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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Big Bad Boom: Accidental Hero

Author Topic: The Big Bad Boom: Accidental Hero
T. K. Bounds
Member # 11228

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The beginning of an 11k word story.

The sharp and ripe stench of rotted food crawled from a dumpster in the night shaded alley. Kimo gagged and drew the neck of his sweater over his nose. A bitter gust punished him with a hundred frosty hammers, and wind-blown cold slashed at his face. His old back injury throbbed. Agony pulsed up his spine.

“Bruddah, where the fook are you? I’m hurtin’. Need my oxy,” Kimo shouted. Eddie’s comin,’ comin’ for his cut. His thugs’ll beat the **** out of me if I got nothin’.

Kimo rubbed his arms, puffed white into the autumn chill, stuffed balled hands inside his ragged coat. Fook this fookin’ cold. Warm Hawaiian beaches, the sun, his family, home, he ached for it all. He gripped his shark tooth pendant and his breathing slowed as he thumbed the rough edges.

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Jay Greenstein
Member # 10615

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The sharp and ripe stench of rotted food crawled from a dumpster in the night shaded alley.
Every word you can trim from a line without changing the meaning or “voice” speeds the read and adds impact. Add to that, making implication work for you cuts the need for unnecessary words.

So…if the reader has smelled rotting food, must you remind them of its general characteristics? If they haven’t, does “sharp and ripe” really make them know it?

And how does an odor “crawl?” You smell it. In this line, you’re trying to be literary and vivid, and make the telling more interesting, but it gets in the way, because this is incidental scene-setting, not action, and the reader is expecting something to happen.

In short, what does the line say that, “The stench of rotted food filled the darkened alley,” doesn’t, in fewer, more focused words?

Let’s condense further, and introduce the one who matters. In fact, we can place it into his viewpoint with:

Kimo tried to filter the dumpster’s stench by breathing through his sweater as he waited for his brother in the darkened alley. It didn’t help.”

Does it matter what part of the sweater he used? No. So why detail to that level?

Telling the reader that he gagged doesn’t move the plot or change the story if he does or doesn’t do that. And it doesn’t add meaningfully to the scene-setting. Nor does it develop character. That means it’s detail, not story, and serves only to slow the narrative.

A bitter gust punished him with a hundred frosty hammers, and wind-blown cold slashed at his face.
Seventeen words of overblown description from the author, and about the scene, to say would could be said with something like, “The chill wind funneling between buildings brought a shiver.” That’s nine words of cause and effect in the protagonist’s viewpoint that he reacts to in real-time.

His old back injury throbbed. Agony pulsed up his spine.
Why would a reader, who doesn’t know where we are in time and space, care that an undefined injury, acquired in an unknown way, pulsed? And how does “pulsing” relate to “agony?” You know. He knows. Perhaps everyone in the story knows. But if he’s to be the reader’s protagonist, shouldn’t they know? And shouldn't it effect the action in the scene?

I know this is harsh, and hurts, but it’s not a matter of good/bad writing, or talent. It’s one of missing data—of knowing the three issues we need to address on entering any scene; of knowing how to best introduce what the reader needs; of knowing what the reader needs and doesn’t need.

Life and film come at us in parallel As we see the meaningful action we also absorb the ambiance and setting, plus a lot more. But on the page, where everything is serial, if we take more reading time to describe a trip across the room than it takes to walk there in life, the story craaaawls. So whatever isn’t necessary to place the reader into the scene as the protagonist needs to be chopped, condensed, or simplified.

“Bruddah, where the fook are you?”
View this as a reader: Someone we know nothing about, who is in an alley for unknown reasons, is asking a rhetorical question of someone unknown. Moreover, you just placed effect before cause. First the man calls out the question. Then, in the next line, you provide the reason for the question. But the man speaks in response to the condition. So shouldn’t the second and third line come first? And shouldn’t this line be the one in italics? Doesn’t that make more sense in that the complaint comes in response to the declaration?
Kimo rubbed his arms, puffed white into the autumn chill, stuffed balled hands inside his ragged coat.
He’s wearing a sweater. How can you see his arms?” And given that I can’t see him, why do I care what they look like if I don’t know what they looked looked like?

In general, you’re thinking cinematically. You’re visualizing the scene and describing the video in far too few words to make the reader visualize it.

You do, because the words are the result of the vision. But can a few words to the reader reverse that and create that complex picture in the reader’s mind? No. And in any case, your protagonist is ignoring the color of his arms. So why does it matter to the reader? Ideally, his problems are the reader’s problems, and what matters to him matters to the reader.

As I said, it’s not how well you’re writing, it’s that you’re missing some critical information on how best to open the story in a way that grabs the reader by the throat on page one and doesn’t let go.

• Make the reader care by giving them reason to care.
• Use emotion-based, not fact-based presentation.
• Use character-centric not narrator-centric presentation: show, don’t tell.
• The protagonist makes all the decisions, based on the situation as s/he views it, not as the plot demands. The situation must make the protagonist want/need to do what’s required.
• Overview is for history books and between live scenes. Once you yell “action,” and the scene-clock is ticking, do or say nothing that stops it until the scene ends. Fail that and you kill any momentum the scene may have gained.

The short version: You need to pick up more of the tricks of the trade. They make the act of writing more fun, make the characters real to both the reader and the author, and dramatically improve the odds of a yes from a publisher.

Some suggestions:

The local library’s fiction-writing section is a great resource.

Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer, while dated, is still pure gold.

James Scott Bell has lots of books on writing, some, probably in your library.

Since writing fiction is a journey, not a destination, if you write just a bit better today than yesterday, and live long enough…

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

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Member # 10917

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Hi T.K. Obviously, I cannot evaluate your story. The title sounds very interesting.

There are different types of starts, and I don't particularly like your start, because nothing is happening. But that's just me. I think I am common in that, but some people like a start of setting.

I like how you are trying to have an interesting setting and making it vivid.

It doesn't work for me. And that might be me. I am not good with detail, but when I pay attention, I am constantly frustrated. I don't think there is such a thing as ripe stench. Or a bitter gust.

The quantity of metaphors seems too much.

That's my feedback.

If you want advice, Jay probably says somewhere above that people are taught how to write, and it doesn't actually fit modern fiction very well. That's what yours feels like. If you like your style, great. And it's the rest of the story that counts. But look at the authors you like and how they write.

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