Assignment # 6

Transway Air flight 92 cruised at 500 mph above a blanket of white, softly-mounded clouds floating in an azure-blue sky. The commercial plane’s departure from the busy cosmopolitan airport terminal was forty-five minutes behind schedule—delayed for repairs.The first officer discovered the faulty seatbelt during the required pre-flight cabin inspection.

The aircraft’s bathroom door opened. A tall man wearing a well-fitting dark suit exited. His burnished brown face was accented by the white turban wrapped around his head. Dark sunglasses shaded his eyes. He strode to seat 28-A carrying a black briefcase.

“Excuse me, Miss, what do you make of that guy?” the inebriated business class passenger seated in 20-A asked the female flight attendant wheeling the food cart down the aisle.

“Is there a problem, sir?” Paula’s foot shifted the cart’s wheel-brake lever, and she leaned close to the man.

“Third time he’s been to the bathroom to piss since we took off,” the man said. His breath smelled of alcohol.

“Kind of suspicious, you know,” said his neighbor in seat 20-B. “There’s been talk in the news about possible terrorist attacks.”

Paula dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. The latest bulletin from NTAS warned of an imminent terrorist attack. Her main concern was allying fears, avoiding pandemonium among the passengers at forty-two thousand feet.

“He’s one of them.” The passenger wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead.

“Relax, sir.” Paula pressed a bag of peanuts into his beefy hand.

“God knows what’s in his black bag,” the woman seated across the aisle chimed in. “And why the sunglasses?” 

Paula looked at the wary, worried faces of the passengers staring at her. Her trembling fingers fidgeted with the blue scarf around her neck. Caution was required when informing Captain Jackson of a possible terrorist on board.

“Sir, nothing to worry about,” Paula announced loudly with false heartiness. “We should reach Denver in time for your conference. I’ll express your concerns to the pilot.”

Walking down the aisle to the tail of the plane, Paula peered at the passenger seated in 28-B. The black bag was on his lap.

“Hand me the in-flight digital tablet,” she said tersely to the male flight attendant.

“Checking on the passenger registration list, Paula?” he asked.

Seat 21-B was assigned to a Dr. Anish Amur. Could be just an average, law-abiding citizen. She cupped her hand over the microphone and whispered, “Captain, we have a possible situation. Passengers fidgety. Suspected terrorist on board.”

#

“Oh, shit, Paula.”  In the cockpit, Captain Jackson’s eyes swept the instrument panel.  The closest airport wasn’t equipped to accommodate large aircraft. His hands remained steady on the control yoke. No time for panic.

First Officer Nancy Lew heard Paula’s message on the paired headsets she and the Captain were wearing. “Credible threat, Captain?” she asked.

“We’ll have to find out, now won’t we?” He spoke into his headset. “Paula, give me the particulars.”

Captain Jackson listened, asked a few questions, nodded, then said, “Okay, next time the guy leaves the bathroom, Paula, check it out. Keep the mic open. And speak up. The area microphone in here might catch the action.”

“What if she finds explosives? In the bathroom?” The First Officer asked. “Paula might not be able to handle it. Her age and all?”

“She’ll handle it.  I’m not so sure about you.”

First Officer Nancy Lew muttered under her breath. She handled Jackson’s sexual peccadillos. Now this bastard’s unsure of her competency in the cockpit? She scanned the instrument panel bending her head to shield her burning cheeks.  Her new lover, an airport mechanic, thought her competent; his wink while repairing the damaged seatbelt before take-off affirmed his belief in her: she had followed directions explicitly. 

Captain Jackson saw a blip on his radar. The jet was approaching the nearest airport. His forehead puckered; too short a runway for landing a Boeing 747.  He radioed the control tower. “Transway Air flight 92. Possible terrorist on board.”

“Captain Jackson?” Paula’s voice crackled over the headphones. “He’s leaving the bathroom now. I’ll check it out. In a few minutes.”

“Good luck, Paula.”

Nancy Lew sniffed. “Trusting our fate to—”

“God damn it! And you would suggest?” Captain Jackson’s eyes blazed.

“Your gun, Captain.”

 Captain Jackson, a trained Federal Flight Deck Officer, was permitted to possess  a firearm in the cockpit.

#

After the suspected terrorist exited the restroom, Paula waited three minutes before entering.

  She pulled on vinyl gloves and conducted a methodical search: the commode, the urinal, the stainless-steel sink, cabinets and overhead bins. Rummaged in the wastebasket, checked the paper towel dispenser, pulled the toilet paper roll and inspected the holder.

“Nothing,” she said. But why did the man carry the black bag with him into the bathroom? What was in it? Paula decided she’d force Dr. Anish Amur’s hand.

Stepping out of the restroom, Paula fell heavily, twisting her leg under her. Her screams were heard over the area microphone in the cockpit.

Passengers gasped, stood up and began rushing down the aisle.

“Return to your seats,” instructed the male flight attendant speaking over the intercom. And buckle your seatbelts.”

“Make way. Please, make way. I am a doctor.” Dr. Anish Amur, carrying his case, rushed to Paula’s side, knelt beside her, and opened his black case.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” shouted the passenger in seat 20-A. “He’s got a bomb.”

The cockpit door opened. Captain Jackson aimed the gun he was holding at the Doctor’s head.

“No!” Paula screamed. She sat up and threw herself against Dr. Amur’s chest. “The bag. Hold only medical equipment.”

“Let me out of here.” The passenger in the seat with the repaired seatbelt tugged repeatedly at the latch. “Let-me-out-of- here!” She heard the loud click. The bomb placed beneath her seat detonated.

 

Instructor Response

Hi Cathryn,

(As a favor–I admit it’s for brand recognition primarily–when referring to me please spell the last name as COLES, not Cole.)

You’ve a nice scene going here. However, the scene has a stilted quality and there is a pervasive question as to whether this could really happen. And the scene effectiveness (quality to engage and entertain) could be improved. You want to be able to immerse the reader in the scene and avoid giving the reader the sense the author is telling the scene, a scene that is far away. Instead the author grips the reader’s attention in writing and presentation so the reader forgets reading descriptions of a story but experiences an immediacy of the story and feels emotions, conflicts, suspense occurring in the story (reader becomes a part of the story). The reader engages in the imagery, accepts what the characters are saying and thinking, and feels the momentum of the story. (You might think of John Gardner’s concept of continuous involvement in the “fictional dream” that requires avoidance of anything in the storytelling that breaks that dream and forces attention to concentrate outside the bubble of the story as it unfolds.)  All this has to do with how a story is constructed and learning what causes breaks in the fictional dream: lack of credibility, inappropriate syntax, misspellings, inaccurate word choice and metaphor, lack of coherence among ideas, authorial intrusions, offensive thoughts, improbable action, poor vocabulary sources, verbosity, grammar errors, unimportant ideas, excessive description, etc.

Reader involvement is not easy to teach because much of it is subjective and individual to every author. Yet, there are things, ways of thinking and expression, that can help attainment of consistent reader engagement and emotional connection. I’ll give ideas that might relate to your scene but there are many things to learn that are discovered by studying great stories that you love.

 

1. Consider, for a moment, that stories are simply information organized to get an idea across in a believable way with involvement in story. What might we consider as crucial information in your story-scene?

Airplane in flight.

Flight attendant. Pilot. First Officer.

Passenger who suspects doctor

Suspicious-looking doctor who is not guilty

Seatbelt “repaired” before takeoff causing delay.

Bomb implanted at seatbelt installation when “repaired”

Bomb explodes at “seatbelt” seat.

Nervous passenger.

 

Based on this list, I’ve highlighted unnecessary and unrelevant ideas, descriptions, characters, excess words,

  Examples of extraneous ideas unrelated to story (RED) of material unrelated to story momentum (GREY). Verbosity is underlined.

 

Coles Assignment # 6

Transway Air flight 92 cruised at 500 mph above a blanket of white, softly-mounded clouds floating in an azure-blue sky. The commercial plane’s departure from the busy cosmopolitan airport terminal was forty-five minutes behind schedule—delayed for repairs.  The first officer discovered of a faulty seatbelt during the required pre-flight cabin inspection.  

The aircraft’s bathroom door opened. A tall man wearing a well-fitting dark suit exited. His burnished brown face was accented by the white turban wrapped around his head. Dark sunglasses shaded his eyes. He strode to seat 28-A carrying a black briefcase.

“Excuse me, Miss, what do you make of that guy?” the inebriated business class passenger seated in 20-A asked the female flight attendant wheeling the food cart down the aisle.

“Is there a problem, sir?”  Paula’s foot shifted the cart’s wheel-brake lever, and she leaned close to the man.

Third time he’s been to the bathroom to piss since we took off,” the man said. His breath smelled of alcohol.

“Kind of suspicious, you know,” said his neighbor in seat 20-B. “There’s been talk in the news about possible terrorist attacks.”

Paula dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. The latest bulletin from NTAS warned of an imminent terrorist attack. Her main concern was allying fears, avoiding pandemonium among the passengers at forty-two thousand feet.

“He’s one of them.” The passenger wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead.

“Relax, sir.” Paula pressed a bag of peanuts into his beefy hand.

“God knows what’s in his black bag,” the woman seated across the aisle chimed in. “And why the sunglasses?” 

Paula looked at the wary, worried faces of the passengers staring at her. Her trembling fingers fidgeted with the blue scarf around her neck. Caution was required when informing Captain Jackson of a possible terrorist on board.

“Sir, nothing to worry about,” Paula announced loudly with false heartiness. “We should reach Denver in time for your conference. I’ll express your concerns to the pilot.”

Walking down the aisle to the tail of the plane, Paula peered at the passenger seated in 28-B. The black bag was on his lap.

“Hand me the in-flight digital tablet,” she said tersely to the male flight attendant.

“Checking on the passenger registration list, Paula?” he asked.

Seat 21-B was assigned to a Dr. Anish Amur. Could be just an average, law-abiding citizen.  She cupped her hand over the microphone and whispered, “Captain, we have a possible situation. Passengers fidgety. Suspected terrorist on board.”

#

Oh, shit, Paula.”  In the cockpit, Captain Jackson’s eyes swept the instrument panel.  T [for] the closest airport.  It wasn’t equipped to accommodate large aircraft.  His hands remained steady on the control yoke. No time for panic.

First Officer Nancy Lew heard Paula’s message on the paired headsets she and the Captain were wearing.  “Credible threat, Captain?” she asked.

We’ll have to find out, now won’t we?” He spoke into his headset.  “Paula, give me the particulars.”

Captain Jackson listened, asked a few questions, nodded, then said, “Okay, next time the guy leaves the bathroom, Paula, check it out. Keep the mic open. And speak up. The area microphone in here might catch the action.”

“What if she finds explosives?  In the bathroom?” The First Officer asked. “Paula might not be able to handle it. Her age and all?”

“She’ll handle it.  I’m not so sure about you.”

First Officer Nancy Lew muttered under her breath. She handled Jackson’s sexual peccadillos. Now this bastard’s unsure of her competency in the cockpit? She scanned the instrument panel bending her head to shield her burning cheeks.  Her new lover, an airport mechanic, thought her competent; his wink while repairing the damaged seatbelt before take-off affirmed his belief in her: she had followed directions explicitly. 

Captain Jackson saw a blip on his radar. The jet was approaching the nearest airport. His forehead puckered; too short a runway for landing a Boeing 747.  He radioed the control tower. “Transway Air flight 92. Possible terrorist on board.” [The runway was too short.]

“Captain Jackson?” Paula’s voice crackled over the headphones. “He’s leaving the bathroom now. I’ll check it out. In a few minutes.”

“Good luck, Paula.”

Nancy Lew sniffed. “Trusting our fate to—”

“God damn it! And you would suggest?” Captain Jackson’s eyes blazed.

“Your gun, Captain.”

Captain Jackson, a trained Federal Flight Deck Officer, was permitted to possess  a firearm in the cockpit.

#

After the suspected terrorist exited the restroom, Paula waited three minutes before entering.

She pulled on vinyl gloves and conducted a methodical searched: the commode, the urinal, the stainless-steel sink, cabinets and overhead bins. Rummaged in the wastebasket, checked the paper towel dispenser, pulled the toilet paper roll and inspected the holder.

“Nothing,” she said. But why did the man carry the black bag with him into the bathroom? What was in it? Paula decided she’d force Dr. Anish Amur’s hand.

Stepping out of the restroom, Paula fell heavily, twisting her leg under her. Her screams were heard; over the area microphone in the cockpit.

Passengers gasped, stood up and began [a few] rushed down the aisle.

“Return to your seats,” instructed the male flight attendant announced. speaking over the intercom. And buckle your seatbelts.”

“Make way. Please, make way. I am a doctor.”  Dr. Anish Amur, carrying his case, rushed to Paula’s side, knelt beside her, and opened his black case.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” shouted the passenger in seat 20-A. “He’s got a bomb.”

The cockpit door opened. Captain Jackson aimed the gun he was holding at the Doctor’s head.

“No!” Paula screamed. She sat up and threw herself against Dr. Amur’s chest. “The bag. Hold only medical equipment,” the doctor said.

placed beneath her seat detonated.

 

These changes are only to give you an idea about how an author might bring the reader into the scene. And note that once you change something, inevitably something else will need to be changed. Like painting a portrait, one change usually demands another.

 

2.

It’s helpful to get things in order and to prioritize and place what you need in a scene by imagining the scene in detail. Some authors, like film producers, use a story board where each scene is sketched out in it’s frame. This helps avoid the unnecessary and redundant, and helps find the right detail to stimulate the reader’s imagination to complete the scene images and describe accurately positioning and prioritiztion in the mind.

 

Keep up the good work.

 

Thanks for the submission.

All the best,

Bill Coles

1/14/19

  1. Dear Dr. Coles,
    Apologize for the misspelling of your last name; how I kept missing the lettere “s” is beyond me! Visual-perceptual problem, perhaps? Very sorry, indeed.
    Thank you for taking the time for your very detailed analysis of my story.
    I almost skipped this lesson(and perhaps I should have). Exceedingly challenging assignment. I wil read and reread your suggestions, practice writing “in-scene” as you emphasize,and keep plugging away if only for my self-improvement, enlightenment, and personal gratifcation as a writer.
    Again, many thanks,
    Cathryn

    • Cathryn,
      Thanks for your comment. I felt a tone of discouragement that I don’t want to foster. First, in-scene writing is a choice one makes for acomplishing what one wants to accomplish. Most effective stories have from 70/30 to 50/50 in-scene to narrative ratio for literary works. But your skills in narative should never be abandoned and there are no rules that garauntee satisfaction. In the exercise, suggestions (probably too extensive) were not critical–just to show how a story grabs and holds concentration is another way of saying it–but demonstrative of how an effective story is void of anything that doesn’t promote plot progression, characterization, or image generation. Stories generate momentum in an imagined story world. It’s a rocket traveling to the moon and there is no possibility of a side trip to Mars or pausing to gaze at the Milky Way. And that was the purpose of the last exercise–to recognize when backstory or unnecessary action or feelings that are detrimental to story are changed or removed and that in the writing an author doesn’t let excess or inaccurate word choice,fuzzy syntax,excessive veerbage–for examples–prevent the “rocket’s” unimpaied trip to the moom. You’re doing great. Enjoy your improvement when it occurs! You’ve already come a long way as writer and storyteller and your desire to be better will make the process of learning increasingly rewarding and enjoyable.
      All the best,
      Bill Coles

  2. Dear Dr. Coles,

    Thanks for the wonderful words of encouragment; indeed I was wallowing in a morass of self-doubt, but thanks to your empathy and caring, I am “refuled”; going to “jet off” and begin the next lesson.

    I looked critically at a piece I am writing for an on-line writing group, and after reading what you had suggested, jettisoned the excess garbage out the cargo-bay door! On to the moon!

    Oh, thanks so much for caring.
    Best,
    Cathryn

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