Suicide Bridge

New River Gorge

West Virginia

Rodney pushed past the visitors, some viewing the gorge through high-powered binoculars, other snapping pictures with expensive cameras, and strode to the wooden railing surrounding the observation deck. His shaky fingers gripped the wooden, waist-high railing.

He leaned over the rail. Strands of long, greasy hair fell across his face. The lush greenness of the steep canyon’s vegetation splashed with autumnal yellows and reds; the rust-colored single-arch bridge spanning the New River foaming with whitewater rapids: a breathtaking vista.

His heart thumped. That’s it. That’s  the bridge.

He had visited  “suicide bridges” on the West coast: George Washington Memorial Bridge; Golden Gate Bridge; San Diego-Coronado Bridge, but the New River Gorge Bridge was unique: relatively isolated; lacking guard rails; no barriers breaking the body’s descent.

Loud, uncontrollable laughter burst from his lips. “Tonight,” he said.

The man beside Rodney stowed his  camera in a black case dangling from a strap around his neck, grasped his companion’s elbow, and steered her away from the railing.

An hour later, Rodney jogged to his car parked at the Visitor’s Center. He finished the remains of a  cheeseburger, drank  dregs of cold coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

Would anyone miss him? Rodney fumbled in the crumpled cigarette pack lying on the dash.

His mother? Too busy. Clubs, church, and committees. Playing grannie to his brother’s kids. Rodney struck a match and lit his last cigarette.

Friends–fed up listening to complaints, bailing him out of jail, lending money–deserted him. Rodney exhaled cigarette smoke through his nostrils.

He pawned the engagement his fiancé returned and bought smack. Rodney flicked the cigarette butt out the open car window  and leaned back in the seat.

The sun slowly sank behind the hazy blue-tinged mountains.

He closed his eyes waiting for the dark.

Instructor Response

Cathryn,

Wow, this is really improved. You’ve focused the narration. Imagery is clarified. You’ve got characterization, tension, and conflict (inner). And you’ve incorporated backstory effectively while the front story is moving along (nice).

For learning about improvement still, think about (1) subjective judgments with modifiers that briefly change POV (highlighted), (2) too many words that detract from image building, and (3) how impact prose usually equals succinct prose.

Suicide Bridge

New River Gorge

West Virginia

Rodney pushed past the visitors, some viewing the gorge through with high-powered binoculars, other and snapping pictures with expensive cameras, [This is an example of how subtle shifts in POV can muddy a writer’s style. “Expensive” and “high-powered” are judgments, and here they seem out of place in Rodney’s perception. It seems the author (narrator too) needed to make this judgment about cameras and binoculars–because of POV shift–at the expense of a mood shift, and the judgment doesn’t relate to Rodney or advance meaning of setting imagery. And the word “cameras” is not needed when minor characters are “snapping” and therefore is redundant and excessive, affecting the scene value.] and strode to the waist-high, wooden barrier fencing surrounding the observation deck. His shaking fingers gripped the wooden, top railing. [Good work]

He leaned over the rail. Long, greasy strands of long, hair fell across his face. [Be sure modifiers, here “long” and “greasy,” modify the best word. It clarifies the image.] The lush greenness of the steep canyon’s vegetation splashed with autumnal yellows and reds; the rust-colored single-arch bridge spanning the New River foaming with whitewater rapids: a breathtaking vista. [This is authorial and not an effective abstract judgment. Keep the perspective suitable for Rodney to keep reader in scene.]

His heart thumped. That’s it. That’s the bridge. [This internalization is effective.]

He had visited  “suicide bridges” on the West coast: George Washington Memorial Bridge; Golden Gate Bridge; San Diego-Coronado Bridge, but the New River Gorge Bridge was unique: relatively isolated; lacking guard rails; no barriers breaking the body’s descent.

Loud, uncontrollable laughter burst from his lips. [This reaction is hard to understand and not well expressed, detracting from the dialogue statement. Try something like, “He moaned uncontrollably.] “Tonight,” he said.

The man beside Rodney stowed his  camera in a black case dangling from a strap around his neck, grasped his companion’s elbow, and steered her away from the railing.  [When revising, ask: Does this relate to the story adequately? Does the reader want to know this detail? There is, I admit, possible foreshadowing but the imagery is delivered elsewhere. If you want something in here for pacing, think of something significant for the story.] 

An hour later, Rodney jogged to his car parked at the Visitor’s Center. He finished the remains of a cheeseburger, drank dregs of cold coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

Would anyone miss him? Will anyone miss me? Rodney fumbled in the crumpled cigarette pack lying on the dash.

His mother? Too busy. Clubs, church, and committees. Playing grannie to his brother’s kids. Rodney struck a match and lit his last cigarette.

Friends–fed up listening to complaints, bailing him out of jail, lending money–deserted him. Rodney exhaled cigarette smoke through his nostrils.

He’d pawned the engagement ring his fiancé returned and bought smack. Rodney flicked the cigarette butt out the open car window and leaned back in the seat.

The sun slowly sank behind the hazy blue-tinged mountains.  [It’s the action, not the imagery, that is important here.] He closed his eyes waiting for the dark.

Very good work. Be sure to strive with the best words for logical progression of scene ideation. You’ve handled backstory, internalization, and significant scenic imagery well.

All the best,

Bill Coles

1/1/19

  1. Thank you for your thorough critique. I am gaining valuable insights from your personalized suggestions, your essays, and your own unique literary stories, What an exacting, challenging ” task-master” you are! LOL The next asssignment boggles my mind. ( I detested that story the first time I read it, and the author’s “explanation” just doesn’t ring true with me.It is about a family being murdered, and I find no redemptive qualities in the killer. So, my story will have a twist–I hope. Thank you again,
    Cathryn

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