This is topic You Are What We Say You Are in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :
Fragment of a story I wrote a while back. Not SF. Sorry. But still have hope for this one. Apologies for the naughty word (it is censored).


I found out that the Atwood Lounge had burnt down earlier that day by listening in on my father and his friends as they sat around the kitchen table bull****ting and polishing off a twelve pack of Lowenbrau.  The Atwood Lounge was where Janelle Spencer lived.  Janelle was considered to be the poorest kid in school.  Her cousin Melanie was a close second.   

Janelle was made fun of, but I wasn’t sure if she knew the actual reason behind the attacks.  Kids called her ugly, told her that she smelled, and made fun of her clothes.  Was I so dumb as to assume she was too dumb to know? The insults stemmed from the fact that she was born into one family and not another:  a family that edged out the competition. Competition such as Randy Jacobs, who was believed to be so poor that his

Revision follows:

As I laid stretched out on the living room carpet that night, I learnt of the fire. My eyes were fixed to the television but my ears were tuned into what was taking place in the kitchen, which was basically the same room except with linoleum (that same year a classmate referred to my family’s home as a shack). My father and his friends were seated around the kitchen table bull****ting as they proceeded to polish off a twelve pack of Lowenbrau.
“They say it was the sons.  They were messing around with matches,” Ronnie reported.
“I wonder what that poor sap Fred’s gonna do?” Pat said.
“He’ll just bartend somewhere else.  There’s no lack of dives in this rattrap.  That or he’ll just go back to mooching off his

[ July 16, 2018, 08:37 AM: Message edited by: boldfine ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual ruminates about who is the poorest person known to the individual.

Narrative point of view:
First person singular
Simple past tense
Indicative mood
Detached narrator (little, if any, narrator access to others' thoughts)

Tone: Emotionally neutral, everyday, routine conversational attitude, gossipy

A specimen shape, from Jerome Stern's Writing Shapely Fiction. A specimen shape is of a narrator objective observes a specimen subject and reveals as much, if not more, about the observer than as the subject.

The fragment is pure summary tell. Scene mode's explicated show is prose's stronger suit and by far most reader preferred. The first sentence summarizes a full scene, unrealized, itself could be several hundred or more words.

No setting detail, no persona interaction, some summaries of events, of a non-causal sequential nature, lacks antagonal and tensional natures, too.

The title implies what the story is truly, really about; the fragment somewhat parallels the title's "What We Say You Are" . . . poor, though not a satire or irony congruent opposite argument in contention of what poverty's significance and circumstance are about.

Silent Generation everyday folk -- Great Depression and World War II era children -- didn't know their childhoods thrived in poverty, for example, until they were told, when they were adults, that they were poor. By then, their childhood financial status was irrelevant to their adult well-being. A matter of relativity: high-status, rich, inclusive family lives lived with little money.

Boomer Generation's children, and later, weren't insulated from financial status stratification.

If the fragment were more so scene mode and -- and -- entailed stronger, clearer intimations of class warfare strife and coping mechanisms thereof, I'd be, hopefully, hopelessly engaged. As is, I am disinclined to read further as an engaged reader.

Craft and grammar considerations:

First person is especially fraught with extra lens filter challenges, somewhat more so than third person. The first sentence's first clause is an extra lens filter: "I found out" The sentence is a fused, or run-on, sentence as it is. Aside from the extra lens filter, the sentence contains three main ideas, none of which is clearly the main idea, each idea lost among the several, a grammar consideration. The culprit is misused correlation conjunction "as." The conjunction's prose use is for idea correlation, not for forced coordination of unrelated ideas.

"The Atwood Lounge was where Janelle Spencer lived." Lived in the lounge? Oh yeah? Huh? Two of our host Orson Scot Card's three questions readers ask. The third, So what? Or Oh yeah, I should believe that? Huh? What happens here? And So what? Why should I care?

Lived above, beside, or behind maybe, not where. Or //Janelle Spencer lived above the Atwood Lounge and was now homeless.// Somewhat pitiable, maybe something to care about somewhat. I don't know Janelle enough to care yet. That she ignores the taunts about her appearance, status, clothes, and smell is a real start of caring about her, though. However, that's once-and-done over and under-realized what the disparagements mean for Janelle and the narrator. Such is characterization.

If shown in scene mode, her and the narrator's reactions to the taunts develop her and the narrator's character and sympathy or empathy interest.

"Janelle was considered to be the poorest kid in school." By whom? Passive voice. By the Boardwalk and Madison Avenue clique crowds? By some strata tier of the town's poor? Both and all?

"Her cousin Melanie was a close second." Third sequential sentence of a to be verb construct. Each and together are static voice, stasis state of being statements. Tip-offs to summary tell, and adverse to prose's preferred robust, dynamic process statements and dramatic movement. More static voice thereafter, too. The fragment stalls [stagnates] at the starter gate.

"The insults stemmed from the fact that she was born into one family and not another: a family that edged out the competition." Another Huh? Which family edged out the competition? Janelle's or the not another? The concept of social stratification status assigned at birth due to accident of birth is an apt social satire topic, though as yet unrealized and confused and summarized in that sentence. Wants several or more paragraphs for full realization development.

The colon is apt for formal composition; for prose, a dash is wanted instead. See Noah Lukeman's A Dash of Style for prose's punctuation aesthetics. Or an altogether other syntax structure for the sentence is wanted, expanded for full realization of the main idea of an accident of birth's concepts and narrowed to an overall message-moral discovery, too.

Inconsistent sentence separation spaces; some two spaces, some one space. Hatrack's latest Bulletin Board code upgrade adopted two-space preservation. Global Internet protocols used to ignore a second sequential space. Standard Publication Format, anymore, prefers one sentence space. Due to digital publication processes, Standard Manuscript Format also, anymore, prefers one sentence separation space.

In all, the fragment, to me, rushes and forces its dramatic movement and stalls at the start. Some promise held therein for a portrayal of class warfare and stratification satire: Satire portrays, exposes, reveals human social vice and folly.

[ July 14, 2018, 04:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :
Thanks for the feedback/critique. Much needed. I will respond shortly; weekend is busy. Thanks again.
Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :
Question, if I rewrite the 13 lines, am I allowed to post them?
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Rewrites can be added to a fragment's original post, through Hatrack's edit function, identified as a subsequent version. Also, post a notice so that a new post icon signals a rewrite posted.

Some fragments have been revised multiples of times, no limit, per se. Some responders might weary of many multiples. I won't. However, some of the same doesn't-work-for-me features might remain and does-work-for-me features might disappear, often do. Therefore, a best practice is to revise at leisure with considered strategies.

Here, summary outline revised to scene mode, to me, is an overall strategy worth consideration.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
boldfine, you are welcome to post rewrites of your 13 lines.

You can either edit them into the first post, as extrinsic suggested, or post them as new "replies" at the bottom of the page.

I'd recommend editing them into the first post with some kind of notification that they are new versions ("second version" or somesuch). That way people who come along later won't read the first version and comment on that, then scroll down and find that there is a newer version that might have answered all their feedback (thus making their efforts feel useless).

To edit a post (in order to add a new version), use the icon at the top of the post that looks like a pencil and paper. It will open the reply box that contains what is in the post to be edited.

(I hope that all makes sense.)
Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :
Okay. Thanks for the info.
Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :

Just curious, have you read the Michael Leonard short, "The Fifties"? It is in the reportage style, matter of fact mode. This has a strong appeal to me as a reader. Just curious what your impressions are of such a piece.

That being said, I will be putting your considerations into practice.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Haven't read "In the Fifties," sampled "Manikin" in The Collected Stories, Leonard Michaels, in which the Fifties short is reprinted. If you have a source for "In the Fifties," I'd appreciate taking a look.

If that's the story and writer to which you refer -- Michaels' narrative style is matter-of-fact objective journalism and Hysterical Realism's language fireworks and acrobatics, also. Michaels succeeds at the form through an off-kilter lyric mannerism, a strong poetic language of contained, brutal hysteria, and anecdotal reportage, less so fully realized drama's transformative outcomes.

His narrator is remotely detached and an all but invisible bystander; however, the language strength characterizes the narrator and brings the narrator into focus as strongest attitude holder and somewhat a persona through which readers align. None of the characters are especially likeable or sympathy worthy, regardless. Defaults to narrator-reader empathy and rapport.

If of the three narrative types L. Rust Hills asserts compass all prose, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular -- philosophical, energeic, and lyric -- the lyric type is foremost for Michaels' creative aesthetic, energeic's energy, too, less so the energeic's internal discovered moral truth facet.

"Manikin," in particular, fits the genre and expresses Michaels' oeuvre, as it is anecdote and Hysterical Realism, event emphasis more than setting vignette or character sketch, remote from drama's full realization criteria, plus, the understated poetic discourse of hysteria's emotional expression looms large.

What doesn't work for me in the short is limited setting and milieu detail development, which others of the genre succeed through, and limited, if any, transformative outcome impacts -- a standard fare for Postmodern prose. The congruent opposite irony of the matter-of-fact account and blunt, brutal poetic language overtop those shortfalls, though.

Plus, of course, the short contains many grammatical oversights common to journalism's convenient habits. If Michaels followed Standard Written English's more explicit principles, the language and reader effect would be all the more strong and appeal. As is, the journalism grammar sensibilities show overmuch writer hand on the keyboard and detract from the all important reader immersion spell.

[ July 15, 2018, 03:32 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by boldfine (Member # 10961) on :
Yes, Leonard Michaels, sorry. And, no I don't have a source but it seems you are familiar. Thanks for the insight. Working on the revision.

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