1

 

 

                The bicycle clattered at the boy’s feet. The screen door screeched. Inside, his mother stooped, spiting blood into a hanky. Her head hung low. Her eyes settled on his, then sank.

            Little sister lay crumpled and rasping on the sofa, weak with hunger. He knelt beside her and lipped a silent prayer. Then he ran. The screen door banged shut behind him.

            He clattered down the wooden steps on his bike. They creaked and moaned. He pedaled hard; his cheeks grew red; his breathing rapid. Exhaust fumes scorched his nostrils. He reached the market entrance, stopping near a bushel of peaches. His stomach rumbled.

            The grocer was outside, sweeping his walkway, preparing to close for the day when he noticed the boy rush out of the store, carrying a full sack, his eyes darting. The grocer tightened his grip on the broom. He recognized the boy as the one who stole from him last week.

            The boy leaped onto his bike, glancing backward, unaware that he headed straight at the grocer. He turned forward too late; the grocer was upon him, swinging the broom like a baseball bat, striking his face. The boy fell backwards. His head thudded on concrete.

            The bicycle lay mangled, the rear wheel spinning. A pool of blood formed at the boy’s head. Groceries lay scattered across the lot. The wheel whined to a stop. Nothing more moved.

 

2

 

            “Gray doesn’t look good on you,” Jennie’s soon-to-be, ex mother-in-law proclaimed from the back seat.

             She rolled her eyes. She wouldn’t have to listen to Fran’s crap much longer. It galled her that she still had to put up with it, but she needed a ride to the doctor and Fran always seemed to be a part of the package wherever Bob was concerned.

             She was pregnant, the result of an ill-conceived affair, but she planned to raise the baby alone. When Bob left, at her request, he told her she would change her mind. She was afraid he might be right. Some days her resolve weakened, but dealing with Fran made her see things clearly again.

            “Take the back road. It’s faster during rush hour,” Fran prattled.

            Bob adjusted his side-view mirror for a third time. He made a right turn, too sharply, jumping the curb.

            “Oh.” Jennie cradled her belly with both hands. “Be careful.”

            “Careful with you’re driving Bobby.” Fran leaned forward between the front seats, her fat head jutting out between them. “Don’t stir the baby.”

            “Sorry. I’m just a little upset, here,” Bob said. The car lurched forward.

            Jenny looked away from them, as if the site of the Starbuck’s store on the corner held a fascinating interest.

            Fran reached for her purse and for a bottle of pills and a can of Pepsi.            

            “You make me nervous,” Fran said to her son. She snapped the can and popped two blue pills into her mouth, and then wiped it with her sleeve. “You should take a few of these. They’ll calm you down.”

            “I don’t want any of your pills, mother.”

            “Take these.” Fran wrapped her hand around his head, forcing the pills into his mouth. He jerked. The car veered to the right, heading straight toward a parked truck. He broke free of his mother’s grip and slammed the brakes. The car screeched to a stop. Fran flew forward toward the windshield but Bob extended his arms and caught her before his arms slammed into the steering wheel. “I caught her like a football,” he thought. He pushed her back into the back. Stunned, she whimpered like a child.

            The seat restraint saved Jennie but squeezed against her stomach. She ripped the belt loose. “Dammit! If anything happened to this baby, I’ll kill you.” She slammed out of the car.  

            “Where are you going?” Bob asked.

            “I’ll call a taxi.” She backed away, from the car. Her eyes glowed with liberation. Bob started out of the car after her, afraid, now, that she would leave him forever.

            “Bobby, don’t leave me,” Fran whined from the back seat.

            Bob paused at the side of the car. With his eyes on Jennie, he dropped the keys on the seat. “Drive yourself home, mama. I’m going with Jennie.”

Instructor Response

Russ—

Impressive work. 

The bicycle clattered at the boy’s feet. The screen door screeched (Is this the right word? Squeal? Shriek? A matter of taste.) Inside, his mother stooped, spiting blood into a hanky. Her head hung low. Her eyes settled on his, then sank. Yes.

Little sister lay crumpled and rasping on the sofa, weak with hunger. He knelt beside her and lipped a silent prayer. Yes. Then he ran. The screen door banged shut behind him.

He clattered down the wooden steps on his bike. They creaked and moaned. He pedaled hard; his cheeks grew red; his breathing rapid. Exhaust fumes scorched his nostrils. He reached the market entrance, stopping near a bushel of peaches. His stomach rumbled.

The grocer was outside, sweeping his walkway, preparing to close for the day when he noticed the boy rush out of the store, carrying a full sack, his eyes darting. The grocer tightened his grip on the broom. He recognized the boy as the one who stole from him last week.

The boy leaped onto his bike, glancing backward, unaware that he headed straight at the grocer. He turned forward too late; the grocer was upon him, swinging the broom like a baseball bat, striking his face. The boy fell backwards. His head thudded on concrete.

The bicycle lay mangled, the rear wheel spinning. A pool of blood formed at the boy’s head. Groceries lay scattered across the lot. The wheel whined to a stop. Nothing more moved.

2   This is well done too. This one is harder, and you’ve made good choices.

“Gray doesn’t look good on you,” Jennie’s soon-to-be, ex mother-in-law proclaimed from the back seat.

 She (You might use either Jennie or ex-mother-in-law for the pronoun here; it’s not clear as is unless you think about it. When you’re revising, look for pronouns with unclear antecedents. Then upgrade, even if your sense is that using a proper name will clutter the sentence. Readers will instinctively register unclear pronouns.) rolled her eyes. She wouldn’t have to listen to Fran’s crap much longer. It galled her (Jennie) that she still had to put up with it (clarify), but she needed a ride to the doctor and Fran always seemed to be a part of the package wherever Bob was concerned. This sentence also has a lot of pronouns and would be better using names—the first “her” needs to be “Jennie,” I think. And maybe the “it” clarified. If you do this, it will shift the point of view to the narrator, and move it a shade away from character, but I think the clarity is the advantage.

 She was pregnant, the result of an ill-conceived affair, but she planned to raise the baby alone. When Bob left, at her request, he told her she would change her mind. She was afraid he might be right. Some days her resolve weakened, but dealing with Fran made her see things clearly again.

“Take the back road. It’s faster during rush hour,” Fran prattled.

Bob adjusted his side-view mirror for a third time (Yes!). He made a right turn, too sharply, jumping the curb.

“Oh.” Jennie cradled her belly with both hands. “Be careful.”

“Careful with you’re driving Bobby.” Fran leaned forward between the front seats, her fat head jutting out between them. “Don’t stir the baby.”

“Sorry. I’m just a little upset, here,” Bob said. The car lurched forward.

Jenny looked away (excellent—keeping visual images in action) from them, as if the site of the Starbuck’s store on the corner held a fascinating interest.

Fran reached for her purse and for a bottle of pills and a can of Pepsi.

“You make me nervous,” Fran said to her son. She snapped the can and popped two blue pills into her mouth, and then wiped it with her sleeve. “You should take a few of these. They’ll calm you down.”

“I don’t want any of your pills, mother.”

“Take these.” Fran wrapped her hand around his head, forcing the pills into his mouth. He jerked. The car veered to the right, heading straight toward a parked truck. He broke free of his mother’s grip and slammed the brakes. The car screeched to a stop. Fran flew forward toward the windshield but Bob extended his arms and caught her before his arms slammed into the steering wheel. “I caught her like a football,” he thought. (You might use italics for direct thought. I caught her like a football, he thought.) This is different than narrator revealing character thought, and the difference is more easily detected, in my thinking, by italic use. It helps ease comprehension for the most part. He pushed her back into the back. Stunned, she whimpered like a child.

The seat restraint saved Jennie but squeezed against her stomach. She ripped the belt loose. “Dammit! If anything happened to this baby, I’ll kill you.” She slammed out of the car.

“Where are you going?” Bob asked.

“I’ll call a taxi.” She backed away, from the car. Her eyes glowed with liberation. Bob started out of the car after her, afraid, now, that she would leave him forever.

“Bobby, don’t leave me,” Fran whined from the back seat.

Bob paused at the side of the car. With his eyes on Jennie, he dropped the keys on the seat. “Drive yourself home, mama. I’m going with Jennie.” Yes.

Perfect! You got the idea and then some. As you use this skill for your stories, note how the intensity increases, emotional valences are higher, and the pacing is moving right along. What you’ve created, as you probably know, is difficult to maintain at this level for many pages. The reader is immediately appreciates this energy, but will respond to less intensity as relief. The idea is to vary story intensity—Shakespeare is probably a good example, especially in the histories and the tragedies. Variable intensity from time to time emphasizes the value of the high-intensity scenes.

Thanks for the submission. All the best,

Bill Coles

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