Sometimes a meaningful life moment sneaks into our lives and we don’t even know it happened until much later. Especially if you’re a fourteen year old boy.

            On a chilly morning in April, I climbed the steps to my house on the hilly side of Church Avenue. With my Post Gazettes delivered, I had just enough time to change clothes and grab some breakfast. As my eye-level rose above the top step, I caught a flicker of something dash under the porch. Perhaps it was a flash of a face. For a moment, I thought I saw two eerie eyes staring at me.

            It was dark. Just my imagination, I told myself. Still, I peeked, to be sure, stooping for several moments, peering into the dark enclosure. Satisfied, I hurried into the house to get ready for school.

            On my way to school, I played the incident back in my mind. I really believed I saw something. I remembered leaving my baseball glove under the porch. I’d be really pissed if that was stolen. I should have checked more thoroughly, got a flashlight, inspected every nook and cranny.

Instructor Response

 

Sometimes a meaningful life moment sneaks into our lives and we don’t even know it happened until much later. Especially if  when you’re a fourteen year old boy.

            On a chilly morning in April, I climbed the eight porch-steps to my house on the hilly side of Church Avenue. With my Post Gazettes delivered, I had just enough time to change clothes and grab some breakfast.  [This deleted information breaks the action.] As my eye-level rose above the top step, [note how this imagery is impossible to see in the mind. Could you make the image more of the boy and the step thing a clearer indication of how far away he was from the flicker? An eye above the front step sees a flicker of something dash under the porch. How did that occur? Wouldn’t it be more likely when the eye was closer to ground level? See what I mean? It’s confusing but an important detail to get your reader engaged.]  I caught a flicker of something dash under the porch. Perhaps it was a flash of a face. For a moment, I thought I saw two eerie eyes staring at me.

            It was dark. Just my imagination, I told myself. Still, I peeked, to be sure, stooping for several moments, peering into the dark enclosure. Satisfied, I hurried into the house to get ready for school.

            On my way to school, I played the incident back in my mind. I really believed I saw something. I remembered leaving my baseball glove under the porch. I’d be really pissed if that was stolen. I should have checked more thoroughly, got a flashlight, inspected every nook and cranny.

Excellent. You have a good idea and good presentation. A lot of information is seamlessly supplied. Here is a suggestion for improvement. Can you get the imagery and setting absolutely clear for the reader? And can you make the boy’s reaction stronger? The idea is that there may be something under the porch. The protagonist is not afraid, I mean, he thinks about it casually and later he suspects somebody might have stolen his baseball glove. But a clear picture of the scene (the porch—is it huge where a cougar could hide? is it low where a rabid raccoon would hide?) helps the reader imagine.

On a chilly morning in April, On a chilly April morning, [unnecessary word—accumulative effect deadens the writing]

 

I caught a flicker of something dash under the porch.  Does a flicker dash? It flicks, doesn’t it? And do you want to use the word “something”? It’s abstract when it represents an opportunity to engage the reader. Not using it would work—let flicker do its job. Maybe “I glimpsed a flicker . . .”? Accuracy is important. 

 

Perhaps it was a flash of a face. For a moment, I thought I saw two eerie eyes staring at me.  Even in the imagination, the writing is unclear. The only thing he really sees is a flicker and dark (dark twice). He imagines a face and “eerie” eyes? To really be effective, what are the specific details that cause him to imagine a face, and why would he imagine eerie eyes when nothing else about the incident seems to make him even slightly apprehensive? The “eerie” does indicate he has a little worry, I admit, but with a little more descriptive specificity, and more solid understanding of his emotional state, the reader would get more from the imagination and respond more.

 

            It was dark. Just my imagination, I told myself. Still, I peeked, to be sure, stooping for several moments, peering into the dark enclosure.  “Dark” doesn’t do much for the reader. And you use it twice. A missed opportunity to help the reader visualize. “I could barely see the outline of a cardboard box with a torn lid,” or, “Nothing moved that I could see where the underside of the steps blocked the light that seeped through the cracks in the porch floor,” or, “I couldn’t see a face or eyes, but it was so dark I would only see it if it was three feet away and looking right at me.” Not right, but do you see my attempt to stimulate setting?

 

It was dark. Just my imagination, I told myself. Still, I peeked, to be sure, stooping for several moments, peering into the dark enclosure. Satisfied, I hurried into the house to get ready for school.

            On my way to school, I played the incident back in my mind. I really believed I saw something. I remembered leaving my baseball glove under the porch. I’d be really pissed if that was stolen. I should have checked more thoroughly, got a flashlight, inspected every nook and cranny.  This paragraph is fine. But there are opportunities. It doesn’t have much emotional content that is useful. What if the reader knew in some way that the glove was his dead father’s baseball glove when the father played for the Dodgers before he was injured and had to collect garbage for a living? That’s stupid, but I’m trying to make the glove and its potential loss important for the boy so the reader begins to feel for him. Also, there’s an opportunity for fear. It has to do with credibility and characterization. The boy treats all this pretty casually. It does characterize him to an extent in a passive way, and is good from that standpoint. But to engage the reader, what if he was scared out of his wits? Afraid there was a dead body being eaten by rats. Or a terrorist with a bomb and the flicker had been glint off the timer? Or that the neighbor’s pit bull had followed him and was waiting for a chance to attack. Or that his little sister afflicted with autism had disappeared again and he had failed to think she might be alone under the porch in the dark and damp, and she might die. Of course it doesn’t have to be so drastic; just a little apprehension or worry could be effective. But it’s something that would hold the reader to the story.

 

You write a very well and tell a good story. I go into all this detail to help you recognize opportunities to stand out from the crowd as a writer and storyteller. You have that kind of potential!

Thanks for the submission.

Bill Coles

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