Jane

Too many times. That’s how often Jake forgot about her. This time it was her birthday. She told him she didn’t want to see him ever again. Jake looked up at her, with his head lowered like a disgraced puppy, but she wasn’t impressed. She had fallen for that look before. She huffed out of his workshop and bristled to the Oriole Cafe.

She took a seat at a table, conspicuously alone, and ordered a drink. A man walked in and sat at the bar. She assumed he was from out of town because she had never seen him before, and Huntsville was a small town. He was probably some kind of nomad although he didn’t look like a salesman. He was muscular; his arms and chest filling his navy blue tee shirt spectacularly.

She had been expecting a night of romance with Jake. Looking at the stranger, she got the rogue notion that sex could still be on her agenda. Her face reddened.

Jake was the only man she had ever been with. Others had tried, but she resisted, first because she was young and afraid, and then because she only wanted Jake. But she was angrier with him than she had ever been before. He had to pay her more attention. She must impress that upon him.

The man turned to look at her. She smiled and rattled the ice in her empty glass. “Buy me a drink and take me home,” she said.

Jack was planning to have a drink and dinner before finding a motel for the night. He couldn’t believe his luck, propositioned by this tall, slender woman. He bought her dinner, and several drinks.

“We can walk, it’s only a few blocks,” she said. He liked the way she moved, majestically erect. He wondered about her motives but quickly shut down that line of thinking. Everyone had reasons he rationalized. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

She seemed quietly reserved despite her bold come on. They came upon her apartment. She unlocked the door and looked across the street before she went in.

“Looking for someone?” Jack asked.

“Oh…no. It’s nothing.” Jack followed her upstairs. Her gentle sway excited him more with each step.

“Would you like a drink,” she asked flirtatiously. He could see she was acting.

He declined the drink and took the bottle from her hand. She was half loopy already. He took her in his arms to kiss her. She lurched at the touch of his lips. He sighed and backed off. This wasn’t going to work out after all. He started to apologize but she touched her fingers to his lips and centered her eyes on his. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.

She should feel lucky. Jack could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled her gently, finding her sweet spots. Not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. When he found one, he stayed with it until she pleaded for mercy. Then he backed off, to probe again. His restraint frustrated her deliciously. She thought this might last forever, that he might never grant her final satisfaction.

Then she saw the desire in his eyes. “Now, she said, knowing he could hold out no longer.

“Come on!” She shrieked. She merged into his rhythm, curled to his physical bidding. God this felt good.

They slept. She forgot when she woke, what she had done. With her eyes still closed, her hand reached out, incidentally touching her partner. What’s this? She wondered. It’s not Jake. She opened her eyes. Oh God.

She slipped soundlessly out of the bed. She went to the window. The world was deep into night but light burned inside Jake’s workshop across the street.

She wept as she looked at the man sleeping in her bed. She wished he were gone. She should go to Jake. Jack could let himself out when he woke. Jake need never know. She smiled, lightly, in the darkness, having resolved to go. She wanted Jake to hold her, forgive her, if only in her imagination.

She glanced out the window again. Jake’s lights were off. He was walking toward her door.

After Jane had left, Jake shook his head. He had forgotten her birthday. She took it hard. He should go after her but she said she didn’t want to see him. He took up his hammer and went back to work. Hours later, when he got to the Oriole, she was gone.

Jimmy waved him over, “You looking for Jane?”

“Yeah. She been here?”

“She left with some guy. I figured he must be her cousin or something but they seemed exceptionally friendly.”

Jake’s gut sank. He rang her on her cell but she had it turned off. He returned to his workshop. Jane’s lights were on. A silhouette appeared at the window, and then a second, before the lights went out. He burned hot. He started to the door but stopped short and stood immobile, paralyzed for an endless moment, visualizing Jane with her faceless ‘cousin.’

He fired his forge. Trance-like, he watched his work-piece heat to a bright red. With tongs, he removed the metal and set it to the anvil. He pounded the piece at a feverish pace, curving it and shaping it to his will, working long into night until he spent every drop of anger. Then he headed across the street to gather Jane.

Jane struggled into her jeans. She shook Jack in a panic. “Get up. My boyfriend’s coming.” She tossed his pants to him. She buttoned her blouse over bare breasts. Then she paced back and forth, waiting for Jack to dress. Why didn’t he hurry? Didn’t he understand the urgency? Jack slipped into his shoes and reached out to her. She flinched.

“I won’t cause any trouble,” he said.

Jane turned her face away “It’s too late. He’ll be at the door any moment.”

Jack shrugged.

A knock on the door. Why didn’t Jake use his key? Oh God. He already knows. Leave it to Jake to be outwardly polite. Her heart pounded. She trudged down the steps at a funeral pace. A childhood memory chanced into her mind; at swimming lessons, she almost drowned, helplessly sinking.

“Let me in,” Jake called. She reached the bottom landing with Jack following. She opened the door a crack. Jake pushed it wide open. He looked from her to him. Fury smoldered behind his eyes.

“Excuse me,” Jack said, “I’m leaving.”

Jake stood his ground. Everyone stood stone still. The men stared at each other. Jane snapped her head back and forth, from one man to the other. This was her fault. She collected her courage. She rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him aside. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

Jake said they were going to his place. He waited, arms crossed in the kitchen. She gathered some things from her bedroom, gaging on the aftermath of her betrayal. Hurriedly, she shuttered the bedroom door. “I’m ready,” she said, gasping.

Jake nodded and looked away.

They walked side by side without touching. She had to scurry to keep up. He stared vacantly ahead, his mouth downturned.

She bathed at his place, scrubbing herself raw. When she slipped into bed next to him, he turned away.

Jake had come for her. She took refuge in the thought. She prayed for a new chance but she got no answer.

She ventured a hand to his hair and stroked him gently. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Not now,” he said. Her fate lay in the future, in the recourse of Jake’s capacity for forgiveness.

Instructor Response

Well written. Story progresses nicely. There is good pacing and suspense. You might reconsider the names. Use of Jack, Jake, and Jane, although reflective of Jane’s confusion about love and men, could be disruptive to some readers, especially when you’re switching perspectives and it’s easy to misread Jake as Jack and visa versa.

Nothing needs to be done. But as an exercise, you might rewrite it from a single POV. Take Jane for an example. To do this, you’d have to introduce information about Jack and Jake in new ways, and always through Jane’s perspective. But the reader would discover a lot about Jane. The way she knows or suspects, her reactions to knowledge, and action about Jake and Jack—you’d be closer to the action in the sex scene and less through a narrator’s perspective. Look at this section. Narrator in green, into Jane’s perspective in red:

She should feel lucky. Jack could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled her gently, finding her sweet spots. Not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. When he found one, he stayed with it until she pleaded for mercy. Then he backed off, to probe again. His restraint frustrated her deliciously. Touching tasted so good. She thought this might go on forever, that he might never grant her final satisfaction.
      Then she saw the desire in his eyes. He shared in her sweet torture. “Now,” she said, knowing he could hold out no longer.

Notice the difference between the paragraphs. Narrator description is distant from the action. Note too, His restraint frustrated her deliciously. is fuzzy narration. Who is speaking? Jane would work, especially when you use “deliciously,” a Jane’s-knowledge adverb that the narrator could only speculate about. Yet you’re in a narrator mode in this paragraph, so you lose the effectiveness of the sentence to augment Jane’s characterization. (I know you’ll probably see the entire green passage as possible from Jane’s perspective, but look carefully . . . the structure, subject/verb choice, and syntax in general make it mostly narrator.) I use this example to show how staying in one POV changes things in ways that might allow you to build character and increase reader interest in the character and what will happen to her.

So, you could be working on a reader’s feelings and reactions to the piece by experimenting with singular perspective and POV. You would also probably need to use in-scene writing techniques, especially to reveal backstory, thought, and emotions for characters outside the POV character. All this changes the reader engagement and intellectual and emotional response. It might turn out that’s not what you want. But it also might turn a good story into a great story. (You have the skills to do this level of writing. I wouldn’t discuss this with you if I thought you didn’t. I mean, you don’t tell a man how to hold the football to produce a spiral pass if he was born without arms.)

The quest to engage a reader to feel and think is what great writing, for the most part, is all about. In “Jane” you’ve told a story well. The next step would be to focus entirely on reader engagement and response. POV and perspective is only one way to address the challenge. You could change the time line. You could adjust when and how information is delivered (dialogue, descriptive narration, in-scene). You could consider how backstory information could be delivered more effectively. You could look to narration distance from the action. You could insert more conflict, action, and resolution—showing and not telling mainly. (Consider the paragraphi where of the three of them, Jane, Jack, and Jake, are staring at each other. There is an opportunity for dramatization that could still resolve the way you’ve chosen, but make it much more in the character.) You could look for more suspense; how can you make the reader worry about what will happen to a character they care about?

(You could do this perspective/POV thing for Jake and Jack, too, and learn about their motivations because now you’re forced into their perspectives and worldviews. But Jane is your major character; she’s the one with motivation (to get back at Jake). She’s the one that has a revelation as to her mistake.

Hope this useful. As always, great work.
Best regards,
Bill

iJake stood his ground. Everyone stood stone still. The men stared at each other. Jane snapped her head back and forth, from one man to the other. This was her fault. She collected her courage. She rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him aside. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

  1. I’m trying to rewrite this story entirely in Jane’s POV and to better engage the reader by emphasizing in-scene action and dialogue, but I’m struggling. You mention in-scene writing techniques. Can you elaborate?

    • Sure. Read this blog post for overview. For examples, you’ll find in the moment and in scene work in the appendix of Story in Literary Fiction: A Manual for Writers. Hope this helps. Bill

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