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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Big Powwow (excerpt: Fargo)

   
Author Topic: Big Powwow (excerpt: Fargo)
wbriggs
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My issue is naming. I want to know whether, in this excerpt, the way I handle the professor Dr. Fargo (naming him, then calling him "the professor" throughout) is confusing, annoying, spot-on, or what. Fargo is a minor character that will not appear again.

I want readers for this 700-word SF excerpt to comment on this naming issue (although other comments are welcome).

--
Next on the agenda was Dr. Fargo, from Clarkston State's Department of Economics. A small, balding man, and Jefferson thought he looked sad. The set of his eyes, maybe. His words were clipped and precise.

"We have attempted inventory on fuel supplies," he said. "I went around with Lee Ramsey of the city staff, before the snow. About half the companies were closed, or refused to give us information. If we assume that their inventories match the average for the ones we talked to, we should be out of fuel in five weeks. Of course, there's no natural gas coming in."

"Things could be worse," Jefferson said.

"You think so," the professor said, grimly.


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autumnmuse
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Just a suggestion, feel free to ignore: "Dr." doesn't automatically mean "professor" to me. Is it important that we know he is a doctor? If not, consider simply introducing him as Professor Fargo. That will probably smooth the transition a bit.

Also, I'll read if you like.

[This message has been edited by autumnmuse (edited May 09, 2005).]


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Lanius
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I think it could be made a little clearer, maybe by describing him as "Dr. Fargo, a professor from the Economics Department at Clarkson State University."

I'll be happy to read.


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jeduthun
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If you hadn't told me, I would be wondering who this new "professor" character was.

OSC's rules in Character & Viewpoint are very helpful:

Who is the POV character and what name do THEY use when thinking of him?

-Professor Fargo
-the professor
-the doctor
-Doc
-Fargie
-that uptight guy with the glasses

PS I'd be happy to read the whole thing.


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jeduthun
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I just added my email icon...
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cklabyrinth
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Have you considered not even naming him, but just calling him the professor from Clarkston State?

I don't know if that fragment was the beginning to the story; if it is I would definetly not include the name. I read the piece before I looked at your explanation, and I had the feeling Dr. Fargo was the main character.

The start of the first sentence, also, seems a bit weird to me. I glossed over that the first time I read it, went back over it and asked myself "What agenda?" I still don't know.

EDIT: Just re-read your explanation, and most of my crit is probably useless now. Seems to be that this excerpt isn't the beginning. Oh well.

[This message has been edited by cklabyrinth (edited May 10, 2005).]


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Three Minute Egg
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The professor's words are not 'precise', to me. Suggestions below replace what I think are imprecise language.

We have attempted inventory on fuel supplies," he said. "I went around with Lee Ramsey of the city staff, before the snow. <About half> Fifty percent of the companies were closed, or refused to give us information. <If we assume that> Assuming their inventories match the industry average <for the ones we talked to>, <we should be> calculations show we will run out of fuel in five weeks. Of course, there's no natural gas coming in."


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wbriggs
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Side issue, but I'll take it. What I meant to say was the professor spoke thus (if I can somehow exaggerate it): We, are, go-eeng, now, to thee location.

As opposed to what I'd say:

Wi'r goin' now to thuh location

How would you describe the first? Formal? Clipped? Not "precise," apparently.


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Three Minute Egg
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Formal - good word. I'm getting the feeling Fargo is a technical type, and he would probably talk in very specific terms. If his interaction with people is limited to the research lab/library and presenting findings, then he would be formal, I think. Does he think Jefferson is capable of grasping complex details? If not, Fargo may come across almost condescending. I get the sense Jefferson is some sort of decision-maker, relying on the expert's advice.
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Survivor
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I'll read the 700 words you've got. What you've posted so far looks good to me. I don't fully agree with any of the complaints raised, though they aren't totally groundless.

I suspect that in a 700 word story dealing with the end of the world, you aren't going to have room for the amount of POV development I'd normally prefer, so I'm not going to mention it since you don't do anything definitely wrong.


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Keeley
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Sounds interesting. I'll read it.

And yes, it threw me a little when I first saw "the professor" instead of the name you'd introduced.


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Lanius
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I read the excerpt you sent and think using "the professor" works just fine -- except perhaps the initial transition from Dr. Fargo to "the professor."

In molding the professor's speaking style, I think two stereotypes could be considered. In speaking to lay people (so to speak), scientists tend to adopt an academic, lecturing style when explaining what they do or what the results of thier work may be -- they may want to make sure they have explained things in a comprehensive manner. When explaining things to peers, economy of words and succintness are generally the rule, much as would be the approach for a scientific paper.

The professor in your story fit well within my concept of how he might speak to an assembly of different people and it flowed smoothly. I think his crying scene is superfluous and out of character, though. It could go and you wouldn't lose anything.


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Lanius
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Oh yeah -- I would be more than willing to read additional excerpts.
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Survivor
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Gah, I was having a brain fart this entire time, I suppose.

When you want to signal to the reader that a character's name isn't very important, there are a number of good ways to accomplish this. One way is to introduce them by title first. This is also somewhat in line with resolving the designator switch issue. Another way is to use "a" in front of the name, indicating that the name is just a name, not really a character.

quote:
Next on the agenda was a professor of Economics from Clarkston State, a Dr. Fargo.

As for the crying scene, the real problem isn't that it's out of character, the problem is that you're overdeveloping this character. You want him to be a bit one-dimensional, "the expert witness". If he were going to be in many more scenes (and this would be easy to justify, apparently the local collage is going to be pretty important to the entire story), then it would make sense to give him a bit more personal history. But as it is, you want the reader to forget about him as a person and only remember what he says as an expert.

By the way, make sure to read 1632. Your scenario is very different in certain important ways, but the central similarity is too marked to ignore.


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wbriggs
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So, Survivor, you agree that he shouldn't cry? My hope was to show the council how desperate the situation is (look, even bloodless academics are freaking out!), but I suppose I could have a councilman lose it instead.

I like the way you reworded the intro; I think I'll adopt it.


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Survivor
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Oooh, now that you threaten to do that, I don't like the repetition of "a". Maybe "one" should go in place of the second.

I can appreciate your motive for having the professor crack a bit, and that was already going well. The problem is that you have the professor break down over something totally unrelated to the resource problem he's there to highlight.

Now, if an earlier interview had been with a professor of quantum physics explaining that it was impossible to go back to the same future they'd left, having someone cry over the permanent loss of loved ones would make some sense. But this professor is talking about who's going to die.

But it still might be the wrong tone altogether. I liked the dry, cold style of the professor. He clearly knew what he was saying, but also knew it would be pointless to avoid saying it. There was just no room for doubt. By the way, I think that when someone says "what about food rationing?" he should say "that's with food rationing." Something like that.


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wbriggs
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Thanks, all. I got what I needed.

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