Yearn

Each musical scale he plays, Spoon brings out from deep inside himself, an accomplishment you understand only from years of practice. He thinks about those years, the days gone past like that subtle horizon he surveyed on his way to the gig. The dark orange sky set ablaze in the falling sun. Now he is here, in this place, the smoke like souls leaving bodies, departing into the great unknown. There is his friend, Pete Harbor; he is waiting for him to show up.

“Hey, man!” Harbor says.

“I swear if it ain’t, Pete Harbor.”

“You gonna set this place on fire tonight, Spoon?”

“I was waiting for you, Pete. I was getting a little worried, and I thought you weren’t going to show.”

“Shit, here you go,” Harbor says, handing Spoon a small package.

Most of the club owners let Spoon prepare in a back room. He pulls a black velvet pouch from his suit pocket. This is so unnecessary. How long has Nancy been dead? He slides the needle through the skin. He wishes he could blame it all on her, this loss of his precious self-control.

His guitar playing is like the river that flows through the backyard of his childhood home. The creek flows calm in one portion and frenzied in another. His music is a novel collaboration of his skills, memories, and experiences, together painting a canvas of emotion. As Spoon play familiar songs, his memories flashback to Nancy, stretching across the meridian of time.

It has been five years since Nancy died. Nancy had been his agent and lover, getting Spoon the work he needed to make it in the music business. When she died, he had to rely on other musicians, like Pete Harbor. Harbor had been a well-respected trumpet player at one time. The junk Harbor plunged in his arm had taken over his life.

The fellowship amongst musicians, the code of unwritten mythology, is like a kind of Mafia. Membership goes to those who pay the necessary dues to bathe in the blood of the ritual. To stand with those you fear, endure so you stand again.

He is far past that hazing. So much has changed since then. The businesses, the wine, the friendships, some of those things have aged straight and some have not. I have not.

“You are so good at the guitar.” That is what they always say, like they are letting him in on a secret. As if the years he spent cooped up in those rooms practicing for hours, he did not question himself with rigorous investigation. He is not unlike a marathon runner. The music, like a drink of water, allows him to endure the intense muscle burn in his legs. Those comments are the burn he has to endure. There are worse fates than mine.

The laughter from the bourbon he depends on has creased Spoon’s cheeks. They look like folded paper. The same tool used to free my shackles, also binds my hands.

Nighttime after the gigs is my favorite time. He walks past all the different cabarets to see who is playing where. He smokes cigarettes under the stars. He walks among the reek of burning steel coming from factories, doing what, he does not know. He thinks about Nancy, and he cries. He walks past the places he was once a headliner. He thinks about jazz music and the rise of less challenging genres. He has seen many great gigs go to DJ’s or Karaoke as bars change ownership. He is sad and tired but keeps walking in the night.

To be one of the last of something was not so bad. He walks and looks at the stars. I wonder if there’s jazz on other planets. He laughs at himself and lights another cigarette. He thinks about Nancy and cries under a streetlight.

He has been walking for a long time tonight. As the morning’s sun begins to rise over the lake, the black to blue gradient stretches over him for miles, water mirroring the sky. Divine. He makes it home, and he thinks about Nancy, the misery not yet subsided in its intensity. He jabs his vein with the rest of the junk in the black velvet case. It’s a good morning to die.

 

Great work.   My sense is to not critique something you’ve accomplished well within your aesthetic of storytelling, and that a critique might imply error.   You should keep and be proud of what you have written.   Having said that, I’m going to critique as if you wanted to change your aesthetic, particularly for story.   I’ll try to show alternatives and point out clarity and logic changes.

You cover a lot of territory in this piece.   It is almost essay in its delivery.   You have Spoon, who is really the only character.   Nancy is dead and out of the story.   Dead people are not good story characters, and consider Nancy, whose effect on Spoon could be developed so that the reader could make a judgment  how and why Nancy’s loss warped him and if she was responsible for his drug usage.   It seems implied, but it also seems more crucial to develop it if you’re creating a story about Spoon.  And Pete is a plot device to deliver drugs, he ads little to a story in character development or interest.

Then look to the points you bring up in your piece.   Mostly metaphorical.   Music is like something.   Drug use is like something.   Some very nice writing here.   But consider bringing the reader into Spoon’s world, and you might give the reader room to discover what Spoon is about, why he does what he does, and what he learns.   You bring out: practice is like a marathon runner, guitar playing like a river, musician fellowship like the mafia, the decline of jazz, etc.   So your theme is the decline of a jazz musician and the erosion of jazz popularity to DJ’s and Karaoke.   Probably also influence of drugs in the jazz world.   And most of the ideas are coming from the author (veiled through narrator in this instance) and not really Spoon’s, except once.   He’s too busy killing himself to be thinking these thoughts.  Now, what really happens in this piece?  Pete brings drugs to Spoon.   Spoon walks and shoots up.   Did any character learn anything?  Was there any conflict?  What was told to the reader and was it new ideas, or rediscovered ideas, that made the reader see the story world, or their world, in any new and unforgettable way?  No.   So if you don’t want to put action, conflict, enlightenment, beginning-middle-end, and momentum in the story, you are faced with prose straining to convince the reader how sad it all is.   The reader knows what is told about decline and musicians.   So the writing must carry a message–a sadness over the state of things and sympathy for those who have to live through it.   There are six modes of storytelling: prose/diction, characterization, plot, POV/voice, imagery, theme–with one or two predominating in any story.   In your piece, prose is carrying the load entirely.   You’re depending solely on the writing to move the reader.   For even the best of writers, prose alone can’t do it for good or great fiction.   The writing gets heavy with words straining to be unique, metaphors get bloated and lose credibility, adjectives and adverbs proliferate like rabbits, sentences get altered with pompous, hyperbolic effects.   Again, in essence, in fiction, prose can’t handle it alone.

So how do you do something different?   First, avoid describing things real or imagined.   That is narrative description, which tends to be distant from the story action and emotions, and difficult to maintain story momentum and reader interest.   Instead, create a story using characters in conflict with themselves and the world. Describe the story through a series of interrelated progressive scenes.   Imagine scenes that show dramatic movement and relate to each other and the overall purpose of the story.    As an author, stay out of it.   Be objective and determine what you want the story to do to the reader then create the story to accomplish that goal through the characters and the narrator.   Don’t let your authorial world with it’s opinions and prejudices slip into it.   Not that the author’s thinking is not important.   It’s that it should rarely be related to the story purpose and creating in good fiction.   (The story world is condensed in scope and time, and has purpose that real life–with its chaotic, random happenings–doesn’t have, and the story world doesn’t have room for unrelated ideas that, if related on a real-time time line, may often not be compatible with the thinking in story time, which is always in the past.)

A major skill to practice is in-scene writing. In-scene writing engages when the writer allows readers entrance into the story world and to experience that world with the characters. It’s really tough to do, and there are few teachers that can tell you. It has to do with voice integrity for each character and the narrator, avoidance of passive construction, experiencing through the senses of sight, taste, smell, feel, hearing, and letting the reader discover and experience emotions occurring in the moment by showing through action the expression of emotion, rather than telling emotions with abstractions such as love, and hate. Also is an accurate sense of psychic and physical distance from the story action–characters and narrator. Using appropriate and innovative verb tenses. And humor, indeed irony, experienced in-scene and not told from a distance can be effective.  Use of pronouns is also important, mainly in construction of the prose so pronouns are always effective, not confusing, and add a sense of allowing reader participation in the scene.  And there’s more, all needed to write well in-scene and please readers in ways narrative description cannot. (An example pointed out below. )

I hope this gives you ideas about where you might want to go next. With your talents, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy the journey if you want to take it. It’s what makes writing fun for most, and it’s what will please your readers in the long run.

All the best.   And thanks for your submission.

Bill (Coles)

Yearn

Each musical scale he plays, Spoon brings out from deep inside himself, an accomplishment you understand only from years of practice. He thinks about those years, the days gone past like that subtle horizon he surveyed on his way to the gig. The dark orange sky set ablaze in the falling sun. Now he is here, in this place, the smoke like souls leaving bodies, departing into the great unknown. There is his friend, Pete Harbor; he is waiting for him to show up. Good. Needs a few words to let the reader see the place he’s in. The atmosphere description is great, just orient the reader a little more in time and place.

“Hey, man!” Harbor says.

“I swear if it ain’t, Pete Harbor. ”

“You gonna set this place on fire tonight, Spoon?”

“I was waiting for you, Pete. I was getting a little worried, and I thought you weren’t going to show. ”

“Shit, here you go,” Harbor says, handing Spoon a small package. This dialogue is flat. You are an artist who must get information delivered (names, anxiety about not getting drugs, momentum, etc. ) in credible dialogue. For example, would Spoon say to a man he’s expecting and who is bringing him drugs–“I swear if it ain’t, Pete Harbor?”  I doubt it.  It sounds like the author, not the character. Make your dialogue voice specific to be effective. You have an opportunity for conflict and characterization and you need it here too. “You’re late.” “Fuck off, man, I got other things to do.”  “You got cash?”  “I’m good for it. ”  “This is the last fucking time. I warn you. ”   I’m not suggesting you use these.  But it shows conflict and there is no exposition.  And something is happening, a must for fiction.

Most of the club owners let Spoon prepare in a back room. He pulls a black velvet pouch from his suit pocket. This is so unnecessary. How long has Nancy been dead? He slides the needle through the skin. He wishes he could blame it all on her, this loss of his precious self-control. What made him lose it then, if not Nancy?

His guitar playing is like the river that flows through the backyard of his childhood home. The creek (wasn’t it a river?) flows calm in one portion and frenzied in another. His music is a novel collaboration of his skills, memories, and experiences, together painting a canvas of emotion. As Spoon play familiar songs, his memories flashback to Nancy, stretching across the meridian of time.    Just a word about metaphors. A is (or is like) B. A and B must be comparable and disparate at the same time, and the comparison must be unique and fresh. For some the extended metaphor with guitar playing and river/creek may not work, causing the reader to stop and conclude, “I don’t get it. “A creek that flows calm is hard to visualize;  it’s a word-use problem.  Is it a pond?  And a frenzied creek is hard to compare. It’s personification of the creek in an awkward way, and does it help to give a creek and abstract emotional quality here in this story.  And a river flowing through a back yard must be rare. I know what you are doing, but ask if it can’t be said better.  Effective metaphor is hard to do. Improper use or overuse can kill a story. And think about meridian of time. Time for me is linear. I guess thinking of time as a meridian could be interesting, but it seems to constrict and encircle something that seems infinitesimal. This is picky, but you’ve got the skills to awe a reader, and you don’t want them confused and unsatisfied.

It has been five years since Nancy died. Nancy had been his agent and lover, getting Spoon the work he needed to make it in the music business. When she died, he had to rely on other musicians, like Pete Harbor. Harbor had been a well-respected trumpet player at one time. The junk Harbor plunged in his arm had taken over his life.  Your narrator is delivering story. Perfectly okay. But always consider what in-scene writing can do for crucial information, information you using to try to evoke a sympathetic response from the reader. In scene writing is using the senses, keeping the narration close to the action, viewing trough the eyes of someone in scene, avoiding passive constructions, etc. (See above.)  I’ve highlighted passive and past perfect constructions. Simple past will almost always work once you’ve established a point in the story has shifted earlier on the timeline. Also watch verb choice; plunge for inject is to overwrite, which will discourage many readers.

The fellowship amongst musicians, the code of unwritten mythology, is like a kind of Mafia. Membership goes to those who pay the necessary dues to bathe in the blood of the ritual. To stand with those you fear, endure so you stand again.

He is far past that hazing. So much has changed since then. The businesses, the wine, the friendships, some of those things have aged straight and some have not. I have not.

“You are so good at the guitar. ” That is what they always say, like they are letting him in on a secret. As if the years he spent cooped up in those rooms practicing for hours, he did not question himself with rigorous investigation. He is not unlike a marathon runner. The music, like a drink of water, allows him to endure the intense muscle burn in his legs. Interesting sentence. Those comments are the burn he has to endure. There are worse fates than mine.

The laughter from the bourbon he depends on has creased Spoon’s cheeks. Here is a chance for Spoon to discover this about himself. Don’t you think it would be more effective?  And we could know his feeling. They look like folded paper. The same tool used to free my shackles, also binds my hands.

Nighttime after the gigs is my favorite time. He walks past all the different cabarets to see who is playing where. He smokes cigarettes under the stars. He walks among the reek of burning steel coming from factories, doing what, he does not know. He thinks about Nancy, and he cries. He walks past the places he was once a headliner. He thinks about jazz music and the rise of less challenging genres. He has seen many great gigs go to DJ’s or Karaoke as bars change ownership. He is sad and tired but keeps walking in the night.

To be one of the last of something was not so bad. He walks and looks at the stars. I wonder if there’s jazz on other planets. He laughs at himself and lights another cigarette. He thinks about Nancy and cries under a streetlight.

He has been walking for a long time tonight. As the morning’s sun begins to rise over the lake, the black to blue gradient stretches over him for miles, water mirroring the sky. Divine. He makes it home, and he thinks about Nancy, the misery not yet subsided in its intensity. He jabs his vein with the rest of the junk in the black velvet case. It’s a good morning to die.   Thoughts in italics should be considered carefully. Many readers like this delivery-use of italics. Others see them as an awkward way to inject characterization into the flow of a story. It depends on the story and author skill. Check on revision if italics are working for you.

  1. Thanks again Bill!
    You always give me great places to take my writing.
    I think I will have to spend the next year going over the wealth of information you gave!

    Paul

    • You’re welcome. And keep up the good work.
      Bill

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