Terry

The leaves of the maples appear ignited. The orange is a splash of contrast against the dying brown grass. The crows call as they sift through the trash in Wilson Park. The ground sits damp; the musk fills the air with that distinct smell of the wet lawn.

Terry enjoys coming here with his father, standing amidst the vivid foliage with his ol’ dad.

He stands polite and behaved with his arms set poised behind him.

“I am dying, Terry. The doctors say I have about a month or so to live.”

“Yeah.” Terry’s responses are always without eye contact.

“It’s cancer, pancreatic. Nothing they can do.”

“Yeah.”

“I want to spend as much time with you as possible.”

Terry nods.

“Do you remember Sister Martha, from St. James? She is the nun from Holy Hill. She is going to take care of you after I die. She likes you very much.”

Terry smiles and nods fast.

Jeff, with a modest chuckle, says, “It seems you like her, too.”

Jeff’s eyes mist. He gasps out, “Oh, Terry.” Jeff embraces his son and gently caresses the back of Terry’s graying hair.

Terry’s hug is soft and limp. They stand amidst the crows who heckle in the drab crisp air. A sharp gust pinches Terry on the hairs of his neck; they roll like wheat grass in the waft of the October chill.

“I love you so much, Terry,” Jeff says.

“Yeah.” Terry’s eyes examine the landscape; they focus on no one particular object.

“You are the most beautiful person.”

“Yeah.”

When Jeff and Terry arrive home, Jeff says, “Go see your, Pepper.” Terry launches into the house with total elation. Jeff remains inside the garage.

Pepper is barking to her favorite person; Terry claps and grumbles his wordless excitement. The dachshund leaps up when Terry sits. Pepper’s stumpy legs land onto Terry’s lap. The dog commences to licking Terry’s face.

Terry gets up and walks over by the garage door. Jeff sits in the car. He looks up at the roof of the old Caprice; he releases a huge sigh. Terry hears his dad talk.

“The years past slow without you, Laura. He has your eyes. I’ll soon be with you again. I need your strength, I need a little help.”

The next morning in River Heights subdivision, the ground is moist and frosty. Sister Martha is coming today to take Terry with her.

Jeff makes Terry’s favorite breakfast: pancakes. Terry eats the blueberry syrup, not the blueberry pancakes. Terry is up playing with his rubber ball on an elastic string. He shakes it while Pepper woofs her approval. Pepper’s tail wobbles as she whimpers. The doorbell rings.

“Terry, look who came to see you.” Jeff says.

“Hi, Terry!” Sister Martha says.

Terry claps and bobs his head.

“I will put his bag in the trunk, Sister Martha,” Jeff says.

Jeff puts Terry’s bag in the trunk. His deep gasps, the bawling hurt of loss wheels across the landscape. It soars upon the yellow horizon.

“Terry!” Jeff bawls out.

“We have room for Pepper, Jeff.” Sister Martha says.

Jeff shuts the trunk. “They would like that.”

“I love you so much, Terry. We will all be together again someday.” Jeff says. He hugs his son for the last time.

“Yeah.”

As Sister Martha pulls away, Jeff stands and looks at his motionless globe, the flat pale spot in the corner of his eye. He walks into the house and straight to the scotch. He has not had a cigarette for thirty years; it is ten o’clock in the morning. What the fuck.

He drinks and smokes for hours. At noon, he retires to his bedroom. He lies down upon his bed. His mind becomes a kaleidoscope of the major events of his life. Jeff closes his eyes and says, “Laura.” He passes out.

At the convent, Terry and Pepper are right at home helping the nuns. They all talk to Terry as they perform various tasks around Holy Hill.

“Hi, Terry!” they say while Terry bounces his ball for Pepper.

In the evening, Sister Martha helps Terry prepare for bedtime. She talks to him while he tangles his pajamas on.

“We are all very happy you are here with us, Terry. You have a special light that gives us so much joy. You must have given your mother and father a lot of happiness. I am sure they miss you and have prepared a special place for you with them. Sometimes I think you understand more about this world than any of us. That you are the true eyes of God.”

As Sister Martha helps Terry’s legs through his bottoms, her eyes go wide Terry makes eye contact and says, “Yeah.”

Well done. A touching scene. I will insert a few comments in text below on where you might look to the diction and clarity, with some broader comments here about story.

Here are my thoughts that deal with storytelling and how to affect a reader. You have much emotion told in the story. The trick is to structure the story so the reader is engaged, becomes attached to the characters, and then has an intellectual discovery or emotional response to a very touching story. With practice, this can be done in less than a thousand words. But I don’t think this story will do that for most readers as it is now.

Here’s what I perceive. Your major goal is to show the love between father and son and the anguish of being separated when the father is to die. There are a number of other emotional reactions told, for instance the nun’s recognition of Terry’s value, or the narrator’s pleasure and love of dogs (Pepper’s actions and description). And the narrator’s description of setting shows that the narrator loves a real or imagined place. Can you construct this information so it tells us something about the characters? Could the first paragraph be felt and experienced by the character and the reader? As an example only: “The reds of the maples against the dullness of the brown grass in the park held Jeff’s (or Terry’s?) attention.”

Consider now the element of a story as beginning, middle, and end. There is an arc of emotion and movement in a story. There is conflict with resultant movement that evolves. This is what engages and pleases the reader. What you have is acceptable to many, but if you want to engage the reader, there has to be conflict clearly stated and logically resolved. As an example, what if Terry refuses to leave his father and his father must, against his will, force him to go? What if the nun does not want another child in her care and threatens to send Terry to evil foster parents without Pepper? The natural responses to these types of suggestions are: it didn’t happen that way, or, those are not the characters I want to create. But remember, to be a storyteller you have to have drama and meaning discovered, and that in any good story, you have to have characters that are interesting and fully developed with traits that make them special. The author has to imagine (or discover) traits, actions, desires and motivations, strengths and flaws, that will make the characters stand out. If an author can’t do that, characters always slip into the sentimental, and the boring.

Look to how to evoke emotions rather than tell emotions. “I love you” is an abstraction. It is told. But what if Jeff’s actions enlighten the reader about how much he loves Terry? As examples, Jeff rejects terminal health care that will prolong his life to go with Terry and be near him in his new environment, or, Pepper gets mortally hit by a car and rather than have Terry go through the torture of putting Pepper down, Jeff gets out of his deathbed and handles it so Terry will never have to be involved. There needs to be action that credibly shows Jeff’s love for his son, or vice versa.

You have many choices in narrating your story. You start out with an unidentified narrator, and occasionally slip into a narrator later. At times the narrator uses Jeff’s, Terry’s, and to some extent the nun’s point of view. At times, the author seems to be the narrator. For most stories, authors acting as narrators is not effective. The telling becomes too subjective, and sentimental. Stick to narrators (created by the author but objectively through the worldview of the created narrator) and characters for storytelling to be objective. Write from the story worldviews of characters and narrators, and stay with their actions and thoughts, opinions and perspectives.) You might try writing this story with a single third-person (character or narrator) voice and worldview, or a first-person narration probably limited to character without narrator function for information delivery. It would be an educational experience for you, even if you decide to stay with what you’ve written.

Try to think of your reader when writing your story. Most readers enter a story world for engagement, entertainment, and enlightenment. With every element of storytelling and writing you use, ask: What does this do to a reader, and is it effective to tell a dramatic story and build great characters? Make everything count for the reader.

You’re doing well and have great potential. All the best for a pleasurable career.

Regards,

WHC

Terry

The leaves of the maples appear ignited. The orange is a splash of contrast against the dying brown grass. The crows call as they sift through the trash in Wilson Park. The ground sits damp; the musk fills the air with that distinct smell of the wet lawn.  Consider changing the point of narration. This is the narrator. Since Terry’s POV is coming up, why not use his POV here?

Terry enjoys coming here with his father, standing amidst the vivid foliage with his ol’ dad.

He stands polite and behaved with his arms set poised behind him.

“I am dying, Terry. The doctors say I have about a month or so to live.”  You have potential for drama here. This is exposition. What if characters (and reader) discover this, rather than are simply told it?

“Yeah.” Terry’s responses are always without eye contact.

“It’s cancer, pancreatic. Nothing they can do.”  Same. Frank exposition, but with potential for drama and conflict.

“Yeah.”

 “I want to spend as much time with you as possible.”   What is he willing to do to make this happen?

Terry nods.

“Do you remember Sister Martha, from St. James? She is the nun from Holy Hill. She is going to take care of you after I die. She likes you very much.”

Terry smiles and nods fast.

Jeff, with a modest chuckle, says, “It seems you like her, too.”  “Chuckle” is a word many editors will reject. It does not do enough here to risk the chance of losing a reader.

Jeff’s eyes mist. He gasps out, “Oh, Terry.” Jeff embraces his son and gently caresses the back of Terry’s graying hair.

Terry’s hug is soft and limp. They stand amidst the crows who heckle in the drab crisp air. A sharp gust pinches Terry on the hairs of his neck; they roll like wheat grass in the waft of the October chill.  You might figure out a way to take the highlighted part out of passive construction.

“I love you so much, Terry,” Jeff says.

“Yeah.” Terry’s eyes examines the landscape; they focus on no one particular object.

“You are the most beautiful person.”  Be concrete. “Beautiful” is abstract. Express why Jeff feels this way with concrete words (and less descriptive ideation) expressed through objective characterization.

“Yeah.”

When Jeff and Terry arrive home, Jeff says, “Go see your, Pepper.” Terry launches into the house with total elation. Jeff remains inside the garage.

Pepper is barking to her favorite person (Who? The reader can only guess.); Terry claps and grumbles his wordless excitement.  “Grumbles” doesn’t work with “excitement,” and what is the value of “wordless”? Does it really make any difference to story or character?  The dachshund leaps up when Terry sits. Pepper’s stumpy legs land onto Terry’s lap. The dog commences to licking Terry’s face.

Terry gets up and walks over by the garage door. Jeff sits in the car. He looks up at the roof of the old Caprice; he releases a huge sigh. Terry hears his dad talk.

“The years past slow without you, Laura.  (This must be the mother? Why introduce her here? She doesn’t do anything for the story. And if you need her, tell the reader who she is, why she’s there, and do it earlier.) He has your eyes. I’ll soon be with you again. I need your strength, I need a little help.”

The next morning in River Heights subdivision, the ground is moist and frosty. Sister Martha is coming today to take Terry with her. The use of the nun in this story seems to dilute achieving the goal of reader emotional response to father-son love and separation. As presented, the nun may have the effect of a plot trick to fill the page. Does the story really care about the nun’s feeling for Terry, when Jeff’s actions and Terry’s responses are so critical and effective?

Jeff makes Terry’s favorite breakfast: pancakes. Terry eats the blueberry syrup, not the blueberry pancakes. Terry is up playing with his rubber ball on an elastic string. He shakes it while Pepper woofs her approval. Pepper’s tail wobbles as she whimpers. The doorbell rings.

“Terry, look who came to see you.” Jeff says.

“Hi, Terry!” Sister Martha says.

Terry claps and bobs his head.

“I will put his bag in the trunk, Sister Martha,” Jeff says.

Jeff puts Terry’s bag in the trunk. His deep gasps, the bawling hurt of loss wheels across the landscape. It soars upon the yellow horizon.

“Terry!” Jeff bawls out.

“We have room for Pepper, Jeff.” Sister Martha says.

Jeff shuts the trunk. “They would like that.”

“I love you so much, Terry. We will all be together again someday.” Jeff says. He hugs his son for the last time.

“Yeah.”

As Sister Martha pulls away, Jeff stands and looks at his motionless globe, the flat pale spot in the corner of his eye. He walks into the house and straight to the scotch. He has not had a cigarette for thirty years; it is ten o’clock in the morning. What the fuck.

He drinks and smokes for hours. At noon, he retires to his bedroom. He lies down upon his bed. His mind becomes a kaleidoscope of the major events of his life. Jeff closes his eyes and says, “Laura.” He passes out.

At the convent, Terry and Pepper are right at home helping the nuns. They all talk to Terry as they perform various tasks around Holy Hill.

“Hi, Terry!” they say while Terry bounces his ball for Pepper.

In the evening, Sister Martha helps Terry prepare for bedtime. She talks to him while he tangles his pajamas on.

“We are all very happy you are here with us, Terry. You have a special light that gives us so much joy. You must have given your mother and father a lot of happiness. I am sure they miss you and have prepared a special place for you with them. Sometimes I think you understand more about this world than any of us. That you are the true eyes of God.”  If you are to make the nun an integral part of the story, in a fictional world, to be effective she has to be developed with more contrasts in personality and variety in actions and responses.

As Sister Martha helps Terry’s legs through his bottoms, her eyes go wide Terry makes eye contact and says, “Yeah.”

  1. Thanks, Bill. You gave me a lot of excellent feed back, again.

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