This is topic The fight and the flight in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by drworm (Member # 10803) on :
This is the first story in a long time that I have "finished" meaning I wrote it and now I need to revise and edit. Originally I wrote it as an experiment to see if I could write in third person present, but as part of the revise and edit I am moving it to third person past. Anyway here are the 13 lines, if I read how to post them correctly.
Terrance shuffled through the stacks of papers on his desk as he looked for his wallet. He was certain that’s where he put it the night before when he returned from the store. He was rushed and knew the longer he took the more his wife would be upset.
“TERRANCE, LET’S GO!” Jennifer’s stress riddled, frantic scream echoed through the house.
“I’m coming as soon as I find my wallet.” he shouted back.
“It’s on the dresser next to your phone charger. Now move it! You are going to make me miss my flight.”
Terrance mentally noted the frustration in her voice as he looked at his dresser and sees his wallet. He set down the papers in his hands and took two quick extended steps to cross the room and snatched up his wallet then made for hall. His exit was only

Here I sit and contemplate in the woods listening to the frogs and insects chanting their lullabies to the other campers. I need to make progress with this entrance and the ensuing story this weekend. Monday I will add full time student to my already crazy life of full time employee, father of four daughters, one of which is engaged to be wed in 9 months, and scout leader.
So here is my second attempt. Just looking through the feedback has me realizing that I have a ways to go to get this right, but I’d like to hear if I’m on the right track, or just shifting to different issues. Also based on some of the feedback I wonder if I need to jump forward in the story to where there is the first “punch” and maybe cover some of the current set up as reflection, but that could be a problem in it’s own.
Terrance shuffled through the stacks of papers on his desk, frustrated at not finding his wallet where he thought he’d left it the night before. He rushed knowing Jennifer’s anger would rise in direct proportion to the time he took.
“Terrance, let’s go!” Her voice crashed through the house.
“I’m coming, but I need to find my wallet” he shouted back.
“It’s on the dresser next to your phone charger. Now move it! I can’t miss my flight.”
Terrance knew by the tone in her voice this would be another awkward trip to the airport. He set the papers on top of his desk and left them overlapped with the dozen other stacks before he grabbed his wallet and made for the door. His exit was delayed a few seconds by an avalanche of papers that hit the floor. A brief

[ September 15, 2018, 05:31 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual and . . .

Don't know. The fragment portrays a tense though undeveloped and routine domestic situation, though the title implies a fight-or-flight response to a survival threat. Exquisite -- if the title foreshadows a pendent menace.

By the way, the fragment is sixteen lines as is. The smart apostrophe and quote marks' curly shapes signal the text was composed in Times New Roman and copy-pasted into the text box. Times New Roman crams more text into lines than New Courier, roughly a fourth more average.

A creative writing program anecdote about subtext describes a spouses' disagreement of husband wants to dine out and wife wants to dine at home. The argument escalates and entails Freudian slips neither realize express each's true conflict and complication -- their marriage is at Divorce's door due to poor communication and petty, selfish differences. Husband rages out to a topless sports bar at which he wanted both to dine, and where he would not have to talk how she wanted to about her though overtly about their relationship. Wife's tears stream, eats a cold leftover sandwich in an unlighted kitchen.

Also, portrays a conflict of acceptance and rejection and each's complications of want for mutually exclusive outcomes problematized by disparate wants. The wife and husband contest -- drama wants a contest, often between persons and places.

The fragment contains little, if any, of that ominous subtext mannerism, and no development of the flight-or-fight response. Setting details and dialogue are insertion potentials for to introduce foreshadowed menace subtext developments.

Several grammar glitches. One, use of "as" for a coordination conjunction. "as" is a correlation conjunction. "as" coordination conjunction uses signal forced and rushed coordination and are often nonsimultaneous action mistake descriptions and confused causality. Commonly, are also run-on sentences.

"as he looked", twice, and "as he heard".

Fortunately, an easy repair presents -- somewhat, though another consideration arises, too.

"Terrance shuffled through the stacks of papers on his desk as he looked for his wallet."

First, Terrance looked for his wallet, then, he shuffled papers. That's tell, though. Implied subtext shows he can't find his wallet.

The next sentence, if its context came first, would show Terrance can't find his wallet. And if more internalized sensory experience and thought. Instincts to somewhat develop setting details up front are on the mark, though vague and undeveloped dramatic details. For example, how the setting and wallet matter specifically to Terrance and what those represent in relation to what the story is really about.

For example, who "wears the pants" or manages the finances in their household and in public. Does Jennifer assert her dominance at every occasion? Or is Terrance feckless and prefers her leadership? Neither, though, foreshadows a survival threat contest will unfold, to which Terrance will respond.

A compound predicate construction illustrates the confused causality: //Terrance shuffled through the stacks of papers on his desk, looked for his wallet.// Or //Terrance looked for his wallet, shuffled papers on his desk.// ???

“TERRANCE, LET’S GO!” All caps emphasis wants little place in prose. Exclamation marks, somewhat more emphasis occasion; though, best practice, the writing expresses emotional charge by itself.

The next sentence details Jennifer's emotional state. So far, three occasions used to express one emotional context's texture. That sentence, too, forces the texture through repetitive redundancy of description.

"stress[-]riddled, frantic scream echoed"

"stress[-]riddled" takes the hyphen. Though best practice is to pare to the most concise description. Stressed or frantic? Neither? Instead, an apt verbal metaphor substituted for the predicate verb "echoed"? That is also an opportunity to foreshadow and develop the ominous future-threat subtext. Like gunfire, Jennifer yells? Echoed and ricocheted are apt comparables if the future menace involves firearms.

Grammar, craft, expression, and appeal shortfalls often attend each other.

"I’m coming[,] as soon as" takes the comma separation. Though "as soon as" is an apt conjunction phrase use, the resemblance to simile's "as" correlation uses prompts a rhetorical situation for consideration. How about a simile instead? Prose revels in poetic equipment, like apt simile and metaphor.

"Terrance mentally noted the frustration" the same emotional texture as before, inaptly repeated again.

"looked at his dresser and sees his wallet." Tense shift mistake, maybe a typo due to the revision from present to past tense. More tense shift mistakes follow.

"He set down the papers in his hands and took two quick[,] extended steps to cross the room and snatched up his wallet then made for hall."

Tense shift mistake, punctuation glitch, and a forced emphasis redundancy

Plus, a Here-to-there mistake. See "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction," edited by Clarion workshops' David Smith, SFWA hosted. Many of which are applicable to all prose composition.

"Here-to-there mistake. Over-describing interim stages because of a mistaken belief that the reader will not infer them. A writer whose character’s eyes are closed, for example, wants to describe something visually and feels compelled to say, ‘he opened his eyes’. Omitting this phrase usually works better — the reader can infer the eye-opening from the visual description. Similarly, ‘he got into the car, put the key in the ignition, started the engine and backed out of the driveway’ is too much description: ‘he got into the car and backed out of the driveway.'"

The flight-or-fight foreshadow of the title holds some appeal all by itself, plus, that the usage is somewhat veiled artfully intimates that type of potential dramatic movement will unfold: "The fight and the flight". Initial caps for prose title's nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, lowercase prepositions, conjunctions, and article adjectives, except initial words, by the way: //The Fight and the Flight//.

However, due most to unrealized dramatic developments, I would not read further as an engaged reader.

[ August 30, 2018, 02:45 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by drworm (Member # 10803) on :
Thanks extrinsic, some good points for me to ponder. I'll revise and edit my initial post.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
drworm, don't change the text that you've already posted. Edit the initial post by adding your revised text with a note that it is "version 2" or some such.

That way others can see what you did first, and how you changed it, as well as understand better what your critiquers are talking about.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
A husband and wife in conflict. Is it dramatic? Does it have significance and purpose? Does it explore what it means to be human? As far as I can tell, the answer to all the above is no. Well, could this be the inciting incident? Yes, there is the bare possibility this argument sets the Hero in motion toward a moment of dramatic choice, but I doubt it.

As an exercise in character development, the husband is shown to be a forgetful ditherer, while the wife is shrill and impatient; not traits a reader would find likeable. At the end of the day, readers want to read about characters better than they are, greater and stronger than they are. We want to marvel at their strength and fortitude as they are forced to endure trials and tragedies that would overcome us. Of course, there are occasionally Heroes who are not heroic, or rarely, even downright loathsome. But these are outliers.

I have been where you are now and the root cause of not being able to deliver an engaging opening to a story is simple: I didn’t yet understand what my own story is really about. Until you really understand the dramatic idea that underpins your story, you will never be able to find the exact right place and moment where the real story actually begins.

Hope this helps.

Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
You're thinking cinematically and presenting what you see happening in the first seconds. But in that film the reader could also see the characters, the ambiance, and more. They would know the era of the story and something about the characters. But as presented,someone we know nothing about is looking for his wallet for unknown reasons. And, wjhile the film version would take a moment to occur,reding this takes a lot more time, lowing the action

My point is that writing for the page is very different from other mediums because of the constraints our medium places on us. So some time spent digging out the tricks of the trade would be a wise investment of time. The library's fiction writing source is a great place to begin.
Posted by drworm (Member # 10803) on :
Round 2 in my original post.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Same individual and a routine domestic situation.

Less redundancy, more scene mode, disproportionate thought to sensation and emotion details, close distance though lackluster dramatic movement.

Several facets of the second version afford occasion for sensation descriptions that express ominous, pendent routine interruption -- the story shape given and wanted for its dramatic movement's sake within a limited fragment. Each motif, that is, the wallet, the desk and location within the house, the spouse, the papers on the desk, etc. Verbal metaphor "Her voice crashed" steps the artful, wanted direction. As is, the details are scarce, if any; generic and emotionless and too heavily internal without apt significance overall.

Odd that shortfalls often accompany strengths and seem indivisible {the strength that the true main meaning of the whole is given from a tagged, direct thought, and a bit shy of an apt emotional magnitude emphasis):

"He rushed[,] knowing Jennifer’s anger would rise in direct proportion to the time he took."

A punctuation fault, one, a tense sequence mistake, an overlooked compound predicate instead composed for restrictive dependent clause join, that is, a stranded participle, and a subjunctive mood mistake.

One of a comma's significances is substitution for coordination conjunction and for serial lists: doublets, triplets. A test for whether a clause or phrase or word wants punctuation separation, if a comma is apt, is substitute and for the comma.

//He rushed and knowing Jennifer’s anger would rise in direct proportion to the time he took.// ?? Nope, stranded present participle "knowing".

Compound predicate, subject implied:

//He rushed, [and] knew Jennifer’s anger would rise in direct proportion to the time he took.//

Indicative mood indicated and apt, and without unnecessary and confused verb sequence, plus, simple past tense verbal metaphors substituted for the true main clause verb and verbal object phrase and apt emphasis, and less unnecessarily wordy:

//He rushed, knew Jennifer’s wrath flared proportionate to what time he stalled.//

Overall, less alienation of the revision, though I still could not read further as an engaged reader, due to little, if any, dramatic movement or intimation of such to break loose quite soon.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Given your comments that you may have started your story too early, I want to offer up some quotes you might want to consider.


An action, in itself, is not dramatic. Passionate feeling, in itself, is not dramatic. Not the presentation of a passion for itself, but of a passion which leads to action is the business of dramatic art; not the presentation of an event for itself, but for its effect on a human soul is the dramatist's mission.

Gustav Freytag. Techniques of the Drama


. . .so the plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

Aristotle. Poetics


The opening is especially important and difficult because it has to stand on its own; every other part of the story has the preceding parts to lean on. The opening must establish character, setting, situation, the mood and tone of the story; it must provoke interest, arouse curiosity, suggest conflict, start the movement of the plot--all this in about two hundred words.


And why should we be interested in these people?You must tell us enough, immediately, to accomplish two things:

To make clear that you, the author, know your characters intimately.

To make us feel something about them—curiosity, sympathy, antipathy--anything but indifference.

Otherwise, why should we bother to read on

Damon Knight. Creating Short Fiction

I hope this provides some insights.

Posted by wrxtxng (Member # 11010) on :
I think something that you could do to develop the 'flight or fight' aspect better would be to show, not tell, how frantic he feels because of her shouting. Tell me how his heart rate speeds up, how he gets jitters just thinking about the car ride, how his hands shake or his body jerks when she uses that tone.
The basic setting of your story is there, but I feel like the emotional aspect of it is underdeveloped. I don't feel very empathetic towards your character.
Hope this was helpful!

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