Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » "Smoking in Zack's Van" -- help requested

   
Author Topic: "Smoking in Zack's Van" -- help requested
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Okay, this is a story I'm working on. Actually, I'm rewriting it. Dark, pyschological thriller/horror story with vile, disturbing subject matter that even makes me cringe just thinking about it. None of that is evident in what follows, perhaps fortunately, and I never cross the boundaries of good taste -- well my own good taste, I suppose. (I doubt Card would want it for his magazine, however.)

I hope you'll indulge me here, for this is my problem.

Every time I open up the manuscript, I see the first paragraph and think: it's not right, the words are not quite right, even though it says all that I want it to. I'll post the full 13 lines, but what I really need is suggestions on improving the first sentence without changing its content or intent. I suspect the troubling bit will be fairly obvious (not this isn't a test, but I need to see if others take issue with it in the same way I do), or maybe it won't be obvious, or maybe I'll learn something else about it. I do know that I want the first sentence to be it's own paragraph and to clearly foreshadow the premise...

Comments on the whole fragment are okay, if you want, but I'm primarily concerned with the first sentence. I'm not yet ready for readers for the whole thing.

Thanks in advance.

***

Molly’s ordeal began because she failed to give any important notice to the van parked at the curb alongside her house.

It was a glorious, hot autumn afternoon in Surprise, Arizona; perfect for walking home from school, and daydreaming about friends, classes, the future, and having petty fantasies of revenge on those stupid, backbiting cheerleaders that taunted Molly for no reason except that they were all probably hell spawn. Was it her fault that she got straight A’s? Intelligence aside, she had no athletic ability to speak of, nor was she considered pretty by the boys as far as she knew, or wealthy, or even funny--all requirements for being popular in eighth grade. Walking, however, gave her time to pretend to be anything and anyone without distraction.


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Swimming Bird
Member
Member # 2760

 - posted      Profile for Swimming Bird           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I tripped over the first sentence. It's pretty cryptic and awkwardly worded. Also, you talk about her ordeal beginning in the first sentence on account of failing to give notice, then you completely leave us hanging and dive into Molly's biography.

And it read just like a biography, too, which, with the third-person omni narrator you employ, is not really a good thing.

The second paragraph read for me like a rambling diatribe of why Molly is so misunderstood and under appreciated by the in-crowd that we should all feel some empathy/sympathy for her situation, thus care for her. I didn't buy it, but that's because I generally don't like that type of character arch-type.

If she was an unpopular loner and didn't care, I would like that (nay, appreciate it), but the narrator makes her sound as if she longs to be apart of the pretentious people that don't pay her any mind. I also don't like the assumption that jealously over intellect breeds hostility in school. It's a plot point I've seen used a million times and am desensitized to it by now. And the cheerleaders being the antagonists to the unpopular girl is the pinnacle of cliche. It has a ring of Stephen King's Carry to it, but more blunt.

My favorite part of Carry was when King showed us her home life. How her religiously fanatical mother ruined her life. I liked this because it's interestingly unfamiliar and I find it curious to explore. On the other hand, everyone has been bullied in school at one point or another. Reading about it happening to someone else isn't really my bag. If that's what you're focusing your story on (the bullying/payback and not the character) I'd say it's a mistake.

Maybe I'm assuming too much. I, of course, don't know as much about your character as you do, but that's what I got from it.

And the first sentence of the second paragraph is a monster. I think it cuts the rest of your narrative to ribbons. You're trying too hard and too fast to convey too much information; you aren't letting it flow naturally.

When using the third-person omni narrator, you can afford elbow room in the way information is presented.

Minor nit: you don't need an apostrophe in "A's"

This piece seemed rushed to me. Too eager to tell rather than show. Maybe that's what's off about it.

All-in-all, this territory is too familiar for me to give it a try.

[This message has been edited by Swimming Bird (edited June 25, 2006).]


Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
PatEsden
Member
Member # 3504

 - posted      Profile for PatEsden           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I can see a couple of ways you could approach the first sentence differently. First I think you may want starting with the van instead of Molly, since the idea is not to intoduce Molly, but rather to show the van she didn't pay enough attention to. Also I'm not sure you need to use the word "ordeal" I think you can trust the reader to read between the lines and know something awful is coming.
I'm not saying I'll come up with a good first sentence, but I'll quickly dream something up to get you thinking in a new direction:

A van parked at the curb alongside Molly's house. The driver stretched back in his seat and took a long draw on his cigarette as he watched her come closer. To bad Molly payed no more attention to him than a spoiled tuna sandwich.

OK I failed miserably, that's not one sentence and I intoduced a person who may not even be in the van, but that is what came into my mind as I tried to visualize the scene. I do think you could use more than one sentence.


Posts: 295 | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Ray
Member
Member # 2415

 - posted      Profile for Ray   Email Ray         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It just needs some trimming.

Like "important notice" implies that she paid attention to the van at all, but why would she do that? I'm assuming the setting is suburbia, in which case different vehicles would show up all the time.

I'm not a fan of beginnings with "The trouble started when..." When I pick up a story, I assume there's gonna be an ordeal, or why would I waste my time.

"...at the curb..." feels weird to me. It's probably just a personal thing, but by or on feel more natural.

Maybe "It began because Molly failed to notice the van parked by the curb near her house." ?

It's your call. The only real trouble I had with it is that it feels long.

Edit: fixing the original sentence I wrote.

[This message has been edited by Ray (edited June 25, 2006).]


Posts: 329 | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
A's is absolutely necessary because it might be confused with the word "as" ("As").


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Swimming Bird
Member
Member # 2760

 - posted      Profile for Swimming Bird           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
A's is grammaticly incorrect. If you write A's, that means something belongs to the letter A. It won't be confused with as because As would have a capital A.

Plus, not to mention the context of the sentence.


Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
You have no idea what you're talking about. Go look it up and then come back and tell me about puncutation (it's not grammar).


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Swimming Bird
Member
Member # 2760

 - posted      Profile for Swimming Bird           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm really not here to argue. Simply don't take the advice. And punctuation is just one of many ways "A's" is wrong.
Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Not arguing.

http://www.bartleby.com/68/50/4650.html

Thank you.


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Swimming Bird
Member
Member # 2760

 - posted      Profile for Swimming Bird           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
From that same link:

quote:
Use an apostrophe only when you need it to prevent confusion

A capital A at the start of a word at the end of a sentence, and with the content of the sentences before and after about how kids in her school dislike her, I don't see how there could be any confusion.

You're welcome.


Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Fine. Whatever. Who the F cares by now?

Thank you for not helping at all with my problem, which the other posters had no trouble with. Thank you for wasting my time. I'm sorry you wasted your time with my fragment.

Will you please go away before I start calling you names?


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Swimming Bird
Member
Member # 2760

 - posted      Profile for Swimming Bird           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
As much as I appreciate the irony of you being proven wrong with your own link, and your thinly-veiled concession, I think I will check out some other threads before being called a doodie head.
Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm not wrong. It would be confusing to me without the apostrophe. Therefore it freakin' stays the way it is. So piss off, moron.
Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Shendülféa
Member
Member # 2964

 - posted      Profile for Shendülféa   Email Shendülféa         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm just going to comment on the first sentence, since that's what you want anyway.

It seems to me to be...wordy. I agree with what Ray said: it needs some trimming. For instance, "important notice" doesn't work for me. I think leaving out "important" would help. It just seems to be redundant saying "important notice". If someone takes notice of something, it must have looked important to them somehow.

And you're telling us rather than showing us what happened. I think that might be the main problem. I didn't even notice it until the fifth time I read through it. I knew something felt wrong about it, but didn't know what it was either. I think that's it, though.


Posts: 107 | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kilgore__Trout
Member
Member # 3502

 - posted      Profile for Kilgore__Trout   Email Kilgore__Trout         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
One possible modification:

Molly failed to attach any significance to the white utility van[or whatever type it is], and so the ordeal began.

I think ending the sentence with the ordeal helps to lead into the next paragraph which is about a separate event. As it is written, I was expecting to read more about the van in the next paragraph.


Posts: 16 | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Novice
Member
Member # 3379

 - posted      Profile for Novice           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'd like more tension in the first sentence, which means more stuff. Personally, I'd expand the first bit into a series of sentences. I'll give an awful example, because I find I can't say what I mean:

Molly's ordeal began because she failed to notice the van. It was important that she notice the van, parked in plain sight beside the curb at her house. But she didn't. She was daydreaming.

(Of course, then you'd have to rearrange the first sentence of the next paragraph, to prevent repeating that "it was"..."Surprise, Arizona's hot autumn afternoon was glorious, perfect for walking home..." And then I'm sure THAT introduces new problems...awful example as promised.)

I like the part about the cheerleaders, and I'd probably set the last clause apart with some sort of emphatic punctuation ("...for no reason--except that they were all probably hell spawn.") I find Molly sympathetic, and if you are going to do something horrible to her, I'd rather not know!

(Please don't call me any names)


Posts: 247 | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
wbriggs
Member
Member # 2267

 - posted      Profile for wbriggs   Email wbriggs         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
If Molly had only noticed the van parked outside her house, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.

But as she walked home from school, Molly was daydreaming: having petty fantasies of revenge on those stupid, backbiting cheerleaders that taunted her for no reason except that they were all probably hell spawn. Was it her fault...

I think this maybe gets your intent.

I had POV problems. I think you're going for omni in paragraph 1 ("1st paragraph is free"), then we zoom into Molly's head. But the latter part of paragraph 2 doesn't seem like it's her POV. For example, instead of "all requirements for being popular in eighth grade," she might think "all requirements for being popular," since eighth grade right now is her world (unless she's contrasting it with her previous grade level). You might (or might not) also keep going with that attitude you were doing so well with the cheerleader stuff.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited June 25, 2006).]


Posts: 2830 | Registered: Dec 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Gecko
Member
Member # 2709

 - posted      Profile for Gecko   Email Gecko         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Not arguing

quote:
I'm not wrong. It would be confusing to me without the apostrophe. Therefore it freakin' stays the way it is. So piss off, moron.

HSO, way to take the high road and not argue.

If you didn't like Bird's crit, that's fine, but to me it just seems like he cut into your work and it offended you so you're using this A's/As thing as a WMD-excuse to attack him.

And honestly, after he took the time to write out a long, and what I think, helpful analysis of your story, to simply focus on one tiny thing and to refer to the rest of it as unhelpful is very, very rude.

Especially when other posters echoed what he said originally.

I was planning on writing a crit myself, but now I won't for fear of the same treatment.


Posts: 25 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MaryRobinette
Member
Member # 1680

 - posted      Profile for MaryRobinette   Email MaryRobinette         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Hm...gotta say this is failing to catch my attention. The second paragraph feels like backstory and the first one feels like, "Wait! Things are going to get good later." I'm fairly certain that you could fit all of this into the story through POV hints later.

So, my take is that the reason the first paragraph feels wrong, isn't a problem with the structure of the sentence, it's that it doesn't belong at all.


Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
HSO
Member
Member # 2056

 - posted      Profile for HSO   Email HSO         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks for the comments so far.

Right. I truly need to find a way to make the first line work. So let me elaborate on my intent. I want it to stand apart from the second paragraph. It's deliberately designed to tease by not withholding what is about to happen (notwithstanding that some may not like that, but keep reading and you'll see what I'm on about). Molly does indeed see the van; she sees it in detail, even, but she's got her mind on other stuff, as is evident in paragraph 2, even more dire stuff on her mind that follows in paragraph 3. She's not an outcast, she's simply being teased by a few cheerleaders because she's brainy and poor. She's rather well-adjusted, actually, despite her messed-up home life. She doesn't really care, but she still has petty fantasies, just like we all do from time to time.

Anyway, this seeing-but-not-seeing thing happens to all of us. We see something, but we don't give it the proper attention (and these may be the words I want) we should. Those who said "important notice" was off nailed my exact feeling about the sentence, and I concede I may also be trying to cram too much into this one sentence. I intend for paragraph 2 to cover general setting (Surprise, Arizona) and the beginning of characterization (who Molly is, age, etc.).

Paragraph 3 starts with the beginning of her abduction, so it's not that long of a wait or a tease. She sees the van's door opening, hears the engine running, sees it all in detail, and still she's thinking and focused about stuff happening at home with her father, so she's distracted, and gets nabbed. If she were paying attention, well... who knows if she'd get away...

So, the first line, which may at first seem out of place, is deliberate--very intentional, and if I can get the wording right, it'll work. I know it will. This type of setup is precisely the same technique that many very good authors choose to use, and if I must, if pressed, I'll start citing example after example. It's a quick setup, a short digression to set the stage, so to speak, and then it's back to the topic the first paragraph (or in this case, the first line) develops.

So, that's my intent with the first line. Other style issues aside, I think it'll work with the right words.


Posts: 1520 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MaryRobinette
Member
Member # 1680

 - posted      Profile for MaryRobinette   Email MaryRobinette         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well.

Good luck with that.


Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Isaiah13
Member
Member # 2283

 - posted      Profile for Isaiah13           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
PatEsden said:

quote:
Also I'm not sure you need to use the word "ordeal" I think you can trust the reader to read between the lines and know something awful is coming.

I agree. Since we don't know exactly what the ordeal is anyway, couldn't you just drop a hint that something's amiss, rather than explicitly state it?

Example: Had her mind not been elsewhere, Molly might have wondered about the van parked at the curb alongside her house. As it was, she scarcely noticed it at all.


Posts: 270 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Louiseoneal
Member
Member # 3494

 - posted      Profile for Louiseoneal   Email Louiseoneal         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Molly’s ordeal began because she failed to give any important notice to the van parked at the curb alongside her house.

How about: ...she saw but didn't see the van parked in front of her house.

Walking, however, gave her time to pretend to be anything and anyone without distraction.

You could make it clearer she doesn't want to be one of the in crowd by saying something like:

One thing she never pretended to be was a cheerleader.


Posts: 187 | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
trousercuit
Member
Member # 3235

 - posted      Profile for trousercuit   Email trousercuit         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In my experience, it wasn't the people at the top of the social pyramid in school who dealth the most damage, it was the people in the middle. I was near the bottom. I was jealous and bitter of the people at the top, but they never picked on me. Why would they? They were already at the top.

That doesn't exactly play to the extremes we like to play to in fiction, though.


Posts: 453 | Registered: Feb 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
My suggestion would be along the lines of "Molly's ordeal began because she didn't pay quite enough attention to the van parked outside the house."

I think that's simpler, losing the odd conflict between "any" and "important" in your opener, and reducing the apparently unnecessary precision of "at the curb alongside her house" (though of course you may have a reason for that precision that I'm not familiar with).

(Edited for typographical errors)

[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited June 27, 2006).]


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
mikemunsil
Member
Member # 2109

 - posted      Profile for mikemunsil   Email mikemunsil         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I haven't read any of the other responses, so I apologize if this is just a repetition.

quote:
Molly’s ordeal began because she failed to give any important notice to the van parked at the curb alongside her house.

This sentence is a bit tough for me because there is so much in it. If you could simplify it a bit, I would have less trouble reading it and rush on to see why. One way to simplify it might be to remove the reason for why her ordeal began, and just let the reader take it for granted that he will find out why, later on.

So, you might change it to something like "Molly’s ordeal began when she failed to notice the van parked at the curb by her house."

I think we can take it for granted that it was important to her to take notice, after all this is the lead into the whole story; it must be important.

Mike


Posts: 2710 | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kings_falcon
Member
Member # 3261

 - posted      Profile for kings_falcon   Email kings_falcon         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Could you change the POV and make it work?

"She barely glanced at the van. It fit too well into the well manicured suburbia of the neighborhood for her to take any notice of it other than it existed. Mr. Dark and Evil had been counting on that. Counting on her being absorbed by the petty daydream revenge that plauges teenage girls."


I think the problem may be that you are trying to say "don't look behind the curtain." Dorothy and the others didn't notice the curtain even though they would have "seen" it. So the audience didn't "see" the curtain until Toto attacked it.

By highlighting that she DIDN'T really process the threat the van posed, you are violating POV. She wouldn't be making a mental catalog of the cars she's passing or about to pass. You might not be able to hint at "something dire is coming" and pull it off. You won't be able to pull it off in her POV. She doesn't know.

It's like the punch that catches the MC off guard. You can't say "Mordent didn't see the punch that knocked him off his feet coming." because he didn't see it. You can only say, if even that: "Mordent saw a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye. Pain lanced through him as Jurriaan's fist connected."

IMHO, you have the same problem with the opening sentance.


Posts: 1210 | Registered: Feb 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Raisedbyswans
Member
Member # 3529

 - posted      Profile for Raisedbyswans   Email Raisedbyswans         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
While I see what you're going for (mostly because you explained it at length), I think you're over complicating the matter. The whole seeing-without-recognizing thing happens all the time. I would simple state the situation without the first sentence, however much you are in love with it.

Molly walks down the street with the parked van. As she walks, bad things happen.

There are three main reasons I feel the first sentence doesn't fit.

1. You're stating an effect "the ordeal" before the cause "not noticing the van" (structural nitpicking). If you choose to keep the sentence, I would flip the order. You should find it makes it less cumbersome.

2. The sentence is extremely vague, which as a reader who hopes to get hooked from the first line, really makes it hard for me to carry on.

3. The sentence tries to force tension by telling the reader something abhorrent is about to happen, when showing them would go alot further.

I know this isn't what you're looking for because you desperately want to keep that first sentence, but it's all I got.

Best of Luck.


Posts: 24 | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Survivor
Member
Member # 213

 - posted      Profile for Survivor   Email Survivor         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Yeah. Particularly number two.
Posts: 8322 | Registered: Aug 1999  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
oliverhouse
Member
Member # 3432

 - posted      Profile for oliverhouse   Email oliverhouse         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm just getting back from vacation; sorry for the long delays in responding.

HSO, I agree with others that you're trying to telegraph too much about Molly's upcoming ordeal. Maybe something simpler would work, something like:

-----
The van looked ordinary. It was parked at the curb by Molly's house on that glorious, hot autumn afternoon in Surprise, Arizona...
-----

Regards,
Oliver


Posts: 671 | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2