Marie emerged from the cathedral into the slushy April heat of the French Quarter, squinting her eyes against the sudden grey glare. The sticky heat made it difficult to breathe and pasted her blouse to her skin like a sausage casing. She moved heavily towards Pirate’s Alley, where Nick was waiting. New Orleans for their anniversary…what had they been thinking?

“Hail the supplicant!” Nick bellowed at her as she approached the café. His fleshy cheeks were already pink and even from this distance she could make out the bottle on the table and smell the dank sweetness on his breath.

“Meek and mild the Lenten prayers, ma belle Marie?!” He stood up ceremoniously, pulling a chair from the table. “I love it when you pray,” he whispered in her ear as she sat down. “Your sanctimony is hot as hell.”

“Don’t be disgusting,” she muttered, glancing self-consciously up and down the street. A waitress stood stock-still in the open doorway of the café. For a moment, Marie wondered if she was made of wax.

The grille of the chair pressed hard against her bottom and back as Nick pushed the seat under the table. “Nick.” she hissed. “Please!”

“Yes of course, my dear, I shall please. Drink?” Nick walked around to the other side of the table, sat heavily and poured. Two melting ice cubes jostled against the walls of the glass as he slid it toward her. “Drink.”

“It’s barely lunchtime for fuck’s sake.” Her words came out more softly than she’d intended, like a plea, and her face flushed.

“Indeed. Far too late to turn back now.” His direction turned toward the waitress whose pose hadn’t moved an inch. “Sweetheart! A glass for my sober wife, would you?” The girl glared at them for a moment and disappeared into the shadow of the restaurant.

Nick struck a match noisily and lit a cigarette over his words. “If you think one prayer of yours can absolve us, cherie, you’ve got another penance coming.”

Marie looked vaguely in the direction of the cathedral. Colorfully painted doorways and cascades of wisteria and palm brightened the alley with mocking gaiety.

“I feel sick,” she said.

“Tee shirt for the lovebirds? Every purchase is generously donated to charity.” A hawker was suddenly standing beside their table. His sallow face was cross-hatched with strange red marks and he carried a milk crate half-filled with surprisingly new looking, folded tee shirts.

“Confederacy of dunces.” Nick muttered under his breath as he stood up to face the man.

At that moment the waitress arrived and slapped a fresh glass of ice onto the table. The salty stench of the hawker hung thick in the humid air.

“Nick, don’t. I’m going to be sick,” Marie said, without moving.

“Just sip and play nice,” Nick hissed at her, pouring Herbsaint onto the ice and flicking his cigarette across the street. Marie watched it roll to the edge of the wrought iron fence beyond which lush trees and flowers were growing.

“Whaddaya got? I’ll pay double.”

“Brand new tee shirts for you and your lovely lady. Just twenty dollars each. All proceeds go directly to charity.”

“Sure they do buddy.”

Nick shoved forty dollars into the milk crate and removed a tee shirt. It was black with ‘I’M GONNA MAKE HIM AN OFFER HE CAN’T REFUSE’ printed on it in white.

“Of course we can’t refuse,” Nick laughed. “Now go crawl back into your hole and leave us alone.”

The hawker scowled and shuffled off. Nick rolled the shirt into a ball and tossed it under the table.

Marie took a sip of the cold anise-flavored liquid and unbuttoned her blouse a little in an effort to breathe more freely. The heat in the air continued to rise.

Instructor Response

Thanks for your submission. You’ve followed the assignment exceptionally well. Good job.

I’ll address your writing with comments in red. Now I’d like to give thoughts on how to make the storytelling more vibrant. And this doesn’t require more words, using more space. Think first about conflict. As you know, conflict provides the energy for the story. In this story, there are opportunities to write in-scene conflict between the hawker and Nick. Threaten. Degrade. Misjudge. You might also look to the conflict between Marie and Nick. Could they differ more on how they feel about being scammed, about how to handle the situation?

Second, consider setting up a start for the scene where immediately the hawker is introduced, and it’s clear he’s out to impose his will to buy a shirt on these tourists. (You’ve spent too much time on characters at the beginning. Don’t neglect them, though; just get the story started.) Then after you’ve begun the conflict, you can–through dialogue, internalization, and narration–keep the scam moving with actions and reactions, changing thoughts, expression of fears and emotions. You can do this with one character or more than one. Your purpose should be to give the reader insight as to all the action and emotion and enlightenment that is caused by such an encounter. Then conclude the scene with active resolution that involves suspense. Nick refuses to pay. The hawker thrusts the shirt at Marie, who doesn’t reject it. Nick gets mad at both of them. The scam guys threaten them. Maybe he pretends he’s got a knife in his hoodie. Nick calls for a policeman. The hawker runs. Nick tackles him. The hawker gets away. Nick is angry with Marie for taking the T-shirt. She now feels sorry for the guy and wants to find him and give him money.

None of this is what you necessarily should do. I just go through it to show you how action and conflict provide the momentum for your story.

This is a good story and excellent work. Keep at it! And all the best in your writing!

WHC

Suggested reading.

http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/character-in-literary-fictional-story/
http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/momentum/
http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/conflict-in-literary-fiction/

Comments:

Marie emerged from the cathedral into the slushy [Not quite the right word. “Slush” means partially melted ice or snow and doesn’t fit here. It’s too hard to imagine in New Orleans. Be careful with word choice. I’d suggest looking up words in a thesaurus as a routine when revising.] April heat of the French Quarter, squinting her eyes against the sudden grey glare. The sticky heat made it difficult to breathe and pasted her blouse to her skin like a sausage casing. She moved heavily towards Pirate’s Alley, where Nick was waiting. New Orleans for their anniversary…what had they been thinking?

“Hail the supplicant!” Nick bellowed at her as she approached the café. His fleshy cheeks were already pink and even from this distance she could make out the bottle on the table and smell the dank sweetness on his breath. [Learn to keep these descriptive elements to a minimum and have your idea contribute to characterization or plot progression. For example, you could say, “His wine-tinged breath surprised her, she thought he was a teetotaler.” OR  “The wine on his breath was cheap and sickening; he was drinking again. God how he’d changed.” This would grab an opportunity to develop your characters. Another way to add purpose to the ideas in your story is make descriptive elements contribute to the plot. What if the story involved Nick hitting the accosting party with a wine bottle? You could, at this stage of the story, put something in to foreshadow the event. “He swigged wine directly out of the bottle, gripping the neck as if it were a club.” Not great, but I hope you get the idea.

“Meek and mild the Lenten prayers, ma belle Marie?!” He stood up ceremoniously, pulling a chair from the table. “I love it when you pray,” he whispered in her ear as she sat down. “Your sanctimony is hot as hell.”

“Don’t be disgusting,” she muttered, glancing self-consciously up and down the street. A waitress stood stock-still [many will see this as cliché that spoils the reading experience—and it doesn’t add much] in the open doorway of the café. For a moment, Marie wondered if she was made of wax. [An idea expressed in awkward syntax spoils your writing. Would anyone look at another person and wonder if they were made of wax? That’s a writer trying to get a simple idea across and making it illogical. What’s at the core is “She looked like she was made of wax.” It’s not useful to have the character wonder if she’s made of wax. Of course she’s not. But it can be important for her to think of how she looks like a wax figure. Not an insignificant observation for the author to change. It’s what makes good writing better.]

The grille of the chair pressed hard against her bottom and back as Nick pushed the seat under the table. “Nick.” she hissed. “Please!”

“Yes of course, my dear, I shall please. Drink?” Nick walked around to the other side of the table, sat heavily and poured. Two melting ice cubes jostled against the walls of the glass as he slid it toward her. “Drink.”

“It’s barely lunchtime for fuck’s sake.” Her words came out more softly than she’d intended, like a plea, and her face flushed.

“Indeed. Far too late to turn back now.” His direction turned toward the waitress whose pose hadn’t moved an inch. [This isn’t very probable—the not moving an inch—and it’s a detail that detracts from story momentum. That is, it’s a lot of words for a static detail that probably isn’t true to the story world. Important to look for in revision.] “Sweetheart! A glass for my sober wife, would you?” The girl glared at them for a moment and disappeared into the shadow of the restaurant.

Nick struck a match noisily and lit a cigarette over his words. “If you think one prayer of yours can absolve us, cherie, you’ve got another penance coming.”

Marie looked vaguely in the direction of the cathedral. Colorfully painted doorways and cascades of wisteria and palm brightened the alley with mocking gaiety.

“I feel sick,” she said.

“Tee shirt for the lovebirds? Every purchase is generously donated to charity.” A hawker was suddenly standing beside their table. His sallow face was cross-hatched with strange red marks and he carried a milk crate half-filled with surprisingly new looking, folded tee shirts.

“Confederacy of dunces.” Nick muttered under his breath as he stood up to face the man.

At that moment [Unnecessary and repetitive. Don’t let word-fill creep into your writing–that is, words, usually cliches, that have no purpose.] The waitress arrived and slapped a fresh glass of ice onto the table. The salty stench of the hawker hung thick in the humid air.

“Nick, don’t. I’m going to be sick,” Marie said, without moving.

“Just sip and play nice,” Nick hissed at her, pouring Herbsaint onto the ice and flicking his cigarette across the street. Marie watched it roll to the edge of the wrought iron fence beyond which lush trees and flowers were growing.

“Whaddaya got? I’ll pay double.”

“Brand new tee shirts for you and your lovely lady. Just twenty dollars each. All proceeds go directly to charity.”

“Sure they do buddy.”

Nick shoved forty dollars into the milk crate and removed a tee shirt. It was black with ‘I’M GONNA MAKE HIM AN OFFER HE CAN’T REFUSE’ printed on it in white.

“Of course we can’t refuse,” Nick laughed. “Now go crawl back into your hole and leave us alone.” [This is awkward dialogue for this character in this situation. The intent, I assume, to get the thoughts and feelings of Nick (and Marie) into the story. Those feelings are irritation, disgust, anger, dislike, guilt, sympathy, feeling scammed by a crook, wanting the hawker to go away (to be left alone). Others? It seems unlikely that in the story world the character would say what you have him say. It might be an opportunity for Nick and Marie to talk. “I hate the con men.” “He didn’t seem needy.” “It’s all about cheating.” “I can’t stand for them to get close to me.” That sort of thing. You could also internalize. He’s trash, Nick thought. And threatening us! He should be buried alive. These are alternative ways to get ideas across without calling attention to authorial struggling with dialogue construction.]

The hawker scowled and shuffled off. Nick rolled the shirt into a ball and tossed it under the table.

Marie took a sip of the cold anise-flavored liquid and unbuttoned her blouse a little in an effort to breathe more freely. The heat in the air continued to rise.

  1. Dear Dr Coles:
    Thank you for the generous and detailed feedback.
    I am going to take another stab, this time introducing the hawker right away.
    VLH

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