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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