that, just answer the question.”

Collander spit out more teeth, along with bloody slobber, some of which hit Boner in the face.

“Ah, you fucking animal,” Boner said, wiping his cheek, “you’d gag a maggot.”

Collander’s smile exposed what were left of his teeth. “Even now, you’re one funny prick.”

Boner put his cup down and got up again. He reached into the breast pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out the taser. “Is that right? Well, I’m about to do some stand-up. Let’s see if you think two-million volts is a good punch line. He pointed the instrument at Collander’s head.

“No, please,” (which he now said as “pleeth.”)

“Where is it?”

Collander put his head down and started to sob and scream simultaneously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cliffy, really.”

“Harmie, Harmie, Harmie, how did we come to this? I send you with my boys to buy a couple hundred keys from the spics, and you take my money. Either you’re going to tell me what you did with the money, and die with only moments of utter fucking pain, or you’re not going to tell me, in which case you will die after about four days of utter fucking pain. And so will your wife and kid.”

“But Cliffy–”

Boner pulled the trigger, sending the electrodes into Collander’s forehead. Collander shivered, spat, and foamed. Boner pulled out the leads. 

Collander had quit with the jokes and the defiance. He had quit lying, and he had quit breathing. 

Boner kicked Collander and his chair over. “Ah, you cocksucker, you robbed me again. You never could take it.” He sat, poured another cup of coffee, and thought about how he would get the wife and kids down there.

 

Instructor Response

Harmon Collander sat on a metal chair, hands tied behind his back, head down, drooling like he belonged in a home.  This may seem picky, but if you can stick with the suggestion, it can catapult your story quality.  You are in scene.  The imagery is good.   The reader has a formed image and the sentence has action and relates to the story.  But look at the metaphor "like he belonged to a home".  This is "writerly."  It is an author’s thought and opinion really not relevant to what you’ve started–to pull the reader into scene and create a mental picture.  The author generate metaphor jerks the reader from your purpose.  Cliff Boner watched him, drinking coffee, should he wake. He did.  Here is an example of how you can improve your prose story telling.  Don’t use a lot of words when a few will do.  The purpose of this sentence is to advance the action, the plot.  Essentially, "he woke".   So cut this in your own way, and stick to a definitive purpose for the sentence.  Collander inhaled as though he had been holding his breathAgain, try to avoid wordiness; subconsciously readers will register this as bad writing.  Readers want clarity and purpose expressed succinctlyWithout moving his head,  (Does this do anything for scene, plot, or characterization?  You might argue yes, but it isn’t much.  You might go with "Colander peered up at Boner." Keep it simple.  Don’t write to write.  Write to help the reader to a pleasurable experience. he opened his eyes and peered up at Boner. “Ya prick, all you had to do was ask nice like. I woulda come.” A nice segment of dialogue.  It reveals character and is in a distinct character voice. Use an attribution for clarity.

It may seem I’m a little hard on you in this paragraph.  And I’ll ease up as we go along.  My wish is to show you the way to effective scene writing and admirable storytelling.  These are the skills that make every story (and every story has been told) uniquely yours.  Make it great.  You have the talent.  And a good ear.  Work to learn the skills of effective presentation.

He poured coffee from a French press into a porcelain cup. “Hey, my wife got me a taser for Christmas. What do you want me to do? Shoot the dog?” He tasted his coffee. “You know, they make this coffee outta monkey shit. Not bad.”  Nice.  I’d place an attribution after "shit" for rhythm and emphasis.  Like this maybe: …monkey shit," he said.   He laughed.  "Not bad."  Minor maybe, but it’s what will make you a really good writer.

Collander tried to move but his tied feet were . “Whattaya want, ya prick?.”

“Might I suggest that you are not in a position to be calling people names. And you know goddamn well what I want.”  Nice.  Good character-specific dialogue both interesting and informative.  You’re good at this.

Collander raised his head finally and moved it from side to side. He spit a tooth. “The taser wasn’t enough for ya, ya had to clobber me?”

“You were hopping around making a terrible noise. Had to shut you up.”

“All right, you shut me up.” He gazed around the room. “What is this shit hole?”

Boner smiled. “You’re acting as though you’re the one standing over me with a shiny new taser and an anger problem. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but a little more respect in your voice wouldn’t hurt.” He put on a leather glove. “And this ‘shit hole,’ as you so delicately call it, is my basement. It’s going to be easier to clean when I’m finished with you.”  Again, good dialogue.  Conflict and revelation effectively used.

“You should get a new decorator.”

Boner put down his cup with a clatter and stood. “Where is it?”

“Where’s wha–”

Before Collander could speak Boner crashed his fist into his crushed his nose, knocking him to the floor back onto the plastic sheet he had put down for this discussion. This is a suggestion to focus you to keep on target.  Don’t let your ideation wander by choosing ineffective images and ideas.  If indeed, you see the plastic sheet playing a role in the plot later, my apologies.  Collander coughed and spit, and made sounds as though he might choke on his own blood, spit, and teeth. Boner righted the chair. He sat by the coffee, and poured another cup.

“You know,” Boner said, “I hate to do this. I have guys that do this for me, but I have a personal interest in your case. First of all, you’re my cousin. If anyone is going to be drilling eyeballs or cutting off fingers, it’s gonna be me. But before we get to that, just answer the question.”

Collander spit out more teeth, along with bloody slobber, some of which hit Boner in the face.

“Ah, you fucking animal,” Boner said, wiping his cheek, “you’d gag a maggot.”

Collander’s smile exposed what were left of his teeth. “Even now, you’re one funny prick.”

Boner put his cup down and got up again. He reached into the breast pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out the taser. “Is that right? Well, I’m about to do some stand-up. Let’s see if you think two-million volts is a good punch line. He pointed the instrument at Collander’s head.

“No, please pleeth,” (which he now said as “pleeth.”)

“Where is it?”

Collander put his head down and started to sob and scream simultaneously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cliffy, really.”

“Harmie, Harmie, Harmie, how did we come to this? I send you with my boys to buy a couple hundred keys from the spics, and you take my money. Either you’re going to tell me what you did with the money, and die with only moments of utter fucking pain, or you’re not going to tell me, in which case you will die after about four days of utter fucking pain. And so will your wife and kid.”

“But Cliffy–”

Boner pulled the trigger, sending the electrodes into Collander’s forehead. Collander shivered, spat, and foamed. Boner pulled out the leads. 

Collander had quit with the jokes and the defiance. He had quit lying, and he had quit breathing. 

Boner kicked Collander and his chair over. “Ah, you cocksucker, you robbed me again. You never could take it.” He sat, poured another cup of coffee, and thought about how he would get the wife and kids down there.

 

This is just great.  And enjoyable reading!  Your dialogue is excellent–character specific, advancing plot, subtle exposition, and emoting feelings in the moment.  Don’t let my emphasis on your tendency to wordiness, and occasionally slipping to extraneous ideation to fill space, in anyway discourage you or make you feel bad about a really nice piece of effective revision.   I also liked what you left out in revision.  It really strengthened the writing and the story progression.  You’re doing great.  And thanks for the submission.  Keep in touch!  WHC

  1. Thanks, great critique. Don’t worry about making me feel bad our discouraged. I rode a sub for six years and practiced law for ten. You can’t get to me.

    I know I’m wordy, and I tend to stick the author’s nose in. For example, I could have done the “in the home” thing through dialogue, or thoughts of the POV character.

    For whatever it’s worth, the plastic sheet was meant to show that he planned to make a mess, and I thought the French press was a bit of character development. I’m not married to either one, they may be darlings.

    Thanks again

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The gun lay gleaming in the cushions of the packing case. I touched it with my fingertips, tracings its metal decorations. A fly was crawling on the desk beside me. I watched it clean its legs.

There was a soft knock at the door.

“Come in,” I said and lifted the rifle up, feeling its solid weight.

“Your Excellency?”

Amalis closed the door behind him and stood to attention at the far side of the room. His uniform, as always, was neatly creased down the trouser legs. His officer’s cap sat perfectly straight on his head.

But I could not ask him straight away.

“Stand there,” I said, “And let me show you my present.”

I settled the rifle across my knee and ran my hands over its long, sleek length.

“It was sent by President Kafani,” said Amalis. “With his best regards.”

“Indeed. He is a true friend of the regime, is he not?”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” said Amalis. “A true friend. For you have many.”

Was it really so?

I lifted the gun to my shoulder, feeling how neatly it settled in the space between my cheek and arm. I turned it towards the ceiling, to the shields and photographs and trophies on the wall, to the thick blue sky out over the balcony.

The windows were all open but there was no breeze; only the fan above us, whirring slowly. I never understood how Amalis could stand so still in such heat. The fly bumped and buzzed away into a corner.

“Do I? How many exactly?” I looked through the sights and pictured the bullets nestling within their chamber.

His voice was not quite steady. “Your Excellency should take care… if the gun is loaded.”

“I learned to shoot in the People’s Army. You should not forget this.”

I slowly turned the rifle towards him. He knew what I was about to ask.

“Tell me, Amalis, what the bulletins say.”

He did not move and neither did I. But he hesitated.

“Your Excellency…”

I did indeed take care: I fired into the wall just beside him.

Amalis jerked and I saw his knees sag. Then he pulled himself in and was standing upright again, straight as ever. His pale skin glistened under his cap.

It seemed we had been playing some great game, with toys we had both grown tired of. I was sorry for him. I was sorry for myself.

I held the rifle steady.

“Tell me.”

“Your people… Your people love you passionately, and believe in the regime. They laugh in the streets at the reports of the British and are outraged by the accusations against you.”

I waited, then flicked the barrel of the gun. “Go on.”

“I have seen their banners. I have heard their prayers. They will stand by you if the invasion comes.”

I hated him then, with his empty words. I did not want to play. I lowered the gun onto the desk beside me and lifted myself heavily from the chair.

Amalis stared straight ahead as I came towards him. There was not a flicker in those blue eyes. Up close, his skin was so thin I could almost see the blood moving underneath. So young he looked, I couldn’t help but smooth my fingers over his cheek.

I asked him one more time.

“Is all this true, Amalis?”

He did not blink. He did not move. His eyes looked up at mine, fear and love fighting one another.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, Your Excellency.”

His officer’s cap was so perfectly, perfectly straight.

I swung at that cap, knocking it to the floor, exposing his flushed ears and damp hair. I felt my eyes stinging as I leaned against his shoulder, shaping the words against his cheek.

“Liar,” I whispered. “Liar!”

Instructor Response

Really well done!  You’ve got everything moving well, logically and with clarity.  I’ll make suggestions to tidy up the prose below, and with comments here and there.

Thanks for the submission.

WHC

The gun lay gleaming gleamed in the cushions of the packing case. I touched it with my fingertips, tracing its metal decorations. A fly was crawling crawled on the desk beside me. I watched it clean  and cleaned its legs.  THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF FILTERING ACTION THROUGH THE POINT OF VIEW.  I SEE, I LOOKED, I THOUGHT, I IMAGINED, I HEARD, IT SEEMED, ETC.  GOOD WRITING RARELY ACCEPTS THIS INDERECT DELIVERY OF INFORMATION.

There was a soft knock at the door.

“Come in,” I said and lifted the rifle up, feeling its solid weight DOESN’T ADD.

“Your Excellency?”

Amalis closed the door behind him and stood to attention at the far side of the room. His uniform, as always, was neatly creased down the trouser legs. His officer’s cap sat perfectly straight on his head. GREAT!

But I could not ask him straight away.

“Stand there,” I said, “And let me show you my present.”

I settled the rifle across my knee and ran my hands over its long, sleek length  THIS IS FILL AND STOPS THE MOMENTUM OF THE SCENE.

“It was sent by President Kafani,” said Amalis. “With his best regards.”

“Indeed. He is a true friend of the regime, is he not?”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” said Amalis. “A true friend. For you have many.”

Was it really so?

I lifted the gun to my shoulder, feeling how neatly it settled in the space between my cheek and arm. I turned turning it towards the ceiling, to the shields and photographs and trophies on the wall, to the thick blue sky out over the balcony.

The windows were all open but there was no breeze No breeze flowed through the open windows; only the air from the fan above us, whirring slowly. I never understood FILTERING AGAIN how Amalis could How could Armalis stand so still in such heat. The fly bumped and buzzed away into a corner. FILL THAT IS NOT NECESSARY.  AVOID.

“Do I? How many exactly?” ATTRIBUTION NECESSARY.  WHO SAID THIS?  DON’T MAKE THE READER FINGURE IT OUT.  THAT IS YOUR GIFT TO THE READER AS AN AUTHOR.  I looked through the sights and pictured the bullets nestling within their chamber.

His voice was not quite steady. “Your Excellency should take care… if the gun is loaded.”

“I learned to shoot in the People’s Army. You should not forget this.”

I slowly turned the rifle towards him. He knew what I was about to ask.

“Tell me, Amalis, what the bulletins say.”

He did not move and neither did I. But he hesitated.

“Your Excellency…”

I did indeed take care: I fired into the wall just beside him.

Amalis jerked and I saw FILTERING AGAIN his knees sagged. Then he pulled himself in and was standing upright again, straight as ever. His pale skin glistened under his cap.

It seemed OKAY AND NEEDED HERE we had been playing some great game, with toys we had both grown tired of. I was sorry for him. I was sorry for myself.

I held the rifle steady.

“Tell me.”

“Your people… Your people love you passionately, and believe in the regime. They laugh in the streets at the reports of the British and are outraged by the accusations against you.” 

I waited, then flicked the barrel of the gun. “Go on.”

“I have seen their banners. I have heard their prayers. They will stand by you if the invasion comes.”

I hated him then, with his empty words. I did not want to play. I lowered the gun onto the desk beside me KEEP THE PROSE SIMPLE, ESPECIALLY WHEN IN HIGH ACTION, HIGHT TENSION and lifted myself heavily from the chair.

Amalis stared straight ahead asThis action doesn’t add anything to the scene and diminishes the writing. I came  went towards him. There was not a flicker in those His blue eyes didn’t move. THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF TOO MUCH, AND IT MAKES THE READER PAUSE.  ALWAYS AIM TO BE CONCISE, ACCURATE, AND EXPRESS IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TERMS (WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS).  Up close, his skin was so thin I could almost see the blood moving underneath. So young he looked; I couldn’t help but smoothed my fingers over his cheek.

I asked him one more time. “Is all this true, Amalis?” I asked again.

He did not blink. He did not or move.  His eyes showed fear and love fighting one another.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, Your Excellency.”

His officer’s cap was so perfectly, perfectly straight.

I swung at that cap, knocking it to the floor, exposing his flushed ears and damp hair. I felt my eyes stinging as I leaned against his shoulder, shaping the words against his cheek.

“Liar,” I whispered. “Liar!”

  1. Many thanks WHC

    I see what you mean about filtering and “filling”, especially in high-tension scenes. I will keep an eye out for this in future assignments.

    Much appreciated.

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It was hard to control my rage when Sam knocked at my door.  I’d trusted that traitor most of my life.  I could see his discomfort.  He knew why I was mad. 

When I shut the door Sam fidgeted with a belt loop on his jeans.

I never even wanted to own a weapon, and here I was pulling one on my best friend.  I didn’t like the feeling when my hand touched the pistol tucked into my jacket.  I did like the way Sam’s face stretched in shock when he saw it.  I didn’t really want to hurt him; I just wanted to find out where he’d hidden Sara.  My little girl was worth whatever it took to protect her.

“Put that up,” Sam said.  “This isn’t you.”

I had to use my left hand to steady the shaking gun.  I was committed now, and if I had to shoot I didn’t want to miss.  I’d come so close to losing Sara too many times.  I wasn’t going to let Sam take her.

“Where is she?  I don’t want to kill you, but I will.”

“You’re overreacting Jim,” Sam said.  I could see him sweat – stains beginning to form on the chest of his red t-shirt.  I wondered how much blood would show on an already red shirt.

“How am I overreacting?  The Petersons saw her get in your car and leave.  I know how you are.  Did you knock her up like that brunette in Ohio?  Or did you talk her into running off with you?”

“It’s not like that,” Sam said.  “I know what you think of me, but I wouldn’t do that to her.  She’s like a daughter to me.”

“No, she’s a daughter to me,” I said.  “She’s your best friend’s young kid who happens to be pretty and single.  If you slept with her I’ll kill you.”

“I didn’t touch her,” Sam said.  “I swear.”

“How many women did you trick over the years, Sam?” I asked.  “How many?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It never mattered before.  I haven’t been with anyone but Jenny for five years.  Don’t bring the past into this.  I’ve never hurt a woman.”

“She’s been weird for the last few months, and now I know why.  She won’t talk to me; she won’t even hang out with her friends anymore.  How long has this been going on?  I’ll have you up on statutory rape.”

“Jim, put the gun down,” he whined, and it irritated me that he was still denying the obvious. 

I knew he wasn’t going to tell me anything.  Dad used to say, “Put up or shut up”.  It was that time.  I raised the gun so that it was pointing at the center of Jim’s forehead, right over the wrinkles.  If I couldn’t get him to tell me where Sara was, I could at least make sure she was safe. 

“Don’t tell me you never hurt a woman.  She looks hurt, Sam.  She looks worn out, and I’ve seen the bruises on her arms.  I just didn’t know who was making them.”

“Jim please put the gun down.  I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone where she went.  Don’t make me break a promise.”

Just a flicker of doubt made me lower the gun.  Jim was a jerk, and he was a letch until he’d met Jenny, but he’d never turned on me.  Still, I’d watched Sara waste away in front of me.

I couldn’t do it.  I looked at the bastard standing there with tears running down his face, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Instead I took one hand off the gun and hit him across the jaw.  He fell and held the spot where my fist had landed.

I put the gun near his head and shot into the sofa.  The sharp smell of urine filled the room.

“They weren’t bruises.  They were track marks!  Don’t shoot me.  I just took her to rehab.”

I dropped the gun and sat beside him, my face buried in my hands.  I heard the door slam as Sam fled from my house, but it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered anymore.

Instructor Response

Very well done!  The scene has movement, the writing is clear, there is a clear sense of strong emotions, and there is significant characterization in a short period of time.  (1) First, I’ve put in text comments in a couple places of your work as suggestions for clarity.  (2)  Then after that, I suggest rewriting the same scene with a different purpose and a different emphasis.  I’ll explain later.  If you decide to do it, it will let you practice to gain even more control and flexibility.  Not that you don’t have good skills already.  The suggestion for the new exercise is for practice, and not meant that you need to do anything major with what you’ve nicely developed.

 

(1)

It was hard to control my rage when Sam knocked at my door.  I’d trusted that traitor most of my life.  I could see his discomfort.  He knew why I was mad.  Just to let you know, I didn’t know the protagonist’s gender.  If this were a piece to stand alone, it would be important to indicate that in some subtle way early. 

When I shut the door Sam fidgeted with a belt loop on his jeans.

I never even wanted to own a weapon, and here I was pulling one on my best friend.  I didn’t like the feeling when my hand touched the pistol tucked into my jacket. You might want to condense the information in these two sentences.  As is, the idea about being uncomfortable with the gun is referred to twice, albeit in slightly different ways, and this becomes wordy and the pacing is slowed down a little.  What if you did something like:  My hand touched the pistol tucked inside my jacket–cold and unfamiliar.  I gripped it reluctantly and pointed it at my best friend.”  This is not how you would do it, but you should see that information is still there, just condensed.   I did like the way Sam’s face stretched in shock when he saw it.  I didn’t really want to hurt him; I just wanted to find out where he’d hidden Sara.  My little girl was worth whatever it took to protect her.

“Put that up,” Sam said.  “This isn’t you.”

I had to use my left hand to steady the shaking gun.  I was committed now, and if I had to shoot I didn’t want to miss.  I’d come so close to losing Sara too many times.  I wasn’t going to let Sam take her. I’d delete this.  It states the obvious from what the reader already knows.  And it weakens the quality of the writing.

“Where is she?  I don’t want to kill you, but I will.”  Needs “I said.” as attribution.  For rhythm.  But also to make clear who is speaking.  Although it is clear if the reader stops and thinks about it–or just passes over it, but as a writer you don’t want the reader stopping or going on without really knowing who said this until the next paragraph.  This is true, even when you say, “Where is she?”  It takes a second for the reader to figure out that there is only one of the two characters who could have said this.  Appropriate, needed attribution is never detrimental to your writing style.  And when you revise, be sure to look for places where it is needed.  That’s your gift to the reader!

“You’re overreacting Jim,” Sam said.  I could see him sweat – stains beginning to form on the chest of his red t-shirt.  I wondered how much blood would show on an already red shirt.  Think about not filtering this information through the character (The “I could see”).  This is an ideal time to consider a narrator function, which can be done without coming out of the POV.  Consider:  “You’re overreacting Jim,” Sam said.  Sweat stains darkened his red shirt.  If I shot him, would the blood show?

“How am I overreacting?  The Petersons saw her get in your car and leave.  I know how you are.  Did you knock her up like that brunette in Ohio?  Or did you talk her into running off with you?”

“It’s not like that,” Sam said.  “I know what you think of me, but I wouldn’t do that to her.  She’s like a daughter to me.”

“No, she’s a daughter to me,” I said.  “She’s your best friend’s young kid who happens to be pretty and single.  If you slept with her I’ll kill you.”  This is too much exposition in dialogue to be effective.  Strive to find a way to present it better, maybe not in dialogue.   But if you think it is crucial for the story here, restructure it.  Maybe, “My beautiful single kid.  And I swear, if you slept with her, I’ll put a bullet in your heart.”

“I didn’t touch her,” Sam said.  “I swear.”  Delete.  Doesn’t do enough, and becomes baggage for the writing.

“How many women did you trick over the years, Sam?” I asked.  “How many?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It never mattered before.  I haven’t been with anyone but Jenny for five years.  Don’t bring the past into this.  I’ve never hurt a woman.”  Delete yollow.  Words and ideas not needed here.  As is, stands as overwriting.

“She’s Who?  Who’s talking?  been weird for the last few months, and now I know why.  She won’t talk to me; she won’t even hang out with her friends anymore.  How long has this been going on?  I’ll have you up on statutory rape.”  Break this dialogue up with action or reflection.  Ideas coming too fast and furious here.

“Jim, put the gun down,” he whined, and it irritated me that he was still denying the obvious.

I knew he wasn’t going to tell me anything.  Dad used to say, “Put up or shut up”.  It was that time.  Delete.  Don’t stop the action.   I raised the gun so that it was pointing at the center of Jim’s forehead, right over the wrinkles.  If I couldn’t get him to tell me where Sara was, I could at least make sure she was safe.

“Don’t tell me you never hurt a woman.  She (Jenny or Sara?  It’s important not to be obscure here.) looks hurt, Sam.  She looks worn out, and I’ve seen the bruises on her arms.  I just didn’t know who was making them.”

“Jim please put the gun down.  I promised her (again, Sara?) I wouldn’t tell anyone where she went.  Don’t make me break a promise.”

Just a flicker of doubt made me lower the gun.  Jim was a jerk, and he was a letch until he’d met Jenny, but he’d never turned on me.  Still, I’d watched Sara waste away in front of me.  This needs clarification.  It’s confusing, the relationship between Sara and Jenny and the story and the characters.

I couldn’t do it.  I looked at the bastard standing there with tears running down his face, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  Instead I took one hand off the gun and hit him across the jaw with my fist.  Slight loss of logic here.  The way this sentence is, it probable he hits him with the gun.  Yet it is a fist. Try: He fell and held the spot where my fist had landed change to”I had hit him”, i.e., delete yellow and add red.  (I’m not real happy with this, but you’ll get the idea and possibly consider doing it your way.)

I put the gun near his head and shot into the sofa.  The sharp smell of urine filled the room.

“They weren’t bruises.  They were track marks!  Don’t shoot me.  I just took her to rehab.”  Great!  Does a lot of work well.

I dropped the gun and sat beside him, my face buried in my hands.  I heard the door slam as Sam fled from my house, but it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered anymore.  Also very good.  Effective scene resolution and characteriztion.

 

(2)

Now consider writing this scene in third person from a narrator’s POV and with free access of the narrator to both characters thoughts and feelings.  Keep motivations the same.  Keep the scene action and movement the same.  You’ll find that delivery of information in narrative and dialogue will change, and you’ll be producing different effects on the reader.   You may also find that clarity for the reader will be less of a problem.  1st POV has limitations of perspective, credibility, reliability, and voice.  Practicing a new POV may help write the 1st POV more effectively.  I think it would be time well spent, not as correction, but as practice.

 

WHC

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Harmon smiled, and slowed his pace as he looked up at the new building.  It was beautiful.  Three years spent petitioning for the funds, and another in the construction, and finally it was a reality.  For most, it was just the first public library constructed in the state since the disaster, significant in itself, but it was something even more to Harmon.  Open less than a week, the newness still quickened his pulse with excitement each time he unlocked the doors in the morning, and today was no different.  He didn’t hear the slight rustle of clothing, the shift in weight, or intake in breath on the other side of the door as he opened it.   He barely had time to register the black-clad figure standing inside when he was hit with two million volts of electricity. 

Confusion and pain swept through him as he fell to the ground, first to his knees and then landing belly-down as his body continued to jolt.  What was happening? Why?  The pain was abating, so he turned his head to the side, raised it slightly, and tried to get sight of his assailant.  There was Cliff, standing over him, stun gun in hand, looking curiously sympathetic.

“Cliff?” he whispered shakily, as the tremors subsided. One cheek pressed into the library’s carpet, and it still had that chemical new-carpet smell.

His childhood friend just nodded, and said in his familiar soft voice, “Sorry it had to come to this Harmon.  I didn’t want it this way.”  He grabbed a chair from a nearby table, and lowered his slight frame into it in front of Harmon.  If anyone were to expect a man to step out from the dark and shock them into submission with a stun gun, a man like Cliff wouldn’t be the first to come to mind.  He was a small man, almost childlike in appearance with his round face and wide eyes, long delicate fingers holding his weapon loosely, as if it was something distasteful.  Harmon searched Cliff’s eyes, but couldn’t discern anything behind them but sadness, nothing to give him a clue as to why this was happening.

Cliff spoke again, gently, “You have to tell me where it is, Harmon.  I need it,” and in that moment, realization finally clicked into place for him.  He knew what Cliff needed, but he couldn’t give it to him.  It would risk everything he had worked so hard to achieve.  He started to shake his head “no” and saw desperation in his friend’s face, desperation, and anger as Cliff raised the stun gun in both hands and struck Harmon across the cheek with it. 

His face was smarting from the blow, causing his eyes to water, but he blinked and said firmly “I can’t give you anything from those funds Cliff.  You know I can’t.”

“Why not?  Is your precious library more important than my life?  My LIFE for God’s sake Harmon!” and he held the stun gun in both hands out in front of him, prepared to fire again.

Using his hands Harmon began to push himself up to a sitting position when he was struck with another series of volts from the gun.

“Stay DOWN” Cliff hissed, any of the former gentleness in his voice now gone, “Where is it?”

Instructor Response

A very well done scene that could serve as  opening. Look what you’ve accomplished: two character’s introduced and characterization begun; a definitive immediate conflict; hint of a longer conflict; excellent scene momentum with action moving forward logically and well paced; emotions established and emotional lines of change present; prose is excellent; POV well established and shifts in POV are effective. The scene is engaging, and establishes voice and style that will make readers want to continue.

What you’ve done should not be changed. However, there are two points I’ve bolded in the ms that are teaching opportunities, especially for a writer at your level of accomplishment.

First, “It is beautiful.” Necessary information. But note how the construction shifts the POV to the narrator. This is, of course, fine when it has a purpose, and you do it extremely well throughout the piece. But at this moment, ask if staying in the POV of Harmon wouldn’t be more effective. You’re in his POV. And isn’t this as his observation that is important to the reader? Does the reader really care what the narrator might think about the beauty? Anyway, the word beauty is abstract and subjective. Couldn’t you–by word choice and structure–visualize what Harmon is specifically enthralled by as beauty. And the construction is passive. It might be a perfect time to maintain visualization and motion by avoiding the passive. So there are opportunities: specificity, action, POV strengthening by consistency; characterization by establishing what exactly makes Harmon see it as beautiful.
Here are some ideas. The problem is keeping the pacing you’ve so well established; so a lot of words are not needed.

1. The bright sun’s shadows on the frieze that surrounded the portico illuminated the Greek figures in relief. (Not great, but you can see information being transferred, and you’re still definitely in Harmon’s POV).

2. He imagined the entrance to Cleopatra’s great library in Alexandria. (Beauty inserted, some imagery, out of passive construction, POV same, specificity.)

3. The towering entrance with Corinthian columns made him think of the Acropolis. (Visualization by reader of Harmon’s idea of beauty.)

4. Student’s waiting for the opening admired beauty of the stone construction, the delicate beauty standing alone in the rubble of the disaster ravaged city. (Way too much for this paragraph, but it will give you an idea of how you develop reader-oriented alternatives to weak spots.)

5. He loved the symmetry of the two wings around the main building, and the glass enclosed pyramidal entrance that reflected every color of the sun’s spectrum.

The dialogue “Where is it?” could be more functional. It is redundant, really. It seems to act as fill for this moment in the action. Here are some approaches at revision that aim to characterization and plot development.

1. “Did you hide it in the crematorium?”
2. “You cheating bastard.”
3. “Does Janice know where it is? Did you tell her?”
4. “Did you destroy it? Was that where you were last night?”

Of course, none of these are for you. I just want you to see how dialogue can work for the story and the reader.  The idea in dialogue is to make any utterance multipurpose.

You don’t need to do anything. Your piece is fine. I’ve attempted to show you how to identify and enhance opportunities that will continue your well-established path to excellent writing.

All the best,

WHC

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   “I don’t know.”

   “You’re lying.”

   There was pause. Cliff Boner slammed his palms against the table and looked at Colander in the eye. He stared at him long and hard. The other man was seated, chained down with tight handcuffs. His skin itched and his fingers twitched.

   “Tell me.”

   “I told you I don’t know.”

   There was pain. Colander’s head snapped to the side. He bit down on his tongue and turned his head to face Boner. His eye hurt and his cheek was swollen. The man hit hard.

   “Don’t lie to me. You were in the getaway car. You were directly affiliated with his men. We have witnesses. You have nothing.”

   Colander raised his chin. He narrowed his eyes at the man above, his lips flattening out into a thin line.

   “They dragged me into the car. I’m just a driver. They hired me. I needed the work, but I didn’t know that they were criminals. I’m not lying-“

   “Of course you are!” Boner cut him off. He was seething. “The fact that we caught you is enough. Cut the crap, Colander. We don’t need your lies. You’re just making this harder.”

   Colander frowned. He wondered what was right to say. He wondered what Boner wanted him to say. He wondered.

   “I’m not lying.”

   It was the wrong thing to say.

   There was a flash of sudden darkness as Boner’s body hunched over him. His figure blocked out the light from the bulbs above. Boner’s hand gripped Colander’s arm and they struggled, the table proving no use as a barrier. Something slammed into Colander’s side. He winced as surges of electricity shot through him, shocking his nerves and hurting his head.

   He bit down on his lips, hard, and muffled his own scream. A single chaotic noise erupted from his throat but died on his sore lips. Bitter vomit rose and he swallowed it down painfully.

   “This is what happens when you lie.”

   This is what happens when I don’t say what you don’t want to hear, Colander thought. He took in a deep breath and tried to jerk away. His hands were still restrained. The handcuffs dug deep into his skin.

   “…They were targeting the media headquarters,” said Colander. His voice was raspy.

   Boner grinned.

   “That’s more like it.” He sat down.

   Colander spoke silently, his voice calm and raspy, his eyes downcast, and the handcuffs heavy on his irritated skin.

 

Instructor Response

Good work very nicely done.  You created a clear happening with emotions flowing (so special to fiction).  Dialogue is excellent.  Pacing perfect.

 

Below are inserted comments in text.  Much of it is related to style and is presented more to make you aware of alternatives that might make little changes in the readers’ readings of the passage so that there is no chance of they’re being ejected from the fictional dream setting you’ve created. 

 

 

"I don’t know."

   "You’re lying."

   There was pause. Cliff Boner slammed his palms against the table and looked at Colander in the eye. He stared at him long and hard. The other man was seated, chained down with tight handcuffs. His skin itched and his fingers twitched.

   "Tell me."

   "I told you I don’t know."

   There was pain. Colander’s head snapped to the side. He bit down on his tongue and turned his head to face Boner. His eye hurt and his cheek was swollen. The man hit hard.

   "Don’t lie to me. You were in the getaway car. You were directly affiliated with his men. We have witnesses. You have nothing."

   Colander raised his chin. He narrowed his eyes at the man above, his lips flattening out into a thin line.

   "They dragged me into the car. I’m just a driver. They hired me. I needed the work, but I didn’t know that they were criminals. I’m not lying-"

   "Of course you are!" Boner cut him off.  He was seething. "The fact that we caught you is enough. Cut the crap, Colander. We don’t need your lies. You’re just making this harder."

   Colander frowned. He wondered what was right to say. He wondered what Boner wanted him to say. He wondered.

   "I’m not lying."

   It was the wrong thing to say.  This narrator comment–you might argue it’s an example of free indirect style where the speaker could be the character but also others- might not be necessary here.  You’ve got the scene moving, and some readers might pause for a second and think, who’s this speaking?  I thought we were in Colander’s head.  Something to consider for style refinement.) 

   There was a flash (Word choice?  A flash of darkness is hard to visualize.  You might use the idea of shadow or light extinguished to fit the action. It’s a subtle effect, but a wrong word can stop the flow momentarily.  Again, a judgment call.  of sudden darkness as Boner’s body hunched over him. His figure blocked out the light from the bulbs above.  This is a repetition of the darkness idea.  Maybe incorporate this in first sentence and if you need something here for pacing, think of something else that is occurring, something with action . . . not static. Boner’s hand gripped Colander’s arm and they struggled, the table proving no use as a barrier. Something slammed into Colander’s side. He winced This is a slight POV shift (something that seems to be observed outside his consciousness rather than felt by him), totally acceptable, but might be restructured, that is his wincing, so that we know the reaction still in his point of view and not outside.  Although seemingly minor, at your level of writing, these points, that may seem to be minutia, are important for even more perfection.  as surges of electricity shot through him, shocking his nerves and hurting his head.

   He bit down on his lips, hard, and muffled his own scream. I’d try elipses here, for pacing.  (Like this: He bit down on his lips . . . hard . . . and muffled his own scream.) A single chaotic noise erupted from his throat but died on his sore lips. Bitter vomit rose and he swallowed it down painfully.

   "This is what happens when you lie." This needs attribution.  Who is speaking?  Provide for the reader so it is absolutely clear.

   This is what happens when I don’t say what you don’t want to hear, Colander thought.  This is personal preference, but I like thoughts in italic.  I changed it to show you what I mean.   He took in a deep breath and tried to jerk away. His hands were still restrained. The handcuffs dug deep into his skin.

   "…They were targeting the media headquarters," said Colander. His voice was raspy.

   Boner grinned.

   "That’s more like it." He sat down.

   Colander spoke silently, his voice calm and raspy, his eyes downcast, and the handcuffs heavy on his irritated skin.

 

I hope this is helpful.  Great work, and thanks for submitting.  Best regards, WHC

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Collander grinned cynically whilst leaning back against the chair to which he was handcuffed. Disbelief, white hot anger, and fear rushing through him as Cliff Boner approached, stun-gun in hand.

“Why …” he started as two million volts of electricity went through his body, pulled him this way, then that before leaving him slumped over. Vomit pushed up in his throat and he tried bravely to keep it down before it rolled over his chin.

Boner leaned closer. “You smell like shit!”

Collander took small breaths, then deeper, and looked up at his high school mate.

“Why?”

Boner grabbed his hair with one hand, slamming the fist of the other into Collander’s nose.

“What do you think mister smart fucking investment banker?”

Reality flashed into Collander’s mind. Hedge funds, attractive investment opportunities, buy now!

“We warned …”

The slap jerked his head sideways, his cheeck on fire whilst the tears ran to mix with the blood from his nose.

“That your so-called clever investors have to bring big bags to collect their money?” Boner grabbed his hair again, his face and sour alcohol breath close to Collander’s eyes.

“There is always a risk …”

“ … that you will get caught!”

Collander’s eye’s opened wide as Boner reached inside his jacket and reemerged Glock in hand.

 

Instructor Response

Excellent work.  Of particular note is the pleasing pacing of your revision, and the tempered yet well delivered plot line, which delivers enough information, mainly through dialogue and narrative, to divulge enough but not too much. 

The dialogue also is crisp, informative and credible.  The plot with investment banking is also interesting, but if you were to keep this as part of a larger work, you’d want to be sure the plot didn’t have I-seen-this-one-before feel for the reader.  Always seek something unique (I don’t think you would have a problem imagining something useful).  Also the specificity demonstrated by "Glock" is good (rather than "gun" or "pistol"). 

Details such as "high school mate" add a lot.  And they tilt the passage toward literary.  There seems to be controversy over genre vs literary and whether there should be a "literary" distinction in fiction (most of it pseudointellectual babble).  Character-based fiction with theme and meaning about what it means to be human is fun to write and adds to the significance of a work.  Your introduction in even this short revision of a past relationship–a hint of human interaction that will affect the story–moves the potential for the force of action in the plot to be a cause-and-effect to the characters’ desires and motives, and the conflicts that result.  This line indicates you’re thinking like a literary writer even if that is not your ultimate goal in writing.  

The dialogue line "You smell like shit!" rings true for the character and the situation.  But pause for a moment and consider the opportunity to enhance the imagery and immediacy of the scene.  "like shit" is a nonspecific simile.  Consider a different metaphor, which you might even deliver in description (maybe even internal monologue, although you’d loose a little of the pacing) what the actual smell was like.  It would take some thinking.  But could add that little extra that elevates the prose.  

Thanks for participating.

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