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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » More Than Thirteen Lines (No Title Yet)

   
Author Topic: More Than Thirteen Lines (No Title Yet)
theokaluza
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The following scene takes place in a sort of DMV-like or Welfare Office-like setting. The woman in the story draws the attention of the security guards basically because she didn't get what she wanted... she emerges from an office in tears, screaming and yelling and cursing. Her husband is quiet.

The main character, who's watching this unfold, doesn't appear until the very end of the passage. He also appears right before all of this starts happening. I'm posting this in order to discern if anybody thinks that the segment has any significant (or insignificant) problems. Is it too quick? Too slow? Too little description or too much? Is it a problem that my main character doesn't appear directly in the action? His reaction comes shortly afterward, and it's not included in this post.

It's a portion of a novel I'm writing. This happens on page 13 or 14, and it isn't directly related to the main action of the story. Mostly, it's supposed to show the world that my character inhabits. Did I accomplish my goal?

---

One security guard, a white, grabbed her by the arm. Another in blue flanked her from beside the husband. Ripping him towards the floor with a crash, the husband body slammed a wheezing elderly woman on an oxygen tank. They were there to procure an oxygen supply and some filtering devices for her home. She coughed and spasmed as he hit her, the tank ripping from her wrinkled nose and hitting the floor with a loud clank. A young man sitting next to the woman pushed him hard to the floor, and his ass made a thud as it connected with the hard white linoleum.

A third security officer, another blue, approached the hysterical woman from the front. Her screaming had turned into an amplified whimper. She was clutching at her stomach, half doubled over, but with her neck craned upward to face the guards. The veins on her forehead were bulging sickly outward.

The third officer was nearly to her now, and she saw the unmistakable glint of a chrome Rod in his hand. Her face switched spasmodically from blind anger and rage to fear and a begging, achy need for forgiveness… though Marcus suspected there would be none. The third officer raised the chrome rod, held it perpendicular to the ground at arm’s length, maybe six inches from the woman’s red, tear-soaked face. Still leaning over, she raised her hands, palms up, in a gesture of both submission and defiance, her bloodshot eyes turned skyward. There was a bright flash of white light on her face, and she seemed to freeze completely in time. She collapsed, face first, palms still facing upward. Blood ran lazily from one nostril.

Her husband looked on the scene with a feeling of distant regret. Marcus saw in the man’s eyes that he knew what was coming, but was helpless, or maybe careless, to help prevent it. His eyes were blank, but he was frowning slightly.


--

One problem that I routinely have is describing a person's face. I usually wind up using terms such as "angry" or "sad" or "confused." -- I do this a couple of times in the passage. Is it bad? Is it too much telling?

Thanks for any comments. Also, I'm not looking to show the rest of this story to anybody yet. The manuscript isn't done yet.

[This message has been edited by theokaluza (edited February 04, 2005).]


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HSO
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So your main character does nothing during all of this until after it's over? If so, are you showing us his reluctance to get involved? Because security guards beating up an old lady would offend most people causing them to intervene in some way -- certainly feel disgust.

I think you should mix in your POV's feelings into the narrative. Make it clear that he's watching this unfold. That he either does or doesn't want to get involved for whatever reasons.

There may also be some tense issues that need to be addressed. I personally feel there's too many adjectives, such as "wrinkled nose". And the adverb "lazily" bugs me. If you cut it, you would lose nothing.

Also, while you probably have good reason to have guards dressed in different color clothing, it seems contrived in this fragment. Setting aside the fact that I thought "a white" meant "a white man", I think you could possibly tighten up all of the sentences that describe what the guards wore.

I'm just going to "attack" the first paragraph and tell you my opinion of it, whatever it's worth:

quote:
One security guard, a white, grabbed her by the arm. Another in blue flanked her from beside the husband.

The first sentence would flow much nicer if you didn't separate the description of the guard with commas. For instance, you could say: "A white-uniformed security guard grabbed the old lady by the arm."

The second sentence doesn't make any sense. I know what you're trying to say, but this action isn't right. Consider revising that.


quote:
Ripping him towards the floor with a crash, the husband body slammed a wheezing elderly woman on an oxygen tank.

This sentence confuses me greatly. Who's doing the ripping? The guard? Also, you need to put a possessive on "husband" as in "the husband's body". I don't think you need "wheezing", at least not yet... or maybe it should come sooner.

quote:
They were there to procure an oxygen supply and some filtering devices for her home.

Not only does unnecessarily break away from the action, but as written it's POV violation. Solved easily by: "They were obviously there to procure..." or "They were probably there..." But this should come sooner. Not in the middle of an altercation.

quote:
She coughed and spasmed as he hit her, the tank ripping from her wrinkled nose and hitting the floor with a loud clank.

Major tense issues here. And She has a tank on her nose? Or is it mask? I can only guess you mean "mask" because I'm not privvy to earlier information about what she looks like. Additionally, she's already been hit, so you can lose that part of the sentence. I would do recommend something like (roughly): "She coughed and spasmed, the mask torn from face, her oxygen tank clanked loudly as it hit the floor."


quote:
A young man sitting next to the woman pushed him hard to the floor, and his ass made a thud as it connected with the hard white linoleum.

Pushed who? The guard? Which guard? I'm really confused by who is doing what? And now the woman is sitting? I thought she had been knocked to the floor by being slammed by her husband's body. Maybe I misread that bit. Who's the young man? And is he protecting the old lady?

See what I'm getting at here? I can't tell what's going on in the first paragraph. So, the other paragraphs are just as confusing to me.

Write what your protagonist sees. Tell us how he feels about the incident. Don't give us every small detail. Give us enough to fill in some of the blanks ourselves.

Hope this helps.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited February 04, 2005).]


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wetwilly
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Ditto what HSO said, especially two things he said:

[Quote} think you should mix in your POV's feelings into the narrative. Make it clear that he's watching this unfold.[/Quote]

I agree whole-heartedly. Filter the scene through your POV character's mind. Give us his take on what's going on, tell us what he sees and thinks instead of just what happens. There are 2 reasons for this. 1, It seems like Marcus just comes out of nowhere when you do mention him, because we haven't been getting anything from or about him up until that point. It's jarring. 2, this is an excellent chance to get us inside Marcus' head and let us get to know him a little bit.

"Her face switched spasmodically from blind anger and rage to fear and a begging, achy need for forgiveness… though Marcus suspected there would be none."
That's what I'm talking about. That's nice. I think the passage would be stronger with this kind of interjection of Marcus' thoughts throughout.

quote:
I personally feel there's too many adjectives, such as "wrinkled nose". And the adverb "lazily" bugs me. If you cut it, you would lose nothing.

WAY too many descriptors here. They bog down the narrative, so it's kind of a drudgery to read. By the time I read the three adjectives before each noun and the three adverbs before each adjective or verb (I'm exaggerating, I know), and decipher what is modifying what, I've put way more work into reading it than I wanted to. "Never use ten words where five will do."

For example, "The veins on her forehead were bulging sickly outward" could, in my opinion, be changed to "The veins on her forehead were bulging" without losing anything. Same information, same image in my head, less words.

"The third officer raised the chrome rod, held it perpendicular to the ground at arm’s length, maybe six inches from the woman’s red, tear-soaked face." You could cut a lot of fat out of this sentence. Just give us the meat. "The third officer held his chrome rod at arm’s length, maybe six inches from the woman’s face." Maybe it's important that we know that the rod is perpendicular to the ground, but I doubt it. You've already made it very clear that the woman is crying, so you don't need to tell us again.

ALSO, there are several descriptors that don't really make any sense. "amplified whimper" isn't really horrible, I suppose it's possible, but it seems like a contradiction to me. Amplification is loud. Whimpering is quiet. Which one is she? "Achy need for forgiveness." Does a need for forgiveness usually cause you to ache?

To sum up, my opinion is filter it through Marcus' mind and watch your descriptors. Make sure they're necessary.


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theokaluza
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quote:
WAY too many descriptors here. They bog down the narrative, so it's kind of a drudgery to read. By the time I read the three adjectives before each noun and the three adverbs before each adjective or verb (I'm exaggerating, I know), and decipher what is modifying what, I've put way more work into reading it than I wanted to. "Never use ten words where five will do."
Thanks for all of your comments. The thing that I'm struggling with in incorporating Marcus' POV into the action is that... I haven't been able to figure out a good way to do it without slowing down the action.

However, there's a setup for the scene before it starts, and the reader sees Marcus' reaction once it's over.

There's basically nothing that he can do about the situation. That's hwo he sees it, anyhow.

I'm going to take most of these suggestions, though. And I appreciate the time it took to write them.


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HSO
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quote:
haven't been able to figure out a good way to do it without slowing down the action.

Here's an example of how:

"Horrified, Marcus could only watch as the guard attacked the old lady. He wanted to help her, but he was afraid of the other guards.

The guards subdued the old lady's husband. Marcus cringed as the guards slammed the husband into his wife, causing her oxygen mask and tank to fall to the ground with a deafening clank."

How's that?


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theokaluza
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Hehe, maybe I should have left the description of the woman who's being attacked in the fragment. She's not old. She's in her mid twenties.

And yes, that would work.. though I'm not entirely sure that I even want to put Marcus in there. The scene isn't about Marcus, or really even about his reaction to what's happening around him. Part of the point of the scene is that Marcus has little or no reaction to what he's seeing.

But even looking at what I've got after this passage, it doesn't seem like enough anymore.

Thanks for your comments.

I've gotta think about this a bit.


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