Assignment #2 750 words

Dried twigs crackled. Jed paused and looked around. Early morning mist swirled through the densely wooded mountainside. No one was visible, but Jed was certain he wasn’t alone. Holding his breath, the young man cocked his head and listened.

Quiet footfalls and heavy breathing.

Someone unaccustomed to climbing the mountains, or ill, was following him.  It wasn’t unusual. Unscrupulous folks often attempted discovering an expert “sanger’s” secret locations where the valuable ginseng plant grew.

Jed reached for the revolver tucked in his boot and slipped it in his denim jacket pocket. Whoever it was had been tracking him for a while. He continued his upward climb, his eyes sweeping the ground.

Spotting a three-pronged ginseng plant’s green leaves crowned with a cluster of bright red berries, Jed gently raked leaves and weeds from around the base of the plant with his ‘sanging hoe–a two-foot wooden handle welded to a pointed iron head.

“Howdy.” A tall man suddenly appeared from behind a strand of tall trees on Jed’s left. “Digging ginseng?”

Jed’s hand tightened on his ‘sanging hoe. His eyes, suspicious and wary, took in the stranger’s appearance. This man wasn’t a ‘sanger. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

The man took off his cap and scratched his scraggy head. “No other reason for a fella to be up in these mountains, now is there?”

“Where’s your ‘sang bag?” Jed’s own burlap sack, dangling from a cord tied to his leather belt, was a fifth full of pungent, freshly-dug ginseng roots.

 The stranger stepped closer to Jed. “Digging ‘sang ain’t really what I’m after.” He smiled. Both top front teeth were missing. It gave him a spooky, ghoulish appearance. “Name’s Ryan. Ryan Blane.”

The hairs on the back of Jed’s neck stiffened. He recognized the name. “My partner’s just over that next ridge.”

“And I’ve got Federal Marshalls coming.” Ryan spat a stream of snuff. The brown tobacco splattered on Jed’s boot.

“Best be off.” Jed hoisted his ‘sang hoe.

Ryan’s arm blocked Jed.

“Let me pass.” Jed’s voice was shaky. He brushed off the stranger’s arm.

Ryan pulled a small pistol tucked in his waistband. “Not so fast, Jed.”

Jed swallowed several times. “How do you know my name?”

“Got my ways.”

“What do you want?”

“Figure you’d know, Jed.”

“Let me guess. Location of my favorite ‘sanging sites?”

“Ah, Jed. Jed. Jed.” Ryan made a sucking sound with his lips, and pushed the gun three times into Jed’s heaving chest. “Nice bluff.”

 “I, I don’t know who you are or, or what you—-“

 “Don’t lie to me. Noticed the fear in them eyes. When I spoke my name.” Ryan smashed his fist into Jed’s face.

Blood streamed from Jed’s split lip. With the sleeve of his flannel shirt, he swiped at a spittle of blood. “Alright. Alright,” he said chocking on blood and saliva. “Newspapers said you’d been released from prison. Served time for drug smuggling. But you got the wrong guy—-“

A second blow caught Jed under the chin, and he dropped to the ground, knocked senseless.

Jed regained consciousness, opened his eyes and saw Ryan standing over him.  He touched his swollen face. Ached like hell. He fumbled for his revolver.

“Stupid move, Jed.” Ryan said and flashed Jed’s weapon. “How’d it be If’n I plugged you with it? Be kinda’ funny.”

 “Shoot me and you’ll never find out…”

“Mmm, so much for acting all innocent.” Ryan jabbed the barrel of the revolver under Jed’s chin. “Best tell. I’m aiming to find out. One way or the other.”

Pain, and the threat of death cleared Jed’s head. An idea formed. His fingers slid towards the ‘sang hoe beside him.

“Ryan, your bundle of cocaine. Helicopter dropped it last week.”

“How’d you know?”

“Some time ago, I spotted the big red circle with an X spray-painted in the clearing over yonder.” Using the ‘sang hoe for support, Jed stood up.

“Kept an eye out, did you? Waiting patient-like?”

“‘Sanging’s a good cover.”

“Where is it?”

“Been delivered.”

“Nah, you ain’t living high. Drinking. Dames. Fancy vehicle. You daren’t risk alerting the cops. Or my boys.”

“Got me there, Ryan.” Jed looked over Ryan’s shoulder and nodded as if to someone standing among the trees. “Take the shot,” he yelled.

“What the. . .?” Ryan spun on his heel.

Jed swung the ‘sang hoe and struck Ryan on the back of his head with the pointed iron tip.

Instructor Response

Cathryn. Good work. I’ve pointed out some ideas for change: be sure word choice is accurate for scene, especially with verbs; avoid using many words when a few will suffice (be succinct); use in-scene writing to allow reader to access scene and your ideas without being “told.”

Dried twigs crackled. Jed paused and looked around. Early morning mist swirled through the densely wooded mountainside. No one was visible, but Jed was certain he wasn’t alone. Holding his breath, the young man cocked his head and listened. (Note here you can stay in Jed’s point of view, not the narrator’s, with different effect.)  Maybe something like this: “Dried twigs cracked. Jed knew someone was near, but early morning mist obscured the wooded mountainside. He cocked his head and listened.” Try to always make it easier for the reader to imagine the scene and know feelings and perceptions.

Quiet footfalls and heavy breathing.

Someone unaccustomed to climbing the mountains, or ill, was following him.  It wasn’t unusual. Unscrupulous folks often attempted discovering an expert “sanger’s” secret locations where the valuable ginseng plant grew.

Jed reached for the revolver tucked in his boot and slipped it in his denim jacket pocket. Whoever it was had been tracking him for a while. He continued his upward climb, his eyes sweeping the ground.

Spotting a three-pronged ginseng plant’s green leaves crowned with a cluster of bright red berries, Jed gently raked leaves and weeds from around the base of the plant with his ‘sanging hoe–a two-foot wooden handle welded to a pointed iron head.

“Howdy.” A tall man suddenly appeared from behind a strand of tall trees on Jed’s left. “Digging ginseng?”  Here is an opportunity to use dialogue to characterize and to build suspense. What if you did something like this: Jed looked up at someone a foot taller than him. “I don’t like what you’re doing.”

Jed’s hand tightened on his ‘sanging hoe, his wary eyes assessing the stranger’s threatening look. suspicious and wary. This man wasn’t a ‘sanger.What does it look like I’m doing I’m diggin’?” This man wasn’t a ‘sanger.

The man took off his cap and scratched his scraggy head. “No other reason for a fella to be up in these mountains, now is there?”

“Where’s your ‘sang bag?” Jed’s own burlap sack, dangling from a cord tied to his leather belt, was a fifth full of pungent, freshly-dug ginseng roots.

The syntax of the dialogue could be better . . . more credible.

 The stranger stepped closer to Jed. “Digging ‘sang ain’t really what I’m after.” Maybe? He smiled. Both top front teeth were missing grinned, two top front teeth missing, giving him a spooky, ghoulish appearance. “Name’s Ryan. Ryan Blane.”

The hairs on the back of Jed’s neck stiffened. Jed tensed. He knew the name.  He recognized the name. (A suggestion re word choice.) My partner’s just over that next ridge.” Avoid exposition in dialogue .

“And I’ve got Federal Marshalls coming.” Ryan spat a stream of snuff. The brown tobacco splattered on Jed’s boot.

“Best be off.” Jed hoisted his ‘sang hoe. GREAT. This is a nice use of action and imagery that is important in attribution of what’s said to Jed.

Ryan’s arm blocked Jed.

“Let me pass,Jed’s voice was shaky. Jed said in a shaky voice. He brushed off the stranger’s arm. Avoid passive constructions whenever possible in fiction.

Ryan pulled a small pistol tucked in his waistband. “Not so fast, Jed.”

Jed swallowed several times. “How do you know me my name?”

“Got my ways.”

“What do you want?”

“Figure you’d know, Jed.”

Let me guess. Location of my favorite ‘sanging sites?”

“Ah, Jed. Jed. Jed.” Ryan made a sucking sound with his lips, and pushed the gun three times into Jed’s heaving chest. “Nice bluff.”

 “I, I don’t know who you are or, or what you—-“  “? “Who are you?”

 “Don’t lie to me. Noticed the fear in them eyes. When I spoke my name.” Maybe: “You know damn well who I am.”  Ryan smashed his fist into Jed’s face.

Blood streamed from Jed’s split lip. With the sleeve of his flannel shirt, he swiped at a spittle of blood. Jed’s stomach sickened at the taste of blood from his split lip.  “Alright. Alright,” he said. chocking on blood and saliva. “Newspapers said you’d been released from prison. Served time for drug smuggling. But you got the wrong guy—-“

The guy looked like his picture in the paper when he got out of prison for serving time for drug smuggling.

A second blow caught Jed under the chin, and he dropped to the ground, knocked senseless. Keep it succinct. Maybe: A second blow under the chin knocked Jed unconscious.

Jed regained consciousness, opened his eyes. and saw Ryan standing stood over him.  He touched his swollen face. Ached like hell. He fumbled for his revolver.

“Stupid move, Jed.” Ryan said and flashed Jed’s weapon. “How’d it be If’n I plugged you with it? Be kinda’ funny.”

 “Shoot me and you’ll never find out…”

“Mmm, so much for acting all innocent.” Ryan jabbed the barrel of the revolver under Jed’s chin. “Best tell. I’m aiming to find out. One way or the other.”

Pain, and the threat of death cleared Jed’s head. An idea formed. His fingers slid towards the ‘sang hoe beside him.

“Ryan, your bundle of cocaine. Helicopter dropped it last week.”

“How’d you know?”

“Some time ago, I spotted the big red circle with an X spray-painted in the clearing over yonder.” Using the ‘sang hoe for support, Jed stood up.  Consider delivering this exposition without putting it in dialogue. 

“Kept an eye out, did you? Waiting patient-like?”

“‘Sanging’s a good cover.”

“Where is it?”

“Been delivered.”

“Nah, you ain’t living high. Drinking. Dames. Fancy vehicle. You daren’t risk alerting the cops. Or my boys.”

“Got me there, Ryan.” Jed looked over Ryan’s shoulder and nodded as if to someone standing among the trees. “Take the shot,” he yelled.

“What the. . .?” Ryan spun on his heel.

Jed swung the ‘sang hoe and struck Ryan on the back of his head with the pointed iron tip. [Note how editing down might make this more effective. Jed struck Ryan’s head with the ‘sang hoe.] You have two purposes in this sentence: action, imagery. Do you really need two verbs? To strike may not need the swinging, and the tighter you can make the prose in portraying action the better. And in this sentence “pointed iron tip”detracts from the action that is so important. Consider too in scene writing that will engage the reader. (now the imagery can be used to effect with the action. The skull fractured when Jed buried the iron tip of the hoe into Ryan’s brain.  This is to illustrate in-scene writing. https://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/writing-in-scene/

This is a good, interesting story. Like what you’re doing! Thanks for the submission.

All the best. Bill Coles 12/18/18

  1. Thank you so much for your valuable insights. High praise indeed from a “polymath”. I took an on-line writing course a few years ago, but never learned to write a story in a literary style–afraid I’m stuck in the “whodunit” genre. Purchased your book of short stories and am reading them for insights and edification.(Read Reddog on line and was blown away!!)
    Thank you again. Will strive to write a story in the literacy manner for the next submission.
    Cathryn

    • Thanks for comment. All the best!

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

© 2020 Literary Fiction Workshop