Exercise 14/Story 1

Sujith watched his mother’s belabored breathing turn quiet; in her arms she cradled the bony frame of his baby sister, whose pale eyelids fluttered with thin blue veins. They had finally fallen asleep upon the mat, and Sujith grabbed his chance.

Pushing open the shanty’s rusty door, he fell into the half-light of the alley and yanked his bicycle from the ground. Mounting and turning the pedals in one quick move, he navigated past a mangy cat, a naked child rolling a tin can, a wrinkle-faced woman chewing paan and farther, farther on until at last he arrived at the marketplace.

The market was crowded, loud and hot. Sujith straddled his bike through the narrow aisles, ignoring the elbows and shouts protesting his progress. The stall he sought was located at the far eastern end of the marketplace, owned by a vendor whose left eye was hidden by a patch. A tower of crimson pomegranates and a barrel brimming with young almonds made Sujith’s heart pound hungrily.

Sujith rolled up to the stall and waited alert astride his bike as a woman wearing a lime green sari began to haggle with the fruitseller. The vendor thus distracted, Sujith quickly leaned over, grabbed three pieces of fruit and as many almonds as he could shove into the tattered pouch fastened around his waist.

But before the boy’s hands could return to the handlebars, the vendor turned his face in Sujith’s direction, good eye opened wide. Cursing wildly, the man snatched a thick broom handle from under his cart and swiftly brought it down with a loud crack against Sujith’s skull.

Immediately the boy’s balance was lost. His body and the bicycle fell to the ground with a thud. One of the pomegranates in the boy’s waistsack burst open from the impact, splattering red liquid on the woman’s sandaled feet. His neck was twisted in an odd way and both legs were pinned beneath the bicycle frame. He lay still and small in the dirt. The woman lifted her hands to her mouth in a stifled cry.

Exercise 14/Story 2

Under ordinary circumstances Lucia would ride shotgun next to her son John, but today Nora contrived to sympathize with Lucia’s health complaints and offered her mother-in-law the more spacious rear seat. The truth was that Nora was dangerously nauseated. She was certain that if she couldn’t see the road directly in front of her, she would vomit all over the leather not to mention the scarf John had given her at Christmas.

It didn’t help that the icy avenue was riddled with potholes and that her husband was navigating them like a pinball wizard.

Nora glanced in the rear view mirror to see if Lucia had dozed off. No such luck. The old bat was struggling to open one of the many vials of homeopathic pellets she insisted would soon remedy her chronic arthritis, vertigo and overall sense of ennui and dissatisfaction with life.

The S-Class thudded in and out of a deep hole and Nora was pitched forward. Her handbag slid off her lap onto the floor and the open bottle in her hand released a fizzy spray of Vichy Catalan onto her coat and trousers.

Nora used her scarf to dab at her clothes. John pointed out that Cerruti did not manufacture with this purpose in mind and Nora quickly bent down, fumbling to find a tissue.

Her stomach began to lurch but she swallowed hard and shut her mouth tight against the pressure rising in her throat. It had only been three weeks since she and Roger had made love at the cottage, yet the signs of morning sickness were already obvious to her. If only she could find a way to file for divorce by February, she and Roger could escape with their secret intact and begin the new life they’d dreamt about for so long.

[Note: My understanding of the assignement is that these two exercises are NOT to include dialogue, which is why I omitted it from both.]

Instructor Response

Hi Victoria. Nice work.

Exercise 14/Story 1

Sujith watched his mother’s belabored breathing turn quiet; in her arms she cradled the bony frame of his baby sister, whose pale eyelids fluttered with thin blue veins. They had finally fallen asleep upon the mat, and Sujith grabbed his chance.  If you were to write this objectively, it might go like this.  Sujith’s mother’s breathing became quiet as she cradled his emaciated baby sister. He saw his chance. Note how the story line intensifies but setting, description, and characterization decrease. You can practice writing in accordance with your purpose. Here, you’ve effectively used a subjective approach (highlighted) that helps describe scene, provides imagery, gives characterization, but slows scene action. Good work.

Pushing open the shanty’s rusty door, he fell into the half-light of the alley and yanked his bicycle from the ground. Mounting and turning the pedals in one quick move, he navigated past a mangy cat, a naked child rolling a tin can, a wrinkle-faced woman chewing paan and farther, farther on until at last he arrived at the marketplace.

The market was crowded, loud and hot. Sujith straddled his bike through the narrow aisles, ignoring the elbows and shouts protesting his progress. The stall he sought was located at the far eastern end of the marketplace, owned by a vendor whose left eye was hidden by a patch. A tower of crimson pomegranates and a barrel brimming with young almonds made Sujith’s heart pound hungrily.

Avoid passive constructions when not needed, as in progressive tenses. And adverbs are tricky: “hungrily” doesn’t work. Here are some ideas. Note when you restructure a passive verb construction, it often results in an active verb. Fiction storytelling requires action and conflict.

“was crowded” Noise and heat flooded the crowded market.

“was located” He located the stall . . .

“was hidden”  . . . a patch hid the vendor’s left eye.

“hungrily” Inappropriate adverbs can bury writing and turn off readers. What does “heart pound hungrily” mean? Heart and hunger? Pound with hunger? Be careful with word choice, especially adverbs. 

Sujith rolled up to the stall and waited alert astride his bike as a woman wearing a lime green sari began to haggle with the fruitseller. The vendor thus distracted, Sujith quickly leaned over, grabbed three pieces of fruit and as many almonds as he could shove into the tattered pouch fastened around his waist.

But before the boy’s hands could return to the handlebars, the vendor turned his face in Sujith’s direction, good eye opened wide. Cursing wildly, the man snatched a thick broom handle from under his cart and swiftly brought it down with a loud crack against Sujith’s skull.

Immediately Do you need a time transition here?  The action negates any need to indicate time passage, and the writing will be stronger without it. the boy’s balance was lost. Passive. Maybe try: The boy lost his balance. His body and the bicycle fell to the ground with a thud. One of the pomegranates in the boy’s waistsack burst open from the impact, splattering red liquid on the woman’s sandaled feet. His neck was twisted in an odd way and both legs were pinned beneath the bicycle frame. He lay still and small in the dirt. The woman lifted her hands to her mouth in a stifled cry.

Exercise 14/Story 2

Under ordinary circumstances Lucia would ride shotgun next to her son John, but today Nora contrived to sympathize with Lucia’s health complaints and offered her mother-in-law the more spacious rear seat. Nice. Flows well and is informative.  The truth was that Nora was dangerously nauseated. She was certain that if she couldn’t see the road directly in front of her, she would vomit all over the leather not to mention the scarf John had given her at Christmas.

It didn’t help that the icy avenue was riddled with potholes and that her husband was navigating them like a pinball wizard. Sentence not necessary; it stops story and does only a little for characterization. And “pinball wizard,” I apologize but it is important, is an author being clever at story-quality expense.

Nora glanced in the rear view mirror to see if Lucia had dozed off. No such luck. The old bat was struggling to open one of the many vials of homeopathic pellets she insisted would soon remedy her chronic arthritis, vertigo and overall sense of ennui and dissatisfaction with life. Great. Informative with action.

The S-Class thudded in and out of a deep hole and Nora was pitched forward. Her handbag slid off her lap onto the floor and the open bottle in her hand released a fizzy spray of Vichy Catalan onto her coat and trousers.

Nora used her scarf to dab at her clothes. John pointed out that Cerruti did not manufacture with this purpose in mind and Nora quickly bent down, fumbling to find a tissue.

Her Let us know whose stomach, as this could lead to confusion that stops story. stomach began to lurch but she swallowed hard and shut her mouth tight against the pressure rising in her throat. It had only been three weeks since she and Roger had made love at the cottage, yet the signs of morning sickness were already obvious to her. If only she could find a way to file for divorce by February, she and Roger could escape with their secret intact and begin the new life they’d dreamt about for so long.

Nicely done!

  1. I know that passive constructions should be avoided and yet I manage to employ them all the time. Your edits will remind me to avoid them.
    In the driving story, I used the pinball wizard sentence to try to communicate Nora’s dislike for her husband and to evoke the feeling of being jolted carelessly (by him), that he is inattentive to her needs. What would have been a more effective way to do this?
    With thanks
    V

    • This has to do with the creation and use of effective metaphors. That you want to communicate Nora’s dislike for her husband and her feeling of being jolted, using a simile that doesn’t work (and maybe metaphor is not the right way to get these points across)may not be best. Metaphor, for our purpose, is the comparison of two unlike things (A and B) so that the understanding of one or both is enhanced . . . accomplished in tasteful and informative ways. Often metaphors in fiction can be more effective if A and/or B are concrete. The touch of his hand felt like a butterfly wing. A = hand B = butterfly wing. So the metaphor lets us know about the quality of softness in his touch through comparison with the feel of a butterfly wing. (Not great but it’s late at night.) The principles are: A must have some qualities that are applicable to B so that similarities can be discerned resulting in illumination about the objects, and the A and B cannot be too disparate so that no comparison can be made: The touch of his hand felt like a train wreck won’t work. The comparison adds nothing. When you tried to use a metaphor [‘. . . that her husband was navigating them like a pinball wizard], you had multiple purposes and multiple comparisons needed (dislike, jolted, careless, inattentive, pinball, wizard, navigation–that’s a lot” and it really is a little much and comparisons too vague to pick up your meaning. Work on new tries with what you have, but don’t be afraid to go to narration or dialogue, or even internal reflection to get your meaning across. Also ask how important is the idea to the story; how much space should the idea take up; if it is essential, is this the right place to bring it up? You might enjoy searching The Fiction Well using “metaphor” for more info.
      And do you still want to start tutorial in April or would you like assignment earlier? All the best, Bill

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