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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Girl in the Second Row

   
Author Topic: The Girl in the Second Row
Charles P. Shingledecker
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Hi everyone. I'm a newbie and have posted in the intro section, but I figured I'd post the first 13 lines of my 4000 word short story: the girl in the second row. I actually submitted it to a couple of places (that didn't accept it) when I realized it needed work. It's undergone another revision, but I don't think I can do anymore on my own.

It's soft SF and I'd love to have someone take a look at the whole story. Or you can just give me your feedback on the first 13 lines if you wish.

**********


I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, anxiously tapping my thumb on the steering wheel. Seriously, how long was this going to take? I rolled down my window, cleared my throat and said, "Alright Jim, that's enough mouth to mouth. We're going to be late." For God's sake, we were only going to see a movie. Was it necessary for him to kiss Debby goodbye?

Before I could make another sarcastic remark he pulled himself away from his wife and got into the car.

"Finally," I said, somewhat exasperated.

"Sorry."

I shook my head. "Itís okay. I just don't want to be late, that's all."

"And you think I'm tied down? You're married to the clock."

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Brendan
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Firstly, welcome to the treehouse.

Take this with some salt, as it is only one opinion.

I wasn't pulled into this story. This is the critical issue. At hatrack, we are strong about making the opening 13 have zing, because its the only way to make your story stand out enough to turn the page (which is the key goal of the new writer - it doesn't matter how great the story is later, if the decision to reject is made on the first page). I can see potential for some interesting characterisation, but not quite enough to pull me in. My initial impression is of an easily annoyed man voicing a complaint. I want to have at least a hint of the key conflict, or failing that, something fascinating about the world or character to keep me reading.

What follows below is just window dressing changes to what the above script. The core issue has already been stated.

The opening sentence, particularly the opening phrase, requires a bit more setting and/or action. Perhaps begin with the tapping rather than sitting, as this is more active.

Both "another sarcastic remark" and "somewhat exasperated" are repeated information that can be gleaned from the earlier dialog and internal dialog. The repetition makes me think I am not trusted to understand that.

I thought the dialog was realistic, and easy to read. And there is a certain voice that does suggest the story may have some interest down the line, but it didn't quite get there for me.

Edited because, gee, I can sound like a judgmental ##$@ when I'm tired.

[ June 05, 2012, 08:57 AM: Message edited by: Brendan ]

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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Hey thanks Brenden.

The beginning and the end is what I've been struggling with. It began completely different before, but I felt as though I was info dumping, so I tried something else, and I wasn't sure that was working. So then, I tried this beginning...none of them I've been comfortable with. I still think the "info dump" version was the best at getting across the setting, but then maybe not?

I understand the "in late-out early" concept. I also appreciate the remarks on repeating information.


Thanks for the feedback.

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extrinsic
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The dialogue lines are a strong suit, the "mouth-to-mouth" comment in particluar for it's character-developing idiosyncracy and use of idiom.

Accessibility is a bit shy from not showing what's dramatically developing where in time, place, and situation. The narrator-protagonist is tense, but the tension is low from the want of going to a movie not having much impact. Mainly, I'm not sure what the scene is meant to develop into. Basically, the opening is spent without much in the way of setup or introduction.

Voice, largely summary recital spoils the default close first-person narrative distance. The first sentence, for example, tells readers that the character is impatient and anxious. "I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, anxiously tapping my thumb on the steering wheel." Scene development would show the impatience and anxiety and reveal the setting simultaneously.

Labeling the "mouth-to-mouth" comment "sarcastic" also tells readers what's going on. I feel like the character is directly telling me information I already know or don't care about, feel little empathy for the character from his acting selfishly, and don't have a care for what will happen because of those.

Craft, not much in the way of plot, setting, or character development. A little plot from a minor want wanting satisfaction. Not much to care about or be curious about. A little character development from the above-mentioned idiosyncracy and impatience and anxiety. A little setting development from the "steering wheel" mention.

Top quality mechanical style signals effort and management on that front. However, the "alright" instead of all right signals a perhaps casual usage convention that may raise editorial eyebrows. In dialogue anyway it's less problematic as dialect, though in isolation, it signals little meaning. Regardless, it should be set off from the direct address by another comma: "Alright, Jim"

It's also artful to give readers a first-person narrator's name to identify with as soon as possible.

The title and context artfully suggest a story about unexpectedly meeting a girl at a movie theater. That's got a strong potential. If that's what the story's about, the title might be telegraphing that, or maybe that's where plot movement begins and thus the story begins since it's what's different from everyday routine.

[ June 05, 2012, 11:54 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
[QB]
Accessibility is a bit shy from not showing what's dramatically developing where in time, place, and situation. The narrator-protagonist is tense, but the tension is low from the want of going to a movie not having much impact. Mainly, I'm not sure what the scene is meant to develop into. Basically, the opening is spent without much in the way of setup or introduction.

I guess I don't understand how I can do set up without info dumping. This is something that doesn't make sense to me.


quote:

Labeling the "mouth-to-mouth" comment "sarcastic" also tells readers what's going on. I feel like the character is directly telling me information I already know or don't care about,

I agree.

quote:

feel little empathy for the character from his acting selfishly, and don't have a care for what will happen because of those.

Again, I agree.


quote:

The title and context artfully suggest a story about unexpectedly meeting a girl at a movie theater. That's got a strong potential. If that's what the story's about, the title might be telegraphing that, or maybe that's where plot movement begins and thus the story begins since it's what's different from everyday routine.

That is what it's about. I'm thinking this beginning (which was not original, but added because I thought it needed more context) is superfluous. It's also not getting across that this is a light hearted humor piece. I'm thinking of chucking the whole first page.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles P. Shingledecker:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Accessibility is a bit shy from not showing what's dramatically developing where in time, place, and situation. The narrator-protagonist is tense, but the tension is low from the want of going to a movie not having much impact. Mainly, I'm not sure what the scene is meant to develop into. Basically, the opening is spent without much in the way of setup or introduction.

I guess I don't understand how I can do set up without info dumping. This is something that doesn't make sense to me.

Understanding and realizing this show and tell shortcoming is one of the writing principles that separates struggling hobby writers from winning struggling writers.

First, one of an opening scene's purposes is to build rapport between viewpoint persona and reader. Establishing a major problem, firstly, builds tension's empathy and suspense features for rapport's sake. Human beings are problem solvers. We identify with and empathize with characters with problems, especially ones that evoke fear and pity and curiosity.

Since a viewpoint character's sensory experiences are the crux of show, or scene making, or mimesis (imitation) in the principles of writing craft, a narrator reporting the immediate sensations of a viewpoint character's in-the-moment personal experiences is a preferred method. What does the character personally see? Hear? Smell? Touch? Taste? Feel (emotionally)? Note that that sequence follows most humans' causal sensory sequence experience.

First a cause: Seeing the married couple smooching beside the car causes the character distress. Describe the visual sensation of the couple's public display of intimacy from his personal perspective in the driver's seat. I assume he's jealous of their relationship because he doesn't have one. Which speaks loudly to his problem wanting satisfaction and makes for an exceptionally artful setup to the main action's dramatic complication. So then he can causal-logically react, an effect, to their smooching. He says, "Enough with the mouth-to-mouth."

That, in turn, elicits a reaction from Jim. He intentionally prolongs the kiss. The character reacts, first describing the visual sensation of seeing a hint Jim is deliberately messing with him, then a thought about what it means to him, then another dialogue line: "Let's go already."

Mix sensory descriptions with causal-logical dialogue, thought, and emotion for context development, especially emotionally stimulating context. The four main creative writing modes for mimesis: sensation, introspection, conversation, and emotion.

And by the way, asking for clarification or elaboration from a critiquer is one effective method to build rapport between writer and critiquer. I felt you did that, so the above responds to that. I also believe a balanced critique noting what's working and what's not is effective for building rapport, which I strived to do. And, of course, social pleasantries like please, thank you, and you're welcome work rapport magic. I see you have those social principles well in hand and will make an excellent Hatrack member for it.

[ June 05, 2012, 02:50 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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axeminister
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Suggestion Charles:

Head down to the writing challenges section of the forum.
In the upper right choose the dropdown for show topics in the past year, and change it to show all topics.

Look at page 5 and 4

We used to run 13 line contests constantly. If you want to see a ton of examples of what works and what doesn't and why - spend an hour reading some of those old entries.

Soon, you'll know yourself whether the 13 accomplishes what it's supposed to or not.

Apply.

Axe

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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Extrinsic,

Thank you so much. I'm not sure if everything you say is sinking in yet, but it is helping me to see my story in a different light.

I just read the post directing me to the threads in the other forum, and will do as suggested. However, I've already re-written the scene from above with some of your pointers in mind.

I'm still not sure if I'm getting it, but I'd like to post it. I learn better by "doing" and so the only way for me to know if what you're saying is sinking in is to try it.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could take a look at this and tell me if it's any better.


***************

Impatiently tapping my thumb on the steering wheel, I sat there watching Jim and Debby kiss. If they kept this up much longer we were going to be late. "Enough with the mouth-to-mouth," I said.
I could see Debby relent but Jim seemed to be dragging it out as long as possible. Was he rubbing it in? "Letís go all ready," I said.
Debby was the first to pull away. "Go on," she said. "Or you guys will be late for the movie." He nodded and got into the car.
"Finally," I said.
"Sorry Richard," he said, grinning.
"Yeah, I bet you are."
"it's not my fault you haven't found the right girl yet."

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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quote:
Originally posted by axeminister:
[QB] Suggestion Charles:

Head down to the writing challenges section of the forum.
In the upper right choose the dropdown for show topics in the past year, and change it to show all topics.

Look at page 5 and 4


Thanks! I will definitely do that tonight. Much appreciated.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles P. Shingledecker:
Impatiently tapping my thumb on the steering wheel, I sat there watching Jim and Debby kiss. If they kept this up much longer we were going to be late. "Enough with the mouth-to-mouth," I said.
I could see Debby relent but Jim seemed to be dragging it out as long as possible. Was he rubbing it in? "Letís go all ready," I said.
Debby was the first to pull away. "Go on," she said. "Or you guys will be late for the movie." He nodded and got into the car.
"Finally," I said.
"Sorry Richard," he said, grinning.
"Yeah, I bet you are."
"it's not my fault you haven't found the right girl yet."

Much stronger. The first sentence still could do with less summary recital and more imitation by describing Debby and Jim's passionate kiss. I think. The same impatience and anxiety emotions as well as the setup could be portrayed with a highly opinionated description of Jim and Debby kissing, where they are in relation to Richard too. Like Richard might describe their smooching as a slobbering, tongue wrestling, passionate embrace denting the car's fender. Nothing like first-person overstatement's subjectivity to suggest emotional subtext. Also, Richard might observe how tight and careless the embrace is from, say, noticing Jim's hollow chest smashes Debby's ample breasts, her luscious backside riding up onto the fender quarter panel.

Sitting in the car Richard might not see Debby's toes curl. He might see a neighbor embarrassed by the intimate display and thus bring in the larger neighborhood's setting. He might see Debby's face flush with arousal then she backs off because the timing is off. Richard might be conflicted by arousal, disgust, embarrassment, amusement, and lust as well as impatience and anxiety. Pick a couple strong emotions and play them up. Readers imaginations will fill in the rest. How he sees Debby and Jim react to each other sets up his reaction to them.

Try to avoid static-action "see" verbs, and "sit" and "watch" and "stand," etc., from a viewpoint persona's persepective. They report sensations directly to readers a viewpoint persona is not consciously aware of in the moment. They step out of a setting's immediate context because a viewpoint persona can't artfully and credibly in most circumstances see himself seeing, sitting, waiting, watching, standing, etc. Describe just the sensations. Readers will know who's describing them once the who is established, which can wait until after the smooch description, say of a sentence or two. If Richard describes the smooch scene with strong commentary, it's obviously coming from a viewpoint persona's personal perceptions, even if in third-person voice, which since it's about other characters is ideal from a first-person narrator. The next sentence could then show him banging his thumbs on the steering wheel, in first person, which he can see and shows he's impatient and is next in logical causal sequence as a reaction to, effect from the smooch.

Great how you worked in a direct address by Jim to give Richard's name. Great because it's given within the narative's setting from a character reacting.

The emotional subtext is much stronger too. Jim's dig about finding the right girl clearly establishes Richard's problem wanting satisfaction. Richard's thoughts and his escalating clashes with Jim, they're strong on point.

[ June 05, 2012, 05:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Charles P. Shingledecker
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Extrinsic,

Thanks again. I can't articulate how much I appreciate the help and advice. I will re-write/revise the story with all of this in mind. And will read those other threads too.

So much to digest in such a short time. [Smile]


Chuck

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extrinsic
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You're welcome, Charles P. Shingledecker. I learned a bucket load from this, too. Largely from discerning why hunches I had about what's not working isn't, in my opinion, working and why what's working is.
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mayflower988
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This is kind of a small thing, but I noticed that you repeat "said" a lot. It may help to cut one or two out, i.e. just put the quote or use a word that describes how the character said it. Think about the emotions he's got going on and work with that. I hope that helps!
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