Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs.

          “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.”

          Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. Now he worried how crazy the guy actually was.

          Funny, a moment ago, Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at age twenty-seven. He had been sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseball. Now, in the hands of an unstable fool, he realized he did not want to die.

          Vance had glared silently at Derrick walking across the infield. He should have acted on his initial impulse, and punched the guy as soon as he got close. Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla. Fortunately, Nashla had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.

          “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him once more.

          “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”

          Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.

          His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.

          Nashla said that Derrick had only physically abused her once, but that he constantly berated her. He told her she was lucky to be with him, an athlete on his way to becoming a star, while she was a mere waitress in a second rate bar in a third rate town. When he was promoted to AA ball, she declined to go with him. That’s when he hit her. Vance gripped the steering wheel tightly. He hadn’t known her then, and Derrick was gone before Vance came to town, so he hadn’t seen her black eye.

          Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.

          He dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Then, looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.

          “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”

          “Nothing. She must have gone out.”

          “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”

          His stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen? “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”

          Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy again.

          Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”

          Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest.

          Derrick’s face flushed. He raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.

          Derrick raised the gun up over his head and sent it crashing into Vance’s face. He crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to crawl to a standing position. Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again across the face. Then there was nothing.

Instructor Response

Thanks, Russ, for the submission.  It’s well done.  Congratulations!

Here are comments.

 

Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs.

          “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.”

          Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. Now he worried how crazy the guy actually was.

          Funny, a moment ago, Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at age twenty-seven. He had been sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseballThis is back story.  It stops the very efficient action you have going and it seems like expository information that should go elsewhere, maybe established in another section, or buried in the action.  Back story has an entirely different feel than front story.  It can be used well when it advances front story in the immediacy of story present, but that is not often.  Here, you might consider already-mentioned alternatives to keep the integrity of the scene and action that you’ve so nicely put together.  1) You might start the section with this information, put it on a time line that will carry the reader into the present section.  2) You might take individual chips of information and embed them in the scene, say, as a modifier of a fleeting image or thought. Now, in the hands of an unstable fool, he realized he did not want to die. 

          Vance had glared silently at Derrick walking across the infield. He should have acted on his initial impulse, and punched the guy as soon as he got close.  Here you take the reader back again to a happening.  In the next sentence you are back in the present.  Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla.  Next two sentences are back in story present.  Fortunately, Nashla had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.

          Now we’re back into story present.  “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him once more.

          “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”

          Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.

          His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.  Great movement and nicely written.

          Nashla said that Derrick had only physically abused her once, but that he constantly berated her. He told her she was lucky to be with him, an athlete on his way to becoming a star, while she was a mere waitress in a second rate bar in a third rate town. When he was promoted to AA ball, she declined to go with him. That’s when he hit her. Vance gripped the steering wheel tightly. He hadn’t known her then, and Derrick was gone before Vance came to town, so he hadn’t seen her black eye.  Again, back story.  There is a sort of flow to your back story/front story alterations, and it may work well for you at times.  But consider that the writing and the storytelling could be stronger of you took all the back story and exposition and tried to bring it into the story chronologically. 

          Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.  Great.

          He (use noun here for clarity–?Vance—it’s clearer later on but don’t let fuzzy pronoun referrals weaken your writing) dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Then, looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.

          “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”

          “Nothing. She must have gone out.”

          “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”

          His (Vance’s) stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen?  (In Vance’s POV). “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”

          Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. (Narrator POV.)  The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy againThis back story is very effective, it contributes to the front story understanding and movement.  (Note, however, that you went into narrator telling through Vance’s character when you delivered back story.)

          Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”

          Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest.  

          Derrick’s face flushed.  (Here you’re in solid narrator perspective.  Perfectly acceptable, but you might consider restructuring it in Vance’s perspective for consistency and impact.  It may seem a petty point, but it’s how a good writer, as you are, becomes really good.)  He raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.

          Derrick raised the gun up over his head and sent it crashing into Vance’s face. He crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to crawl to a standing position. (The construction seems off.  Does one crweal to a standing position?  Maybe: Moaning, he crawled then tried to stand.) Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again across the face.  (In narrator perspective and well done.) Then there was nothing. (This seems to be Vance’s perspective, but could be the narrator too since you are in narrative perspective to this point.  It may help to always ask “Who is telling the story at this instant?” and be sure it’s clear to the reader and the perspective that does you, the author, the most good for entertaining your reader and keeping him or her engaged.  (For example, you could put this into Vance’s perspective like this: “Vance’s world went dark.”  Or  “Derrick’s image blurred [Vance’s perspective] and then there was nothing.”)

 

Just great going.  Lot’s of action well presented.

 

There is always the danger as a teacher to discourage a student by too much critique.  But you’re good at the storytelling with lots of momentum and conflict, so I’ve chosen to give some pointers that might be helpful about the writing in some detail.

            1) When writing, think of a timeline that relates to story present.  In general, keep your story moving along that timeline using back story only rarely and when it doesn’t stop story flow.  Then, learn to insert back-story information that is necessary seamlessly into the story in story time.

            2) Look to perspective shifts in the writing.  Be sure the perspective you want to convey is clear to the writer.  You’re choices are: one or more of the character’s, the narrator, and rarely if ever, the author in your style of writing.  Perspectives are mostly descriptive skills.  They are like point of view, but point of view carries more weight and often depends on either the narrator or a character’s world view, experiences, emotions, opinions, memories etc, as well as immediate and general perspective.  So point of view is limited to a character’s or the narrator’s worldview that is specific to the time you’ve given the character to live.  Perspective in scene is limited to the immediacy of the scene, and perspective in general is limited to what a specific character or narrator can perceive in the story world.  (This relates in your story to where Vance and the narrator’s perspectives are used; the narrator perspective is more distant, Vance’s more immediate.  Both are satisfactory as you used them.)  So be careful not to accidently violate perspectives in scene, or points of view, in storytelling in general.  It makes your writing weaker than your capabilities.  But I emphasize, you can change perspective with great effect but it must be under your control, not accidental.  Don’t let it stop the reader.  Again, it makes the writing fuzzy if you’re sloppy, and doesn’t allow the story to be as effectively transmitted to the reader as it should.

  1. Thank you for the critique. I appreciate your comments. I have rewritten the scene and hopefully improved the timeline and pov problems. Here is the rewrite.

    Vance thought his life was over; cut from Triple A ball, at the age of twenty-seven, sitting in the Graytown Tiger’s stands at night, trying to consider what he should do. He couldn’t imagine living without baseball.
    Then he heard footsteps and looked up to see someone walking across the infield. Although they had never met, he knew it was Derrick, Nashla’s former boyfriend.
    Vance stood up to confront his rival, and froze when the gun poked him in the ribs. Suddenly, he realized he did not want to die. He should have acted on his initial impulse and punched the guy as soon as he got close. “You’re taking me to Nashla,” Derrick said. “Now.” Nashla always said that Derrick was nuts. Vance thought she was exaggerating, the way former girlfriends sometimes did. He worried how crazy the guy actually was. Too late now, but there was no way was he going to lead this nutball to Nashla. Fortunately, she had left town, because she knew Derrick was coming. Vance had begged her not to go, said that she was overreacting.
    “Okay. Okay.” He tried to sound casual, but his voice wavered. Derrick jutted out his chin and poked him with the gun again.
    “You don’t need a gun,” Vance said, “She’s doesn’t want anything to do with you anyway.”
    Derrick leaned in close to his ear, “She’s going to have to tell me that herself. You think I’m going to believe a hang-on right fielder that’s been screwing my girl? He growled. He grabbed the back of Vance’s collar and dragged him across the field to an old Volvo. “You drive.” Derrick tossed him the keys.
    His hands felt sweaty against the cold steering wheel. If only he had more time to think, but Nashla’s apartment was only two blocks away. He couldn’t pretend to get lost in a town as small as Graytown. He drove slowly. Derrick leaned against the passenger side door, the gun barrel never wavering.
    Vance chanced a glance at his abductor. Derrick appeared feverish. His eyes darted back and forth between him and the road. “Don’t try to fool me. I know she doesn’t live on Benton any longer.” The gun began shaking in his hand. Vance passed Benton Avenue, proceeding to her new apartment on Spencer.
    Vance dug for his key and opened the door. It was dark. He prayed she hadn’t decided to come home. Derrick pushed him inside. He stumbled and fell to the floor. Looking up, he stared into the barrel of the gun. It was just a handgun but it appeared huge, blocking everything else in his line of vision.
    “There’s nobody in here,” Derrick said. “What are you trying to pull?”
    “Nothing. She must have gone out.”
    “How do I even know she lives here? I should shoot you right now.”
    Vance’s stomach turned into knots, afraid to give her away. Then what would happen? “No. She still keeps a picture of you. It’s under the lamp. Right there.”
    Derrick walked across the living room, flicked on the lamp and lifted it. The picture was still there. That was how Vance had recognized Derrick in the first place: Derrick, holding Nashla in an arm lock, in one of those five and dime photo booths. He didn’t tell Derrick that Nashla kept it there to reminder herself never to be so needy again.
    Derrick sneered. “So where the fuck is she?”
    Vance’s features went blank. “I’m not going to tell you.” He felt tight in the chest. He gritted his teeth.
    He saw Derrick’s face flush. Derrick raised the gun. Vance put his hands out, feebly trying to ward away an expected bullet.
    Derrick lifted the gun over his head and smashed it into Vance’s face. Vance crumpled to a heap. Moaning, he tried to rise to a standing position. Halfway up, Derrick cracked him again, an uppercut swing, the gun smashing his nose. Vance’s world went dark.

    • Wow! Just great.

      About the revision, only one comment. The line by Vance, “I’m not going to tell you.” This is a throw away line. The reader already knows this, it’s not good dialogue, and it doesn’t do anything for characterization. It’s an opportunity maybe to reveal Vance’s feisty side, “She’s hiding in the salt shaker.” Or his wimpy side, “You know, I can’t remember.” Or even a jaunty challenging side, “I’ll tell you when you’re in your coffin with the lid closed.” Nothing usable, but it might get you imagination started.

      And a thought about story telling in general, not related really to what you’ve done so nicely in this piece. It’s about options the character has, options to act or think. When you close all the character options, the story effectively ends. Vance passes out in your story (or dies). The scene ends. But if you were in the middle of the story, you should keep his options open. He’s got to be able to think of new ruses, misdirections, potential action to get control of the situation, etc. Even when Derrick resorts to violence that results in removing his only hope of finding the girl, his options are closed. He can’t make any more choices to achieve his goal or desire related to the story. Over all, in creating stories, characters start out with unlimited options to satisfy their desires. As the story progresses, the number of options necessarily decrease as the story solidifies with motives and acts, and this narrowing of possibilities gives the effect of increasing the tension as to outcome. But again, when all the options are gone, the story ends.

      Excellent work. And all the best for continued successes. WHC

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