Assignment.

If you, as a writer, don’t find the challenge of this assignment exciting, you will probably never create great fiction as an art form. The goal is to build great characters through in scene action.  If you succeed, after practicing and evaluating, your storytelling will take on new dimensions that will fascinate your readers, stimulate their memory, and stimulate their admiration for you with your ability to give them pleasure through a fictional story. That has a good chance to give you great pleasure you will probably never experience in any other way.

What to do.

Write five short scenes. Use conflict, action, dialogue, but internal reflection sparely and narrative description to a minimum.  This will characterize through action.  Rather than, She was so sad, showing through action, She sobbed, her body trembling, barely able to speak.  Expand this example to other emotions such as anger, envy, hate, love (be specific about the type of love your creating through action), et cetera as you build your character.  Keep you story moving through the five scenes, that is, don’t lose a sense of momentum because your outlining and focusing on character development.

Goal.

In five short scenes outlines, create the story so the reader will know the nature (emotional and intellectual) of the major character protagonist WITHOUT using words like mean, bully, stupid, kind, magnanimous, introspective, God fearing, religious, cruel, loving, hateful, jealous, arrogant, prideful, naive, etc. You should strive to make story and character action responsible for characterization (not narrator or author telling).  Each scene should add to the characterization of the protagonist, providing dimension and uniqueness (as ever human is unique in their own ways) to the character.  Imagine, strive for consistency, prioritize and reject for effectiveness, stay credible.  Like the uniqueness of what you create.

Word limit 2000 words (total for all five scenes) for submission.  Word limitation important to force editing and prioritization to develop crisp, concrete prose.

Submit your work to discover ways to improve.


   Work submissions for Assignment 12: Write five scene outlines

Bettina’s Story
Introductions

1970

Two minutes before the train pulled into the station Bettina opened her square, gold compact and frowned at her oval face reflected in the tiny mirror.

Too pale, she thought and firmly pressed her lips together. Too pale and plain-looking without my usual mask of lipstick, blush, and face powder.

“Play down the makeup,” Michael had cautioned.  “Pop’s old school. Detests painted women. Lipstick, mascara, eyeshadow. ‘Devil’s tools,’ he calls them. ‘Used by the fairer sex to beguile men.’”

“But Michael,” Bettina protested and wrinkled her nose. “You realize first impression are important.” She and Michael had eloped and were planning to meet his parents for the first time.

“How can my family not be impressed?” Her new husband had given Bettina a lingering kiss.

The train pulled into the station. Bettina pinched both cheeks. Maybe a flicker of blush?

“No,” she murmured, and snapped the gold compact shut. Deceptiveness and dishonesty belonged in her past. “I won’t allow deceitfulness intruding on my happiness, on my future with Michael.”

Bettina’s new husband took her overnight case, held her hand, and helped her descended the steps onto the train platform. “Sweetheart, you look fabulous,” Michael’s eyes brightened.

Bettina smiled. The red, form-fitting sheath dress was worth depleting her rapidly dwindling savings; she quit the profession since meeting Michael.

“Mmm, I missed you, Bettina.” Michael’s lips brushed his wife’s cheek. A reserved, quiet man, he seldom displayed emotions publicly.

“Oh, darling, we’ve only been apart for a day.”

Yesterday, Michael drove from Philadelphia to his parent’s home in southern New Jersey. Breaking the news to his unsuspecting family before presenting his new bride seemed warranted.

“How did your family react, Michael?” Bettina slipped her arm through Michael’s, and together the couple walked to his car in the parking lot.

“‘About time, Son,’ Pops said. ‘Man needs a good woman.’” Michael smiled and opened the car door. “’Bettina’s a good woman, Pops,’ I told him.” 

Bettina slid into the passenger’s seat. Dear Lord, she thought, help me keep Michael’s trust.

“Your mother’s reaction?  And…” Bettina twisted the gold chain on her red leather purse. “Your daughter Conchetta’s reaction?”

Michael exited the parking lot before responding. “Remember, Bettina, my first wife died five years ago when my daughter was two. My mom’s the only mother my daughter Conchetta’s known. We’ll have to proceed cautiously.”

Very cautiously, Bettina thought, with both Michael’s mother and his daughter.               

 

#

 

Michael parked in front of the small, white bungalow. Dark, heavy drapes covering the large picture window parted slightly. Bettina saw two faces peering out.

The door opened. An unsmiling woman, grey, stringy hair falling below her stooped shoulders, walked across the porch.

“Hello, Mother,” Michael said. “This is Bettina.”

“I can see that, Son.”

Peeping from behind the woman’s long, faded denim skirt was a frail, dark-haired young girl.

“Come here, Conchetta. Meet your new mother.” Smiling, Michael held out his arms, but the child whimpered, shook her head, and clutched her Grandmother’s hand.

“Son, your Father’s acting uncivilized. He’s working in the vegetable patch. Spreading fertilizer.” Michael’s mother picked up Conchetta and rocked the child gently in her arms. “Won’t come in and wash up for company. Best go ’round back and introduce your new wife.”

Bettina’s heart raced. How much do I really know about Michael and his family? She twisted the rings on her finger.

“Why the rush?” An acquaintance, admiring Bettina’s sparkling diamond engagement ring, had asked. “You’ve only known the man a month. Take my advice. Summer him and winter him, my dear.”

Michael took Bettina’s hand. “Don’t frown, Bettina. Everything will be fine. Trust me.” 

Michael’s father, a tall, angular man, was spreading pig manure, turning it with a shovel into the dark, rich garden soil. He pushed the shovel into the manure pile, wiped his brow, and watched his son and his son’s new wife walking along the path skirting the garden plot. 

“Father, may I introduce Bettina?”

“So, this is your bride, Son.” Hard eyes appraised Bettina: her bright blond hair; her red dress; the red purse clutched in one hand; her high heeled shoes.

Bettina swayed against Michael.

Michael’s father planted his foot on the shovel’s blade and lifted a heaping shovelful of manure.

“Puttana,” he suddenly shouted, “Puttana,” and hurled the shovelful of manure.

Bettina’s bright red dress, her shoes were splattered with filth.

 

#

 

Bettina screamed.

Michael jerked the shovel from his father’s hands. “What have you done,” he yelled. “Are you mad?” His face twisted in rage.

Bettina sank to her knees. She covered her head with her hands, and rocked back and forth. Her screams pierced the air.

Michael’s mother opened the back door. “Son, drop that shovel.” She hurried down the back steps. “Don’t follow me, Conchetta.” she said to her granddaughter who tagged behind her. “Stay on the porch.”

Michael swung the shovel and hit his father on the side of his head.

His father groaned, doubled over, and toppled to the ground.

“Grandpop. Grandpop,” Michael’s daughter whimpered and jumped off the porch.   

Michael raised the shovel a second time.

“Give me that shovel, Son.” Michael’s mother held out her hand. “Think of your daughter.” 

Conchetta was staring at her father. “You’ve killed Grandpop,” she said. “You’ve killed him.”

Michael plunged the shovel into the pile of manure.

Michael’s mother stooped and sopped the blood flowing from the long gash on her husband’s forehead. She looked up at Michael. “Best take Bettina inside, Son. Help get her cleaned up.”

 

Bettina’s Story
Part Two

Burying the Past

 

The kitchen table in Michael’s efficiency apartment was cluttered; white Styrofoam cartons, colorful, plastic bowls covered in Saran wrap, paper plates swathed in aluminum foil–food offerings for the newly bereaved widower.

Maddie, his granddaughter walked into the kitchen, unzipped her denim jacket and draped it on a chair. “Morning, Gramps,” she said and kissed Michael’s wrinkled forehead. “Casserole ladies from the church performing their Christian duty, I see.”

Michael chuckled. “So much food,” he said. “For one person. Can’t figure what those women were thinking.”

“Don’t you, Gramps?” Maddie’s eyes shone.

“Now, Maddie. Michael’s white, bushy eyebrows lifted. “Only one woman for me. My Bettina.”

Maddie shook her head. Bettina was her step-grandmother. Her gramps had been married twice.

“Were you able to find everything?”

Maddie nodded. “Found the garment bag, Gramps, hanging on a hook in the self-storage unit. Just like you said.”

“Shoes and the purse, too?”

“Yep. Neatly packed and labeled. Everything’s in my car. Took some time, though. Your self-storage unit’s crammed full.”

“Now Bettina’s passed, I’ll clear things out. Nothing of any importance in there.” Michael stooped and lifted a sturdy, empty carton from the floor.

“Nothing? Who knows, Gramps? Mom and Auntie Vita might find some of your old stuff valuable. Or at least of sentimental value, Gramps.”

“I doubt it, Maddie.”

“Gramps, Mom and Auntie Vita, well, they are worried about you.”

Maddie had overheard the two women discussing Michael’s stoic, unemotional response to Bettina’s death.

“Conchetta, you Dad’s not grieving,” Great-aunt Vita had said. “You’d think after fifty years of marriage. . .”

Dad’s said his farewells,” Maddie’s mother had said. “Bettina’s been in a nursing home past five years. Alzheimer’s.

Michael arranged several containers of food in the cardboard carton. “Too late for your mother’s concern, Maddie. Never showed concerned while Bettina was living. Now, help me load this box, will you.”

“The battered woman’s shelter will welcome the donation.” Maddie picked up a pie plate and peeled back the foil. “Mmm, pineapple cheesecake, Gramps.”

“My favorite. Put it in the frig. If you can find room.”

“Grandmother Bettina won blue ribbons at the state fair, didn’t she? For her cheesecake.” Maddie slid the cheesecake in the bottom shelf of the crowded refrigerator. 

“For a gal who couldn’t boil water when I married her, my Bettina turned into a darn fine cook.”

“You know, Gramps, I could drop the box of food at the woman’s shelter then stop by the funeral home.”

“We’ll go together, Maddie.” Michael brushed his eyes. “Delivering those items to the funeral home is the last thing I’ll ever do for my Bettina.”

#

“Red? That was Grandmother Bettina’s?” Maddie stared at the red sheath dress Michael had taken from the garment bag. “Black or grey were the only colors Grandmother Bettina wore.”

“Bettina wore that dress once.” Michael sighed and shook his head. A lock of silver hair falls across his forehead. “Never wore red again, either,” he said and suddenly laughed softly. “Except for the red lingerie I bought her.”

“Gramps, you’re sooo naughty.” Maddie grinned and unwrapped the package containing shoes and a red leather purse.

“Took some elbow-grease getting those shoes clean.”

“What happened, Gramps?”

“My fault, Maddie. I should have remembered.”

“Remembered what?” Maddie repacked the shoes and purse and zipped the red dress in the garment bag.

“Pops was from the old country. In Sicily, only whores wore red. My father took one look at Bettina. ‘Puttana,’ he yelled. ‘Puttana’ and threw a shovelful of manure at my bride.

“Imagine. Calling my Bettina such a foul, foul name.”

 

#

 

Bettina’s Story
Part Three

Revelations

 

Michael’s family stood in front of Bettina’s casket for a private viewing of the body.

“Where’s the outfit she was supposed to wear?” Great-aunt Vita asked a rotund man standing in the doorway. “The grey one?”

“There must be some mistake,” the undertaker said. “Your departed loved one is wearing the red dress this young lady,” he nodded at Maddie, “and her grandfather brought to the funeral home yesterday.”

“Maddy. Sneaking behind my back.” Conchetta’s face was ashen. “Where the hell did you find that old dress, anyway?”

Michael smiled and squeezed Maddie’s hand. “Don’t frown. Everything will be okay. Trust me,” he whispered.

“Whatever possessed you, Michael,” his sister Vita asked.

“It was what my Bettina wanted.” Michael smiled. “Doesn’t she look beautiful? In her red dress?”

 

#

Long-stemmed red roses nodded in the metal urn on Bettina’s tombstone.

“See who sent them. Maddie.”

Maddie read the small card. “An acquaintance.”

“Can’t imagine who.” Michael walked to the headstone and kneeled.

Gramps needs time alone with his beloved Bettina, Maddie thought. She walked to the car clutching the card.

#

“My dear, so happy to meet Bettina’s granddaughter,” Miss Combes said. “How did you find me?”

Maddy watched the frail woman pouring tea into delicate porcelain cups.

“Actually, Bettina is my step-grandmother. Married Gramps after his first wife died.”

“Ah, yes. Michael. Quite the catch.” Miss Combes lifted the teacup to her lips.

“You know my grandfather?”

“No, my dear. Bettina wouldn’t have dared introduce her husband to me. But Michael’s not the reason you’re here, is it?” Miss Combes set her teacup in the saucer. “You’re curious about Bettina. Her past, maybe? Her secrets?”

“You and Bettina were friends. That would explain the red roses on her grave.”

“Friends?” Miss Combes’s thin, penciled-in eyebrow arched. ”I would say we were more like acquaintances. Professional acquaintances.”

“Why red roses? The florist said you insisted on red roses. He remembered taking your order.”

“I see. That’s how you found me. The florist gave you my address.” The woman’s eyes narrow to slits. She lifted a small tray of baked good. “Please try the macaroons. Quite delicious.”

“Why red?”

“Excuse me, my dear?” Miss Combes selected a crinkly gingersnap cookie.

“Why did you send red roses? You must have a good reason.” Maddie leaned across the table. The tea cups rattled in their saucers.

“Bettina told me of the humiliating incident. With the red dress.” Miss Combes crumbled the cookie between thin, gnarled fingers. “I’ve wondered my dear, if Michael’s father was aware of his daughter-in-law’s past. Her profession.”

“Her profession?” The color drained from Maddie’s face. “What are you saying?”

“My dear,” Miss Combes said. “Before Michael met her, his beloved Bettina worked for me as a prostitute.”

Instructor Response

Cathryn–
Really well done. The prose is well written and the pacing of the story done well; you’ve covered a lot of story time gracefully in the limits of the exercise directions. And you’ve handled backstory well. Overall, 5 well-deserved stars!
And thanks for the submission.

WHC

  1. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Thank you so much for your support and encouragement.

    Appreciate the time you’ve appropriated from your busy life to assist writers aspiring to become creators of literary stories.

    Cathryn

  2. My pleasure! And great to work with you! Your hard work and dedication greatly appreciated.
    All the best,
    WHC

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1

             After she left, I felt Heidi’s presence in every classroom, on the streetcar, and in the library. Throughout High School, I dated deadbeats, girls that clung, and girls that didn’t know a book from a brick. Heidi’s ghost shadowed me like a remnant of her soul.

            After high school, and then college, several years of independent league baseball followed. Heidi’s ghost diminished, her features eroded, and the echo of her voice faded to silence. She was old news, or so I thought.

            On a Thursday, after my third day of practice with the Class A, Graytown Tigers in Graytown, Virginia, I sat at the bar with Jackson, the only player I had befriended since I arrived. This was my first, and most likely last, chance within a major league organization. The familiar drag down feeling of a transient life weighed on me. I accepted Jackson’s invitation to eat at the Tiger Café only to please him; I expected little pleasure from the experience.

            We sat at the bar, and before long, Jackson took to the dance floor while I nursed my third beer. I noticed myself thinking of Heidi. Out of boredom, I traced the thought back in my mind, wondering what brought it on. There had been a rush of movement across the bar, a waitress who caught my attention. She had brushed her hair back from her face with an unusual wrist flick, the same way Heidi did it.

            As if she sensed my interest, she looked across the room at me—stared at me, to be exact. I looked away. Large, brown eyes—another similarity.

 

2

            At practice, onlookers splattered about the stands: old-timers, small town onlookers, and girlfriends or young wives of my teammates. I buried my self-consciousness in the reaction to the batted ball, the smoothness of running down a sure hit, and in the coordination engaged in making a catch, until suddenly I tensed. I dropped an easy fly and threw the ball to the wrong base. After practice, I sat in the dugout, removing my spikes.

            Coach Russell approached from the third base line. “You looked confused out there today, Tyler. Something botherin you?” He spoke down to me, perched above the dugout, his hands gripping the railing.

            My cheeks flushed and my nose ran. I wiped it with the back of my sleeve. “No sir. Sorry, I’ll do better tomorrow.”

            He bit at his cuticles. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake, bringing you in from Florida. The scouts said you were ready.”

            His voice hit me like a punch in the stomach. “No mistake, sir. Give me a chance to prove it.”

            His face was a stone. Turning away, he said, “Quit callin me sir. Coach is fine. Just do better tomorrow.”

            All my teammates had gone but I knew I’d find them at the Tiger Café, if I wanted to. I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, I hadn’t gotten to know anyone except Jackson. This team seemed different from any other I had played on. Camaraderie mixed with the taste of distrustfulness, like a sour paste stuck on the roof of my mouth. Players worried that the new guy coming up would ruin their chances.

            I threw my spikes into my bag, flipped it over my shoulder and headed for home, an old house converted for ballplayers, where the newbies stayed.

 

3

            A spunky-looking, gum-chewing girl sat alone in the stands. “Hey,” she called. I recognized her as the waitress from the café.

            I nodded, but kept walking.

            She jumped up, and jogged towards me, her dark hair, flapping about her shoulders. “You looked pretty good out there, she said.” Her brown-sparkle eyes gleamed.

            “You might be the only one who thinks so.” I kept moving. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

            She cut me off, forcing me to stop, sticking her hands into the back pockets of her denim bell bottoms, stretching the fabric of her shirt tightly across her ample chest.          

            “Oh. Coach Russell. Don’t worry about him. He tries to scare all the new boys. He’ll stop barking at you. And he doesn’t bite.” She blew a bubble that broke. She casually scrapped it off her face, and then plunked it back into her mouth.

            Slowly licking her lips, she trifled with me, measuring my reaction. It had been a long time since I’d been with a girl. I tugged at my collar, dropped my gaze and gawked at her breasts.

            “What do you know about it?”

            She took my chin in both hands and lifted my face back to her wide eyes. “I know all about this team. My old boyfriend played here for three years, but he moved on to AA, so I’m checking out the new players. You’re first on my list.”

            Apparently, she thought I should be flattered.

            “You’re rather bold, aren’t you?” I thought she was putting me on, that there would be a punch line, or some friends of hers would come out from behind the fence and start laughing. She was too old for that kind of nonsense, but her manner reminded me of a high school cheerleader. I felt old in her presence, although we had to be close to the same age.

            “No use beating around the bush. You could take me…if you want.” She bobbed up and down on her toes as if she were wearing coils in her shoes, “take me to the café for something to eat.”

            After the mugging I got from Coach Russell, I felt open to any brand of kindness. I reached out to touch her face, but stopped.

            “You’re on,” I said.

            “Great. My name’s Nashla Lamont,” she said, extending her hand.

            She gripped firmly, caressing my knuckles.

            “I’m Vance.”

            “I know,” she said. “Vance Tyler, I looked it up.” She laughed at my surprise and blew another bubble.

            “Nashla, that’s different.”

            “I hate my real name. I call myself Nashla, after my grandmother. Nash is her maiden name.”

            “It’ unique, like you.”

            She smiled and tilted her gaze downward, but I could see I’d touched her.

 

4

            Loud music blasted through the open door.

            “Oh! I like this song,” Nashla said. She started dancing at the doorway, mouthing the words…”we were gettin our share.”

            Everybody knew her—a couple of young woman in a booth, a guy with a reddish beard sitting at the bar, and Hernandez, one of the ballplayers, who had been with the team since last year. Nashla beamed, clearly in her glory.

            I should have gone home, to nurse my anxiety over Coach Russell’s criticism. Instead, I said, “You know a lot of people.”

            “It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Isn’t it great?”

            “Sure,” I said, but my voice fell flat.    

            “I saw you last night. You seem different and you’re cute. That’s why I scouted you out.”

            Different from whom, I wondered. “Scout me out? It sounds like you work for the team.”

            “That’s a joke, silly. I’ve lived too long in a baseball town. There’s a table, back there,” Nashla indicated with a tip of her head.

            She led me to a small table set for two, tucked in a niche, away from the hub drub. “This is nice,” I said.

            “Nashla, who’s your friend?” The voice sailed over my shoulder from behind. A waitress came into view, wearing a Tiger team shirt, faded bells, and a Tiger cap.

            “Hey Marsha, this is Vance.”

            She was taller than Nashla, blonde, with blue eyes.

            The girls chatted while I eyed the menu, getting hungrier by the minute. I didn’t catch the drift of conversation, except the last of it, “The divorce should go through in a couple of weeks,” Nashla was saying, with a scowl.

            At the risk of sounding rude, I butted in, “How many wings do you get in an order?”

            Nashla looked at me in surprise, as if she had forgotten me.

            “Oh, sorry,” Marsha said. “Hungry boy you got here, Nashla.”

            The beer and wings came out. Nashla took out her gum and saved it on her plate, laughing. “I might want that later, she said.

            I shrugged and took a sip of beer.

            Licking sauce off her fingers, she ignored my silence and asked, “So, Vance, where are you from?”

            My shoulders loosened. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, went to college in Florida.”

            Nashla’s face lit up. “I went to Daytona on spring break my senior year in High School. It was wild. Connie’s family had a Condo there. Her parents were cool. They let four of us girls stay there alone. We met up with some guys and partied the whole week.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Uh, do you have a girlfriend back in Pittsburgh, or somewhere?”

            “No. What about you. You said your boyfriend moved up to AA?”

            “Oh, you mean Derrick. Did I tell you about him? He thinks he’s going to be a big star, but it took him three years to get to AA. He wanted me to go with him, but all my friends are here.”

            “How’d he take it?”

            Her face grayed over. “Hey, what’s your favorite song?”

            Guess she didn’t want to talk about past history. I took the last bite of my burger and poured half a glass, emptying the pitcher. Nashla had drunk most of the beer.

            I stared at my plate, preparing an excuse to go. But just then, she looked at me with her baby-face eyes that reminded me of Heidi. Just like that, I changed my mind. It didn’t matter that she was like a child at play. Marsha came by and cleared the plates. A fresh pitcher of beer and the opportunity to have Nashla lay on the table. She eyed me, as if expecting something, but I just sat there.

 

5

            She asked me to dance. The air reeked of perspiration and the floor was sticky with beer. We danced to near exhaustion. Her bangs stuck to her forehead and sweat marks swelled under her arms.

             I got us a couple more beers. She came back from the ladies room looking more put together. She swapped a knowing look with Marsha.

            A slow song came on and I held Nashla close. We were wet with sweat, but I welcomed the heat of her body, and she pressed herself tightly to me. She whispered something in my ear but I couldn’t hear what she said, so she took my hand and led me outside. “Walk me home? She asked.

            She lived three blocks from the café in the upstairs of a two bedroom duplex. The walk was a tango of anticipative foreplay. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I hugged her shoulder. Like love-tied teens, we made awkward progress, more concerned with our touching than our mobility. I rubbed her head, messing her hair, and reached around to her face, pulling the hair away from her cheek, and touching her lips with the tip of my finger. She bit me, lightly, and licked my fingertip.

            When we reached her door, she kissed me. Soft lips overlaid mine, her tongue on a quest. I grabbed her hair, pulling her away to kiss her neck. She moaned and then pushed me back and smiled.

            She flicked her hair. “Come on in.”

            But then Heidi came to mind. “No. I don’t think so.”

            Nashla’s eyebrows squished together. “You don’t want to?”

            I shifted my feet. “I’ve got practice tomorrow.”

            Her face turned red. “I see.” She slipped inside and closed the door with exacting gentleness.

            “No, I didn’t mean…”      

            The lock clicked.

            It was a long five blocks back to my house. I realized that I actually liked her. It wasn’t her fault that a few of her incidental qualities brought back memories. Heidi heartache, after all these years—I was a basket case.

Instructor Response

1

             After she left, I felt Heidi’s presence in every classroom, on the streetcar, and in the library. Throughout High School, I dated deadbeats, girls that clung, and girls that didn’t know a book from a brick. Heidi’s ghost shadowed me like a remnant of her soul.

            After high school, and then college, several years of independent league baseball followed. Heidi’s ghost diminished, her features eroded, and the echo of her voice faded to silence. She was old news, or so I thought.

            On a Thursday, after my third day of practice with the Class A, Graytown Tigers in Graytown, Virginia, I sat at the bar with Jackson, the only player I had befriended since I arrived. This was my first, and most likely last, chance within a major league organization. The familiar drag down feeling of a transient life weighed on me. I accepted Jackson’s invitation to eat at the Tiger Café only to please him; I expected little pleasure from the experience.

            We sat at the bar, and before long, Jackson took to the dance floor while I nursed my third beer. I noticed myself thinking of Heidi. Out of boredom, I traced the thought back in my mind, wondering what brought it on. There had been a rush of movement across the bar, a waitress who caught my attention. She had brushed her hair back from her face with an unusual wrist flick, the same way Heidi did it.

            As if she sensed my interest, she looked across the room at me—stared at me, to be exact. I looked away. Large, brown eyes—another similarity.

 

2

            At practice, onlookers splattered about the stands: old-timers, small town onlookers, and girlfriends or young wives of my teammates. I buried my self-consciousness in the reaction to the batted ball, the smoothness of running down a sure hit, and in the coordination engaged in making a catch, until suddenly I tensed. I dropped an easy fly and threw the ball to the wrong base. After practice, I sat in the dugout, removing my spikes.

            Coach Russell approached from the third base line. “You looked confused out there today, Tyler. Something botherin you?” He spoke down to me, perched above the dugout, his hands gripping the railing.  Nice image.

            My cheeks flushed and my nose ran. I wiped it with the back of my sleeve. “No sir. Sorry, I’ll do better tomorrow.”

            He bit at his cuticles. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake, bringing you in from Florida. The scouts said you were ready.”

            His voice hit me like a punch in the stomach. “No mistake, sir. Give me a chance to prove it.”

            His face was a stone. Turning away, he said, “Quit callin me sir. Coach is fine. Just do better tomorrow.”  Yes.  Nice conflict producing lots of characterization well seeded in dialogue response.

            All my teammates had gone but I knew I’d find them at the Tiger Café, if I wanted to. I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, I hadn’t gotten to know anyone except Jackson. This team seemed different from any other I had played on. Camaraderie mixed with the taste of distrustfulness, like a sour paste stuck on the roof of my mouth. Players worried that the new guy coming up would ruin their chances.

            I threw my spikes into my bag, flipped it over my shoulder and headed for home, an old house converted for ballplayers, where the newbies stayed.

 

3

            A spunky-looking, gum-chewing girl sat alone in the stands. “Hey,” she called. I recognized her as the waitress from the café.

            I nodded, but kept walking.

            She jumped up, and jogged towards me, her dark hair, flapping about her shoulders. “You looked pretty good out there, she said.” Her brown-sparkle eyes gleamed.

            “You might be the only one who thinks so.” I kept moving. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

            She cut me off, forcing me to stop, sticking her hands into the back pockets of her denim bell bottoms, stretching the fabric of her shirt tightly across her ample chest.    Good.      

            “Oh. Coach Russell. Don’t worry about him. He tries to scare all the new boys. He’ll stop barking at you. And he doesn’t bite.” She blew a bubble that broke. She casually scrapped it off her face, and then plunked it back into her mouth.

            Slowly licking her lips, she trifled with me, measuring my reaction. It had been a long time since I’d been with a girl. I tugged at my collar, dropped my gaze and gawked at her breasts.

            “What do you know about it?” I asked.  [Needs attribution for clarity about who’s taling.]

            She took my chin in both hands and lifted my face back to her wide eyes. “I know all about this team. My old boyfriend played here for three years, but he moved on to AA, so I’m checking out the new players. You’re first on my list.”

            Apparently, she thought I should be flattered.

            “You’re rather bold, aren’t you?” I thought she was putting me on, that there would be a punch line, or some friends of hers would come out from behind the fence and start laughing. She was too old for that kind of nonsense, but her manner reminded me of a high school cheerleader. I felt old in her presence, although we had to be close to the same age.

            “No use beating around the bush. You could take me…if you want.” She bobbed up and down on her toes as if she were wearing coils in her shoes, “take me to the café for something to eat.”

            After the mugging I got from Coach Russell, I felt open to any brand of kindness. I reached out to touch her face, but stopped.

            “You’re on,” I said.

            “Great. My name’s Nashla Lamont,” she said, extending her hand.

            She gripped firmly, caressing my knuckles.

            “I’m Vance.”

            “I know,” she said. “Vance Tyler, I looked it up.” She laughed at my surprise and blew another bubble.  Nicely done exposition (in 1st person too).

            “Nashla, that’s different.”

            “I hate my real name. I call myself Nashla, after my grandmother. Nash is her maiden name.”

            “It’ unique, like you.”

            She smiled and tilted her gaze downward, but I could see I’d touched her.

 

4

            Loud music blasted through the open door.

            “Oh! I like this song,” Nashla said. She started dancing at the doorway, mouthing the words…”we were gettin our share.”

            Everybody knew her—a couple of young woman in a booth, a guy with a reddish beard sitting at the bar, and Hernandez, one of the ballplayers, who had been with the team since last year. Nashla beamed, clearly in her glory.

            I should have gone home, to nurse my anxiety over Coach Russell’s criticism. Instead, I said, “You know a lot of people.”

            “It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Isn’t it great?”

            “Sure,” I said, but my voice fell flat.    

            “I saw you last night. You seem different and you’re cute. That’s why I scouted you out.”

            Different from whom, I wondered. “Scout me out? It sounds like you work for the team.”

            “That’s a joke, silly. I’ve lived too long in a baseball town. There’s a table, back there,” Nashla indicated with a tip of her head.

            She led me to a small table set for two, tucked in a niche, away from the hub drub. “This is nice,” I said.  This is very well paced.

            “Nashla, who’s your friend?” The voice sailed over my shoulder from behind. A waitress came into view, wearing a Tiger team shirt, faded bells, and a Tiger cap.

            “Hey Marsha, this is Vance.”

            She was taller than Nashla, blonde, with blue eyes.

            The girls chatted while I eyed the menu, getting hungrier by the minute. I didn’t catch the drift of conversation, except the last of it, “The divorce should go through in a couple of weeks,” Nashla was saying, with a scowl.

            At the risk of sounding rude, I butted in, “How many wings do you get in an order?”

            Nashla looked at me in surprise, as if she had forgotten me.

            “Oh, sorry,” Marsha said. “Hungry boy you got here, Nashla.”

            The beer and wings came out. Nashla took out her gum and saved it on her plate, laughing. “I might want that later, she said.  Nice.

            I shrugged and took a sip of beer.

            Licking sauce off her fingers, she ignored my silence and asked, “So, Vance, where are you from?”

            My shoulders loosened. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, went to college in Florida.”  Good.  Exposition embedded in story in dialogue that calls no attention to itself.  This skill helps make this as good as it is.

            Nashla’s face lit up. “I went to Daytona on spring break my senior year in High School. It was wild. Connie’s This is, I think, a new character which raises expectations of more to come or some purpose.  Maybe “I had this friend whose” family had a Condo there. Her parents were cool. They let four of us girls stay there alone. We met up with some guys and partied the whole week.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Uh, do you have a girlfriend back in Pittsburgh, or somewhere?”

            “No. What about you. You said your boyfriend moved up to AA?”

            “Oh, you mean Derrick. Did I tell you about him? He thinks he’s going to be a big star, but it took him three years to get to AA. He wanted me to go with him, but all my friends are here.”  Great.

            “How’d he take it?”

            Her face grayed over. “Hey, what’s your favorite song?”

            Guess she didn’t want to talk about past history. I took the last bite of my burger and poured half a glass, emptying the pitcher. Nashla had drunk most of the beer.

            I stared at my plate, preparing an excuse to go. But just then, she looked at me with her baby-face eyes that reminded me of Heidi. Just like that, I changed my mind. It didn’t matter that she was like a child at play. Marsha came by and cleared the plates. A fresh pitcher of beer and the opportunity to have Nashla lay on the table????. She eyed me, as if expecting something, but I just sat there.

 

5

            She asked me to dance. The air reeked of perspiration and the floor was sticky with beer. We danced to near exhaustion. Her bangs stuck to her forehead and sweat marks swelled under her arms.

             I got us a couple more beers. She came back from the ladies room looking more put together. She swapped a knowing look with Marsha.

            A slow song came on and I held Nashla close. We were wet with sweat, but I welcomed the heat of her body, and she pressed herself tightly to me. She whispered something in my ear but I couldn’t hear what she said, so she took my hand and led me outside. “Walk me home? She asked.

            She lived three blocks from the café in the upstairs of a two bedroom duplex. The walk was a tango of anticipative foreplay. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I hugged her shoulder. Like love-tied teens, we made awkward progress, more concerned with our touching than our mobility. I rubbed her head, messing her hair, and reached around to her face, pulling the hair away from her cheek, and touching her lips with the tip of my finger. She bit me, lightly, and licked my fingertip.

            When we reached her door, she kissed me. Soft lips overlaid mine, her tongue on a quest. I grabbed her hair, pulling her away to kiss her neck. She moaned and then pushed me back and smiled.

            She flicked her hair. “Come on in.”

            But then Heidi came to mind. “No. I don’t think so.”

            Nashla’s eyebrows squished together. “You don’t want to?”

            I shifted my feet. “I’ve got practice tomorrow.”

            Her face turned red. “I see.” She slipped inside and closed the door with exacting gentleness.

            “No, I didn’t mean…”      

            The lock clicked.

            It was a long five blocks back to my house. I realized that I actually liked her. It wasn’t her fault that a few of her incidental qualities brought back memories. Heidi heartache, after all these years—I was a basket case.

 

Very well done.  You’ve accomplished everything the assignment asked and then some.  Let me dwell on the story for a moment.  The time period is a couple of days with a couple of quick flashbacks, all well done with excellent pacing.  But the ending may not please most readers.  It’s a shock and it doesn’t seem logical that it happens so fast.  (I know you were limited on words, but the comment isn’t totally related to that restriction.)  Couple of thoughts.   Why doesn’t Nashla fight back a little?  Passive acceptance doesn’t fit the characterization that comes before.  She’s uniquely fiesty and determined.  And why does the protagonist reject her?  He hasn’t thought about Heidi for many paragraphs; in fact, he’s only been thinking about Nashla and his growing need for her to replace what he lost with Heidi’s loss.  If he’s going to reject Nashla, I would suggest he be in conflict the entire time Nashla is doing her seductive stuff.  Rather than just enjoying the seduction (and forgetting Heidi) could their be conflict in him?  Pleasure/guilt.  You could do it in dialogue or internalization effectively, I think.  So if you had Nashla fighting against his rejection of her, and him with this great, unsolved question of whether he is willing to cheat on his memory of Heidi, the rejection makes sense, reader feels sympathy for Nashla, and shares protagonist’s decision.  Having said that, I’d also consider a different ending–his going into the apartment with Nashla based on resolution of his conflict with the Heidi of the past and make it a resolution that is sort of an epiphany for him . . . he realizes life has to go on, and there’s this girl who’s offering him love, and he actually grows as a living human from his grief-oriented reclusive, unhappy existence to accept and return that love.  [Consider how this changes him rather than keeping his emotional and psychological state unchanged.]  Then, if he’s changed by Nashla to again be able to feel in a guiltless way, what if the ending included in the story his success in baseball, at least pleasing the coach a little.  A revelation to the reader that his holding onto the grief was the cause for his failure on the athletic field.  It could be a revelation that had some universality to it, something a reader could think about—emotions can restrict humans in negative ways and humans grow by making the right choices about how they handle their emotions.  Of course, this may not be what you’re about and ignore it for your story if that’s true.  But still, see the possible advantages of working through the characterization and emotional states you created so well and consider the movement of those emotions and the story-logical resolution of the conflicts the emotions represent.  Protagonist: grief and guilt–> to love and acceptance of criticism and doing something about it.  Nashla: loneliness, unfulfilled need, basic lack of self worth–>to self pride in attracting her man and catching him, advancement of self worth.

Great work.  Thanks for doing the assignment!

Bill Coles

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She was driving back home and on her way from the hospital, when she looked herself up in the front view mirror, noticing the glamorous smile surfacing her lips from beneath her heart, and reflecting across the shiny surface. “I am in heaven” She happily thought. The world was a happier place for delivering her an extraordinary joy, and a remarkable feeling that she herself could not explain. Not enough words in the universe seemed sufficient to portray the glowing sparks in her eyes, or the rosy hint that covered her pink cheeks. She have waited so long to receive the miracle of life and now that she has, she was granted the best of gifts, yet the most blessed one of all. Perhaps her unique silence was the best artistic painting to have presented her joyful sense of living, without the speech of words to caption it. 

The minute she pulled in her driveway, her heart skipped a beat, when she spotted a yellow envelope on the front door, waiting for her to uncover its content. The return address label read her husband’s lawyer mailing information, and that could not have been a good sign. Suddenly and without a previous warning, she panicked as she stood in silence holding the intact object hesitating to open it. Perhaps it was a random application request of some kind she thought, but if that was the case, she wouldn’t be shaking the way she was while debating between tearing in it open, or forever tossing it away. Fifteen minutes later, she found herself sitting down on the from door steps reading through the endless yet sore words that were printed all over her the place. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.. I must be dreaming.” She switched to denial mode. Her hands shivered with a sudden coldness before running through her weak spine for a final dose of agony.  Her heart was racing the infinite finish line, while her breath choked her in the throat, pulling her closer to the approaching cliff of hell.

Feeling nothing but the numbness of death, she dropped the cursed journal of the past five years of her life, leaving it behind to burn up the future of dreams without a single fight. She was no longer the vivid sunshine of the skies, nor the fresh breeze of wind. In a blink of an eye she was nothing more than a tormented soul, dying of a compassionate thirst and a merciful hunger. Letting go of the one man she truly loved, was the last nail in her coffin, drilling through her bones with misery and regret. He left her without closure, but this time, he left forever. There was no going back regardless of the passionate feelings that she carried around for him, and only him throughout the years. Perhaps she was kidding herself all along, and now that the picture of her failed marriage became so clear, she knew that they will no longer ravel the imaginary relationship of theirs when in fact she was the only one who tried her best and beyond to overcome his infidelity and foxy lies. Although he did not deserve her pure love, he was the love of her life, even when she wasn’t his. “This must be the end. I can feel it approaching.”

With heavy pains and a greater agony, she dragged her overwhelmed feet along the sidewalk of the unknown path, hoping to find the proper place to breakdown at, when she looked around her to find herself standing over the mighty bridge. Beneath the solid structure that she was standing over, lied the deep water of the sailing sea. The waves had an outrageous breakdown of their own while screaming to claim justice. Her tears were still intact in the nest of fear, the fear of following her natural instincts. Although she forced herself to cry and release all of her anger and grief, she could not shed a single tear. Her spirit was broken, rather empty of emotions while she was in desperate need of crying her pains out loud. “Perhaps I don’t have to live through this pain. Perhaps there is a way to end it.” She then surrendered to her ugly fate.

Suddenly, the happy world of hers became a living nightmare when white clouds turned black, and day light turned into night. Having served with divorce papers just minutes after learning that she was expecting, was not at all expected. Would it be justice for her to fight the battle of becoming a parent all on her own? She couldn’t dare to ask herself that question, afraid to learn the answer. Would it be fair to use the unborn child as bate to keep the marriage from falling apart yet again? And who knows for how long this time. Sure enough it wouldn’t, and not because she didn’t love him enough to try and make it work, but because her self-esteem and mainly her pride have suffered enough through the process of reconciliation, and on more than one occasion. Therefore enough was enough already. Perhaps she felt a sudden urge to save herself from falling apart, on some superficial level she wanted to sink down deeper, and forever end her pain. 

“Forgive me God, for I have sinned.” Knowing she was walking the last steps of her long road, she closed her eyes so tightly, held in her breath for one last time, while secretly wishing for the traveling waves to catch her when she falls. She walked close to the edge, holding her broken heart inside her trembling hands, feeling the cold breeze brushing through her hair, before jumped into the deep waters. Not only that she hit rock bottom, she was now drifting into the underworld of the greater sea, unaware of her dusky destination, yet alone her secret pain which was about to affirm for her, her written destiny. Broken in heart and spirit, she sailed away behind the ocean, folding with each passing wave a painful chapter of the life, in which herself decided to finish, before the approaching of the ending.

Best,

Ramona 

Instructor Response

She was driving back home and on her way from the hospital, when she looked herself up in the front view mirror, noticing the glamorous smile surfacing her lips from beneath her heart, and reflecting across the shiny surface. “I am in heaven” She happily thought. The world was a happier place for delivering her an extraordinary joy, and a remarkable feeling that she herself could not explain. Not enough words in the universe seemed sufficient to portray the glowing sparks in her eyes, or the rosy hint that covered her pink cheeks. She have waited so long to receive the miracle of life and now that she has, she was granted the best of gifts, yet the most blessed one of all. Perhaps her unique silence was the best artistic painting to have presented her joyful sense of living, without the speech of words to caption it.  (Nice.  You’ve introduced your character and reader knows about her.  Great.)

 

The minute she pulled in her driveway, her heart skipped a beat, when she spotted a yellow envelope on the front door, waiting for her to uncover its content. The return address label read her husband’s lawyer mailing information, and that could not have been a good sign. Suddenly and without a previous warning, she panicked as she stood in silence holding the intact object hesitating to open it. Perhaps it was it a random application request?  of some kind she thought, but if that was the case, she wouldn’t be shaking the way she was while debating between tearing in it open, or forever tossing it away. Fifteen minutes later, she found herself sitting down on the from door steps reading through the endless yet sore words that were printed all over her the place. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.. I must be dreaming.” She switched to denial mode. Her hands shivered with a sudden coldness before running through her weak spine for a final dose of agony.  Her heart was racing the infinite finish line, while her breath choked her in the throat, pulling her closer to the approaching cliff of hell.

 

Feeling nothing but the numbness of death, she dropped the cursed journal of the past five years of her life, leaving it behind to burn up the future of dreams without a single fight. She was no longer the vivid sunshine of the skies, nor the fresh breeze of wind. In a blink of an eye she was nothing more than a tormented soul, dying of a compassionate thirst and a merciful hunger. Letting go of the one man she truly loved, was the last nail in her coffin, (cliché)  drilling through her bones with misery and regret. He left her without closure, but this time, he left forever. There was no going back regardless of the passionate feelings that she carried around for him, and only him throughout the years. Perhaps she was kidding herself all along, and now that the picture of her failed marriage became so clear, she knew that they will no longer ravel the imaginary relationship (is this true?)  of theirs when in fact she was the only one who tried her best and beyond to overcome his infidelity and foxy lies. Although he did not deserve her pure love, he was the love of her life, even when she wasn’t his. “This must be the end. I can feel it approaching.”

 

With heavy pains and a greater agony, she dragged her overwhelmed feet along the sidewalk of the unknown path, hoping to find the proper place to breakdown at, when she looked around her to find herself standing over the mighty bridge. Beneath the solid structure that she was standing over, lied lay (learn and use the differences between the verbs lie and lay) the deep water of the sailing sea. The waves had an outrageous breakdown of their own while screaming to claim justice. Her tears were still intact in the nest of fear, the fear of following her natural instincts. Although she forced herself to cry and release all of her anger and grief, she could not shed a single tear. Her spirit was broken, rather empty of emotions while she was in desperate need of crying her pains out loud. “Perhaps I don’t have to live through this pain. Perhaps there is a way to end it.” She then surrendered to her ugly fate.

 

Suddenly, the happy world of hers became a living nightmare when white clouds turned black, and day light turned into night. Having served with divorce papers just minutes after learning that she was expecting, was not at all expected. Would it be justice for her to fight the battle of becoming a parent all on her own? She couldn’t dare to ask herself that question, afraid to learn the answer. Would it be fair to use the unborn child as bate to keep the marriage from falling apart yet again? And who knows for how long this time. Sure enough it wouldn’t, and not because she didn’t love him enough to try and make it work, but because her self-esteem and mainly her pride have suffered enough through the process of reconciliation, and on more than one occasion. Therefore enough was enough already. Perhaps she felt a sudden urge to save herself from falling apart, on some superficial level she wanted to sink down deeper, and forever end her pain. 

 

“Forgive me God, for I have sinned.” Knowing she was walking the last steps of her long road, she closed her eyes so tightly, held in her breath for one last time, while secretly wishing for the traveling waves to catch her when she falls. She walked close to the edge, holding her broken heart inside her trembling hands, feeling the cold breeze brushing through her hair, before jumped into the deep waters. Not only that she hit rock bottom, she was now drifting into the underworld of the greater sea, unaware of her dusky destination, yet alone her secret pain which was about to affirm for her, her written destiny. Broken in heart and spirit, she sailed away behind the ocean, folding with each passing wave a painful chapter of the life, in which herself decided to finish, before the approaching of the ending.

 

Wow!  Reader feels her dilemmas and her pains.  You have a delightful, poetic style rich with metaphors, images, and passionate language.  Conflict well established.  All nicely accomplished.

 

Your story base is: girl gets divorce papers.  She’s pregnant and her husband does not know.  She kills herself.  The structure is telling moment in a few minutes of a woman’s life, providing for the reader through lyrical prose about how the woman is thinking and feeling and how she comes to the kill herself.  Effective for many readers.  But some readers may feel the piece is overwritten.  Too much flowery language mixed with clichés and metaphors that strain to be admired.  I’ve deleted some of what I felt wasn’t needed.  I think more could be done by an objective editor.  But most of all, I think you should run this piece by as many people whose opinions you can trust for the effect it has on them.  Go to a workshop where students critique.  Or ask friends.  Do the know what’s going on?  Do they like my style and story or would they suggest changes in style or story that would make them remember the piece and read it over and over for enjoyment?  What would they suggest? 

 

All writers have readers.  Writers need to find who those readers are and what they enjoy.  Every writer has many readers who do not like their writing for all sorts of reasons: they don’t like certain types of authors, they don’t like specific genres that are different than yours but still feel free to criticize, they are offended by content, the don’t like mystic reality, etc.  Those readers should be listened to but not necessarily change the writer’s style or writing.  For valuable comments as a beginning writer, find those readers who are your readers, and then listen to them closely for clues as to what you need to do to please them.

 

Great work!

 

Bill Coles

  1. I am glad I was able to deliver what I learned from your assignment. I agree with you on sharing my writing with others, and allowing them to critique the work. Frankly, I am having a hard time targeting the right audience. My family and friends are always supportive in their feedback, which is great. They seem to like what they read, but at the same time I don’t feel the satisfaction because I don’t get to hear the negative angle, and I know it exists. No one is perfect, so why should my writing be? You are the first person to give me an honest review, whether by highlighting the pros or pointing out the cons of my work, and truthfully I am very grateful.

    Thanks.

    Best,
    Ramona

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