Work from Anna

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 characters 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 a voice and style that will make readers want to continue.

What you’ve done doesn’t need changing. However, I’ve bolded two points 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 would staying in the POV of Harmon be more effective? You’re in his POV. And isn’t this, as his observation, 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 surrounding 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. Students waiting for the opening admired the 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 gives you an idea of how to 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 enhance 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 change anything. Your piece is fine. I’ve just attempted to show you how to identify and enhance opportunities that will continue your well-established path to excellent writing.

All the best,


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