This is topic Data Junkies (working title) , SF 6600 words in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Feedback on 1st 13 welcome, also seeking readers for the whole thing.


The dealer at the data bar had a buzzed head and tattoos covering the right half of her face. She leaned her elbows on the bar and grinned at Graham Baxter. Her teeth were shiny steel, sharpened to points. “You want to get connected or what?”
“You know I do,” Graham said.
“Cash only establishment, if you know what I mean.”
Graham let a long breath hiss from between his lips. “See, that's the thing. I lost my wallet and-”
“Of course you did.” She rolled her eyes and shouted at the meat head standing by the front door, “Hey George, come toss this gutterfish out.”
“No no no no no.” Graham hated himself for the whine he heard creeping into his voice. “Just cut me a break, alright? I'll do whatever you want, just name it.”


Version, oh, I don't know, a billion:

Graham Baxter was jonesing for some data. The jittery, shifty-eyed, chew your own lips off kind of jones. Unfortunately, he was also eight bits beyond broke. The combination put him in the unenviable position of trying to scam the dealer at a data bar into letting him buy on credit.
“Cash only establishment, if you know what I mean,” the dealer said. She had a buzzed head and tattoos that covered the right half of her face. She leaned her elbows on the bar and grinned at Graham. Her teeth were shiny steel, sharpened to points.
Graham let a long breath hiss from between his lips. “See, that's the thing. I lost my wallet and-”
“Of course you did.” She rolled her eyes and shouted at the meathead standing by the front door, “Hey George, come toss this gutterfish out.”

[ June 20, 2015, 09:30 PM: Message edited by: wetwilly ]
Posted by telflonmail (Member # 9501) on :
Why does she have a buzzed head and tattoos covering the right half of her face? Why does she have pointy teeth? What is a "meat head"?

Sorry, the characters are not tangible nor believable in any manner.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
The dialog is clunky.

The woman is running an establishment; a data bar. Presumably, the people that come to a data bar would be customers. Thus, there's no reason for her to ask if he wants "to get connected." That is assumed, just as it's assumed that people that walk into a regular bar want a drink. The question, instead, is "what'll it be?"

Graham understands that it's a pointless question, hence "You know I do." Or perhaps that conveys familiarity with the proprietor. If the later, her remark that it's a cash only establishment is also out of place. Graham has frequented this place enough that she should recognize him.

I recommend getting rid of "You want to get connected or what?" and "You know I do." From what you have here, the first line of dialog I'd start with is "Cash only" (Cash first?) and adjust the first paragraph around that.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Okay, I'm intrigued. The description of the dealer's shiny steel teeth caught my attention, and the dialogue is flavorful. I would definitely read further if given the opportunity; feel free to send this my way.
Posted by WB (Member # 10414) on :
Tell us what's going on before we have cause to wonder, and I'll be happier. Like, I don't want to find out Graham's low on cash (or is he lying? He's the POV character, but I don't even know that) AFTER the negotiation starts -- if he's POV character.

Also, it was a while before I foudn out he was POV character.

This rearrangement would help a lot:


Graham [details about what he wants and what his problem is].
The dealer at the data bar had a buzzed head and tattoos covering the right half of her face. He found her repulsive. She leaned ...

So we start with Graham as the first name, and then we get grounded in his thoughts so we know he's our POV, and before we're wondering what's up in the deal, we know his situation.

See OSC's Characters and Viewpoint for details on POV.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks for the thoughts, folks.

Teflonmail: What do you mean by tangible? And "meat head" is not a novel sf thing. It's a slang term from our world meaning a big, stupid, muscle-boung oaf. Is the term maybe less common than I thought?

JShuler: I'll tweak that dialogue a bit.

Thanks, Peony!

WB: (take this in the spirit of discussion, not defensiveness) I am of the opinion that putting all of my cards on the table right away can make the story boring. I think there is a fun sense of discovery in turning the page and learning something new, cool, and unexpected about the world of the story. If I put it all out there in paragraph 1, I take that away. I'm not talking about withholding necessary info, but parceling info out as needed and implying a lot rather than stating it directly, for example that he's a broke junkie lying about the wallet in a desperate gambit to get high for free.

So WB and I have different approaches, which is cool. Anybody got any thoughts on the matter?
Posted by WB (Member # 10414) on :
OSC does, so on behalf of readers everywhere, I'll relay his thoughts on the matter. Search in the page for "tell the reader":

But that's just on MC's motivation. This is about other background info. The last paragraph is the crucial bit: it's about things that must be known...

...and the rest is about things you can put in later. You'll note that it's things that MC didn't know when the story began ("But he HAD been unaware"), or things it couldn't have occurred to the reader to wonder about yet.

OSC went further in his IRL writing class. "You can tell the readers the whole story in the first paragraph," he said, "and they'll love you for it." Maybe he was exaggerating for effect, and it's certainly not a requirement. The joy is in experiencing the surprises, mystery, etc., _with the POV character_, watching him find out things as he goes. Imagine if in Ender's Game [SPOILER!], the surprise ending is that Ender knew full well he was committing the atrocity, and Card didn't tell the reader until the end. I'd throw the book across the room and never read another Card book.

I fought this. I wrote stories I'm attached to in which the reader keeps getting surprised. But I gave in eventually, as there's another thing those stories have in common: the rejection slips.

And now, having made my passionate case, I'll let it go.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Funny thing about this opening, WB. My first draft of the story had a four page scene/conversation in which Graham tried to score a hit on credit. So these lines were actually written as a response to a whole conversation that came before them. I decided it made the story take forever to get started, though, and cut it way down in draft 2. So, now that I think about it, I guess it makes sense that these lines might feel like they're dropping you into the middle of something you don't understand; they were a response to something that's no longer there. I thought I reworked it so they made sense, but maybe not. I won't really know until I let it sit for a little while so I can come back to it with a fresh perspective. I will definitely take your critique under advisement when I do, though. Thank you.

What do you think about this?

Graham Baxter was jonesing bad for some data. Unfortunately, he was also broke as a joke. It put him in a terrible predicament.

The dealer at the data bar had a buzzed head and tattoos covering the right half of her face. She leaned her elbows on the bar and grinned at Graham. Her teeth were shiny steel, sharpened to points. “Cash only establishment, if you know what I mean.”

Graham let a long breath hiss from between his lips. “See, that's the thing. I lost my wallet and-”

And so on from there.
Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
I like the second version better, but the "If you know what I mean," bugs me. "Cash only establishment" is a straight-forward statement. It feels strange that it needs additional discussion. For me, it would be stronger if it was simply those first three words.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
The second attempt is better, but I have a strong dislike of the first sentence. True, you are getting to the hook immediately: data is a drug. The problem is, there is little art in it. How is he jonesing for data? What kind of data? How does he take it?

"Baxter raked his rough nails over the skin around his data port. God how it itched. He needed some mpegs to take the edge off. Heck, he'd take an avi, even a gif. Just no cats. He might be allergic. Could you be allergic to cat data? It would explain why his skin felt like it couldn't wait to peel off and leave him. The way it itched, the feeling was mutual."
Posted by T. Griffin (Member # 10411) on :
I disagree. I think the directness of the first line works well, especially in comparison to the first version. The whole first paragraph works for me, really. You get the conflict out in the open early, and spice it with a little self-deprecating humor. Getting overly specific about the drug before it's taken would fall into telling, not showing.

The second paragraph loses me somewhat. My big question is, does the narrator already know the dealer, or are they meeting for the first time? If they have a standing relationship, then most of that second paragraph is tell. He wouldn't just remark on the physical appearance of an acquaintance, unless it really bothered him. Find some way to bring her seedy appearance into play in that first scene--maybe she just got those metal points put on her teeth, and she asks what he thinks. He says they really compliment the face tattoos.

"...if you know what I mean" bothers me as well, but you've heard this already. You could even lose "establishment." I imagine drug deals as typically terse affairs.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Cyberpunk narrative about a data-less and indigent data craver.

JSchuler's comments peg what, for me, are shortfalls of the first and second openings. Antagonism, causality, tension, and anticipation, if not urgency, are under-realized and essential matters that are best advised given before the fragment's opening scene as is. JSchuler's illustration also pegs a method for developing those features.

In short, the opening starts a mite too late in time. Consider the lead up to entry of the bar a preliminary antagonal, causal, tensional scene that raises urgency and anticipation for tension's essential realization. No data, problem and want; enter the data bar, complication satisfaction effort. Though that raises texture questions of what, why, and how. What kind of data? Why data and why what kind of data? How is it that Baxter craves data? How is he without a data source that he enters a shady establishment to satisfy a data fix?

A paragraph or more could develop those points as scene mode backstory. Perhaps Baxter has a dialogue with a fellow data junkie about getting a fix.

"Meathead" is a compound word and one that suitably describes the usual sort of bar bouncer "roughhouser." The size of a meathead's body is inconsequential, only the intelligence of one is. Therefore, a matter of underdevelopment there too, that the bouncer is a hulking meathead lummox. "Meathead" actually is a metonymy, a pejorative nickname for this case, that uses an attribute of another thing to name, to label a thing, person, place, or such. The emotional charge of the word is a promising use of a metonymy.

"Cash only establishment, if you know what I mean."

The second clause didn't trip me up nor stumble me out of the fiction dream. See, I do know what "Cash only establishment" means: tax, traceable recordkeeping, and government oversight evasion. The second clause signals by a wink and a nod that the establishment is a shady if not an outright illegal economy "establishment." Black market, so to speak. And no credit, no tabs -- the customers are untrustworthy indigents, effective milieu and setting development in an economy of words.

Use of "establishment" would in other contexts perhaps be too sophisticated a word, though, for this case of the barkeep's dialogue, artfully signals she attempts to lend the data bar a touch of unwarranted class. If that were counterposed by showing the seediness of the bar setting; that would be a completed motif development for the situation.

The voice of the first version is mixed narrator and viewpoint character and unsettled, goes back and forth sentence by sentence. The sensory details expressed are of character voice; the barkeep and Baxter's reactions are told by the narrator. The second version is more narrator voice than the first, and I feel moves toward a less artful direction.

For example from the first version, "Graham hated himself for the whine he heard creeping into his voice." A narrator tell of Baxter's emotional reaction to his speech mannerism. Note the indicator of narrator voice is the verb "heard." A persona does not observe one's self act sensory actions. No he saw himself or he heard himself or felt himself or he smelled himself or he tasted himself or he annoyed himself. If "he heard" and "himself for" were omitted, the sentence could be less narrator tell and more character received reflection. //Graham hated the whine creeping into his voice.// Still narrator tell, though. Best practice is to show Baxter's self-loathing as if he discovers -- revelation -- it himself.

Saved for last: use of the common "alright" is highly problematic. For many readers and screeners the truncated compound word for "all right" is an automatic deal breaker. Similar to "alot" to mean numerous, a habit that causes a toss from the fiction dream. Yes, usage of "alright" is common in some fiction, and journalism and business writings; however, the term signals a fiction writer habit of attempted too great an informality. The word is a contraction akin to can't, for example, though one that has two issues: no contraction apostrophe to signal a contracted term, the mechanical consideration; for use at all in dialogue or, worse, narration, the contraction is a writer habit attempt to emulate spoken word dialect and slang, not a strong or clear signal of the sound, as it were, of a character's dialect speech. For strong and clear signals, an apostrophe at least is warranted, and might as well do away with the other L too -- a'right. Or use another suitable emotionally charged slang term, one that enhances character and setting development, perhaps invented for the milieu. Like a term from two-way radio transmission protocols with sly congruency to digital protocols -- "copy that," that characterizes a character's character.

The dialogue to me overall is flat. Strong dialogue uses non sequitur, squabble, echo, colloquy, and question and answer that is highly charged, doesn't say what is meant, doesn't mean what is said. This dialogue is too "on the nose" direct.

Non sequitur: does not follow; for dialogue use skews directness, tells it slant, diagonal-like or complete reversal.

Squabble: positive or negatively charged quarreling; flirting banter, for example, may be positive squabble.

Echo, repeats words, expression rhythm, pace, sentence type, etc., between one speaker and another, usually for purposes of persuading one speaker to agree with another.

Colloquy: formal discussion, may be ironical or literal. "Establishment," for example, is a formal term used for situational irony to express a place is more respectable than it seems.

Question and answer: obviously, one speaker poses questions and another replies. The questions, for prose, though, are often of a rhetorical nature, meant to persuade if not coerce cooperation or evoke an emotional reaction between characters.

Dynamic dialogue uses all the above in assorted permutations and combinations. Flat dialogue disrupts the fiction dream, dilutes the reality portrait and reads false.

I know junkie behavior. The type is toxically manipulative, coercive not seductive, and dysfunctional. So consider use of at least echo, squabble, and non sequitur dialogue.

I am intrigued by the promises of cyber punk to comment and explore meaning about digital age addiction to data. I'm just not enthralled by the lack of how that plays, what type of data, for example. Knowledge throughput? Any information so long as the information is vivid and lively and refreshing? Data mining of privacy detail compilation for business exploitation purposes? For election purposes? Pick one, consider the data type essential information for expressing what the story is "really" about; that is, the moral human condition of substance. If the type of data is given in the setup scene, an implied clue anyway, before Baxter enters the data bar, that essential introduction of the meaning or theme of the whole I feel could be managed mischief.

[ June 17, 2015, 10:46 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Scot (Member # 10427) on :
The revisions you posted are more engaging, but if the first page just ends with a junkie begging for a hit, I wouldn't turn the page.

I'd have to have something about the character that I can root for. Is he slick enough to talk his way out of this? Is he going to fight the bouncer to a standstill? Is there some reason he needs data other than he's hungry for it?

With that said, I'm really glad you posted this---Extrinsic's advice about dialogue is a great addition to the toolbelt.
Posted by WB (Member # 10414) on :
wetwilly, I really like the new version. I know exactly what's happening, and would keep reading. Cool.

Some had this or that suggestion for the wording. They may be right. But the bottom line is: I get it.

The hook for me is that he's after data, which suggests that when he gets his hit, he's not just going to go Whoa that feels nice, but he's going to do something intelligent, if not wise, with it. If "data" is just slang for cocaine, I'd be miffed.

I'll read. Will email you.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Sent, WB. Thanks.
Posted by telflonmail (Member # 9501) on :
Why is it important to know the facial features of "the dealer" character? It's "tell" and not "show" and it doesn't bring anything to the character except telling us it's a cliche cyberpunk style character. The same goes about the teeth. If the character had different facial features would it make a difference?

The actual term of "meat head" is spelled meathead without a space. It is slang for a stupid person usually a large, muscular, stupid male. In Canada, it's derogatory slang for a member of the Canadian Forces Military Police. In America, it's associated as a term used by Archie Bunker on the TV show "All In the Family" when he refers to his son in law. It feels out of place in your setting for a cliche bouncer character.

The characters are not tangible as they are cliches in a cyberpunk style universe.

As a slush reader, I would have lost interest at "I lost my wallet..." and attributed the manuscript to a middle schooler. I would scan a little further and at the quadrice dialog repetition of the word no, I would move on to something else.

As for version 2, the use of slang "jonesing" instead of "craving" and the slang "broke as a joke" made it feel like the start of a "Squid in the Mouth" type story. See:

[ June 18, 2015, 02:00 AM: Message edited by: telflonmail ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Teflonmail: what? I've got to be honest; I am not following much of your crit. I can take negative feedback, but I don't understand a lot of yours.

The dealer has to look like something, right? Does it matter if her hair is buzzed or bobbed, or if she's tatted up or not? Not particularly, but she's going to look like something, and if I want the reader to be able to visualize this scene, then that's necessary information. If you don't care for her particular look, okay, but not wanting any description? I don't get that.

How would I "show" what someone looks like without telling it?

I'm unclear how a lost wallet (or a lie about a lost wallet) makes this juvenile.

And I'm also not sure how flavoring the narration with slang is an inside joke. "Jonesing" is a legitimate word and "broke as a joke" a common idiom, and they are the words this young junkie character would use instead of "craving intensely" and "really quite poor."

If you feel like I'm arguing with you're critique, well, I guess I am. Feel free not to take up the argument if you don't want to.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
I don't know how common "broke as a joke" is. I can only say your passage was the first time I heard it. From what I can tell, it seems to be a relatively recent phrase, and for that reason I'd avoid using it in a story that takes place in the future just as I would have avoided "phat" in the 90s. But, as stated, I'm ignorant of its origin. If you know it has endured the ravages of time, then go for it.

I'll back you on "jonesing." Although it is a bit dated IMHO, it is a much more precise word than "craving," as it originated in reference to heroin withdrawal.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Maybe "broke as a joke" is a regional idiom or something. It's one I grew up with.

And I am ashamed to report there was a time when "phat" was a part of my vocabulary.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
"Broke as a joke" has a few issues as an idiom; the sing-song rhyme is perhaps too poetic for prose, the additional words "as a joke" add little clarity of meaning, some emphasis to being broke, the idiom's meaning is only that: broke, poor, without finances. Emphasis is the strength of the idiom, the shortfall is, besides broke, the idiom expresses little else.

A similar idiom from my childhood abroad, a creole English phrase: ma fun's a low (phonetic), my funds are low.

An invented idiom apropos of cyberpunk and "broke" could borrow from digital currency exchange instead. Bitcoin slang, for example. Two bits customarily is twenty-five cents. The bit of piece-of-eight extraction -- eight silver bits is a Carolous Spanish Reale dolar with chopmarks demarking eight divisions, resembles bits and bytes. Eight bits is a byte.

Unity of motif, even at idiom and phrase level, though somewhat so that direct one-to-one correspondence is skewed, what Grumpy old guy labels otherwise "too on the nose," engages intellect, which in turn engages emotion and, in turn, imagination, is an ideal motif.

In other words, consider a different idiom, an invented one that fits the milieu's circumstances that is no less accessible yet vivid and lively and potentially mythical. Or not. A mythology of "broke" therefore could borrow from pirate and currency history and Digital Age terminology. Could invent a proverbial saying that in itself recommends a work above competitors, akin to George Orwell's 1984 "Big Brother" and other terms therefrom that became lively parts of legend and expression.

Lack of bits is the intent and meaning of the idiom and ideally could be congruent to cyberpunk: funds and data. Consider something that captures both and maybe more.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Let's see, mining our reality for inspiration, there's also "dead broke" or "flat broke." Those just don't have a lot of personality, though. "Broke as a joke" has a fun, casual vibe that I like. "Dead broke" is kind of fun for its darker connotation, though.

Or maybe something from machine language. Something about "insufficient funds," but used in a casual idiomatic way, maybe.

"Unfortunately, his wallet (pockets?) came up 'insufficient funds.'" Something like that.

"Unfortunately his funds were insufficient. Insufficient as hell."

Or an aged expression used in a playfully casual way: "Unfortunately, his coffers were empty." Except the reader has no grounding in the story's world, yet, so I don't want to mislead them into thinking this is set in the past. Maybe modernize it? "Unfortunately, his coffers were empty as hell."

"Unfortunately, his coffers were busted."

"Unfortunately, his coffers came up insufficient funds."

I don't know, just thinking out loud.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Perhaps something long the lines of: His assets were a zero sum game.

Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Ooh, nice Phil. I like it.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Thinking out loud!

Eight bits short of a byte.

Bitless or byteless or and.

My bits are low.

The latest credit-debit cards have a memory chip embedded in them. Not long before the chip can be implanted, say, in the forearm.

My bit account is foreclosed.

How's about can your spare a few bytes?

Sign held out by a street-corner bum:

Data War Veteran
Will Work for Bytes

A savvy junkie sets up successful scores by manipulation, imposes a quid pro quo debt onto strangers or scores a few bits by begging and a "touch" just wants to get rid of the junkie. Like, you owe me a debt because you have life easy. Maybe the barkeep is a junky too, in recovery, and knows Baxter from rehab, and knows junkie behavior from therapy, though owes Baxter a favor she cannot and will not repay.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Love the veteran with the sign.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
Perhaps something long the lines of: His assets were a zero sum game.
Caution against this: it has nothing to do with digital information and less to do with poverty. The mercantalist policies that spurred the colonial period were premised on a zero sum game within the international sphere, for example.

- His finances had hit a "Go To 10" line.
- He had three credit cards named Abort, Retry, and Fail.
- He went for his cash, but the wallet returned a 404 error.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
"Unfortunately, he was a little dry on the liquid assets front."

"Unfortunately, his liquid assets were zeroed out."
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
His funds added up a negative sum wallet.

Now that I've thought about it more, I suppose "broke as a joke" could be interpreted as ironical -- being as broke as a worthless, humorous pastime, as broke as a joke Fate played on poor Baxter. Not a simile signaled by "as" used for allusive correlation, "as" for straightforward correlation conjunction terms and the whole an understated irony. Maybe more context needed for clarity and reader accessibility.

[ June 19, 2015, 03:12 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Having thought about this, I like the term: Bitless.

Assume the bitcoin has overtaken conventional currency, being bitless means broke. However, 8 bits make a byte, so being bitless also carries the connotation that you have nothing to trade either; data for cash or cash for data.

The statement, "I'm bitless." would mean down and out.

Spending an hour or two developing the etymology of bitless could open all sorts of avenues which will make the milieu more substantial for the readers; even in a short story.

Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Okay, you guys talked me into playing around with the bits and the bytes. Since this is in the second sentence of the story, though, I need to find a way to make it clear that this is a computer flavored idiom referring to low cashflow.

"Unfortunately, he was also eight bits beyond broke."

"Unfortunately, he was also 8 bits short of broke."

"Unfortunately he was also broke; if bucks were bytes, he was an apple II."

New opening posted above.

By the way, I want to thank you all for all the feedback. I have found this particular discussion quite stimulating and helpful. Thanks.

[ June 20, 2015, 09:35 PM: Message edited by: wetwilly ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
This made me laugh:

"Unfortunately he was also broke; if bucks were bytes, he was an apple II."


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