This is topic Short story - first 13 in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Jesse D (Member # 3241) on :
This is the beginning of a short story I'm working on about a loser jerk who leaves his wife and mentally handicapped son to live it up in Vegas.

I know the beginning's rough, but I'm not quite sure what to do to fix it. Would love any feedback.

Dudley Hooker sat in the bar. He had just gotten off work, and was nursing his daily beer and contemplating his pitiful life. He worked drywall for a small contracting company. It was sporadic work; the company didn’t get many large jobs, and Dudley was on the low end of the totem pole.

Dudley felt like he’d been on the low end of a totem pole all his life. He’d dropped out of high school after 9th grade, and started working in his uncle’s mechanic shop in Hillsboro, West Virginia. His uncle got busted for meth that year. Dudley almost was implicated himself.

After that, Dud, as people who knew him referred to him, got a summer job as a Ferris wheel operator for a run-down traveling carnival. He was fired halfway through the season, in Sandpoint,

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited January 21, 2007).]

Posted by Max Masterson (Member # 4799) on :
it seems to me to be technically well written but it hasn't grabbed my attention. A guy sitting thinking how crap his life is doesn't inspire my imagination or make me ask questions. It needs something to suggest the storys plot. Your introduction says he will (or already has)leave his wife and chld to go to vegas so maybe have him reflect on how hard that part of his life is rather than his job and past.
Posted by Verloren (Member # 3916) on :
Yeah, I want more action right up front. Maybe an interaction with another guy at the bar to get out some of this info.

Basically, this is a good step toward a character sketch. Now it is time to actually write the story.

It may be useful to think of the story as a 3 act play. The first act is the problem or conflict. The second is stuff that happens. The third is the resolution (lesson learned or not learned). They will not be equal in length, but may help you figure out where to get started with the actual story.


Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
It's summary so far. Summary's not evil, but I want just the amount necessary to understand the scene.

All I really need to understand the scene so far is: guy sits in bar contemplating his miserable life. So -- now what happens?

Now, if the summary were fascinating, I might go for more. But the usual thing is to let the action be fascinating.

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
I think that the problem is one of realism. I mean, if nursing a beer causes your pathetic life to flash before your eyes, why does anyone drink? My understanding is that bars are for the purpose of getting away from this sort of painful self-examination.

I could be wrong, though. My own self-examination sessions are much more...interesting, and don't involve alchohol.

Posted by RMatthewWare (Member # 4831) on :
Okay, to me this seems like prologue, like you're tying to tell us what the story is going to be about. This is good for you because it will tell you what the story is about. You need to know who your character is. Now, write the story. Give him a character to work off, put him in a situation where this information would come out naturally.

Perhaps the scene should start as a fight between Dud and his wife, as he's leaving her. Or it could be an interior good Dud versus bad Dud, him debating what he should do. And just call him Dud, you don't need to explain what his friends call him. His name is Dud if that's what we're going to call him. Too many names for one person can get confusing.

To me, it doesn't matter what is job is. He got off work from his crappy job, but I don't care what he does now or what he did before. He's underpaid, underappreciated, and he hates his life.

It seems like a lot of backstory is being crammed into a little space. Backstory can wait a little while, what you need is a hook. What is this story really about? Why do we care about Dud, what makes this spec fic?

Let us know about everything else through character interaction. Drop in a line about how the only reason Dud is with Cindy is because he had nothing better or whatever. That can happen during a fight between the two of them. I'll look forward to your second draft.


Posted by trailmix (Member # 4440) on :
I don't think realism is an issue. I was a bartender a few years back. We had plenty of regulars that were like the guy discribed in this story.

I agree with most of the other comments. Well written but not terribly interesting. Perhaps you can start with him walking into the bar. If he is a regular there would be a little small talk with the bartender that clues us in on who this guy is.

Just a thought.


Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Really? They'd sit there and examine their lives like this? Man, why do people drink?
Posted by Max Masterson (Member # 4799) on :
"Really? They'd sit there and examine their lives like this? Man, why do people drink? "

Personally I drink beer because I like the taste. I don't need to be trying to forget something or dull some pain to go have a beer. As for people who reflect on the bad stuff in their life while having a drink, maybe they aren't just rehashing stuff to depress themselves but rather trying to work out a way of improving things.

I know this is slighltly off topic but survivor asked so i thought i'd answer

Posted by trailmix (Member # 4440) on :
I don't mean to hijack the thread but....

Many people drink by habit, some for the taste and many drink to either dull the pain of everday life or simply to relax. I've seen plenty of men that get into a fight with their wife and make a bee line straight to the bar. Once the booze strips away the anxiety and frustration of the moment, they have a moment of clarity, realize they were being a jackass and head to the flowershop. This is the best case scenario mind you. There are even more men try to take the edge off by indulging excessively and end up spending a night in the drunk tank.

[This message has been edited by trailmix (edited January 21, 2007).]

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
Posted by SilentOne (Member # 4814) on :
Like was said before, the info dump does not make a very good hook. Is all this a set-up for what is coming next? If so, will the action really need all this info? I'd suggest you start there, and let whatever info you need in the story to come out gradually, as it is needed.
Posted by kings_falcon (Member # 3261) on :
The writing is well done.

You've told me his life is depressing. Why would I want to read more? You've also made him sound pathetic because he's P---ing and Moaning that his life stinks. I might care about him if I could see what's happening in his life and sympathise that he's been handed a raw deal.

Take me to the moment before the action starts. I'll learn that his life has been heck, from his POV, as he interacts with his current enviorment.

short story . . . about a loser jerk who leaves his wife and mentally handicapped son to live it up in Vegas

Regardless of how well written it is, you might have a problem with the story. After all, unless the loser jerk gets his cumuppance in the end or has an epiphany, he doesn't sound like someone I want to take a journey with.


Posted by Jesse D (Member # 3241) on :
Thanks for the feedback, all. How does this work? This is a piece from later in the story, but I think it works better as a beginning point, based on your suggestions.

Dudley Hooker sat in the bar. He had just gotten off work, and was nursing his daily beer and contemplating his pitiful life. He worked drywall for a small contracting company. It was sporadic work; the company didn’t get many large jobs, and Dudley was on the low end of the totem pole. Today had been particularly rough. It had rained last night, and a load of drywall had been left uncovered at the jobsite. The entire load was destroyed. Dud had been specifically instructed to cover it, and his boss today made sure that Dud realized what a mistake he had made and just what he had cost the company, then said he’d be taking it out of Dud’s check. “Sheetrock ain’t cheap, Hooker! You’ll be working for free this week and next to make up for this!”

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited January 24, 2007).]

Posted by DeepDreamer (Member # 5337) on :
It's better, but I still don't see why I should care about Dud. (I like the symbolism in his name.) What makes him different from the average Joe-Bob who makes mistakes and hates his life and wants to run away from it all? What is it about his story that's different from any other?

A man living a crappy life isn't interesting to me. A man who was living a crappy life but he's decided to do something about it... That's the interesting part of this story to me.


Posted by Jesse D (Member # 3241) on :
He has decided to do something about it - but I can't conceive of a way to reveal that decision so soon, since his coming to that decision is part of the story.
Posted by DeepDreamer (Member # 5337) on :
This is a short story, right? Remember that you don't have a whole lot of room to work with. I would like to at least see a hint of the fact that he's not going to be living like this forever, or at least for the rest of the story, within the first 13 lines. Some hint of the decision to come in his actions. What's his reaction to his boss's anger? Does he consider quitting? In his place, I'd rather quit than work for free. And why's he wasting money on a beer if he needs money for a mortgage payment?

Have you written the rest of this story yet? I'm willing to do the cyber equivalent of sitting down with you and this story and figure out what could be done to make it better and give it more of a hook, if you're willing to do so.

Posted by wrenbird (Member # 3245) on :
I like the beginning set in the bar, and I think it works with the narrative to have Dud sitting there feeling sorry for himself by relfecting his life.
But, perhaps to catch our attention, you could have an intial scene in the bar to show us a little about the MC. For example (just an idea)have Dud try to pick up on some girl (mention him taking off his ring or something, so that the reader knows he's married) and show him get rejected. Then he could begin to reflect on his crappy life.
That way the story begins with a little action, it gets us to see what kind of a person Dud is, and it presents an easy segue into the exposition.
Posted by wbriggs (Member # 2267) on :
What DeepDreamer said.

Now, if your hook occurs later in the story, no problem. You can tell us about it in paragraph 1, out of sequence, and then get us into that opening scene. As in


When Dudley Hooker decided to do something about his pitiful dead-end life and pitiful dead-end job, he had no idea it would involve extraterrestrial penguins. Horny extraterrestrial penguins.

He sat in the bar. He had just gotten off work...

Posted by Survivor (Member # 213) on :
I like the sheetrock incident, it has a kind of immediacy that the other problems lacked. I think that you could build an inner monologue around that, occasionally coming up for air (er, beer) so that we understand that this is a drunken spiral towards a critical, life-altering decision.

Touch gently on the other things. "He'd been virtually forced to thank that bigshot for not firing him on the spot. Dudley had already lost enough jobs to employ a small city." "And going home wasn't looking too attractive either. He'd have to explain this to Cindy, and she wasn't going to go easy on him for it, particularly with the upcoming mortgage payment." Come back to the main grief, I think, and it feels more...real. And a little more dangerous, like a man that's working up to something.

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