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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » WIP "It's a living"

   
Author Topic: WIP "It's a living"
Kent_A_Jones
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I'm exploring an age old question. Humorously.

“Why the hell do I have to do this,” said Gray. He contemplated a bluntly pointed, chrome-bright cylinder that he held with a small four fingered hand. He slid a finger over a blue light on the phallic looking artifact and the tip expanded into a ten centimeter bulb. Cruel devices protruded and retracted with his random touches.

“It’s our job,” said Gray’s partner, Clone. His voice barely carried above the metallic whir of engines holding their saucer in parking orbit on the far side of Earth’s moon.

Gray sniffed the end of his instrument. “Every night, night after night. Right up the bum.” He thrust the mirror surfaced torpedo upward and gave it a stiff twist as if it had encountered resistance.

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Lamberguesa
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Oh my, one of those stories is it? [Wink]

Well you've made it clear what the story is about, and the conflict (Gray doesn't like his job). Tone comes through clear. Two things that I think could improve it: give at least a bit more hint at what sort of person/being Clone is. Ex: does he enjoy the work, settle for it because it is a job, or mindlessly follow orders from a superior?
Also, Gray's response seems a little lack-luster. It is funny, but it also sounds like he is stating the obvious merely to inform the reader. I'm no master of dialogue, but I think a little extra might give the reader more insight into the characters and increase interest in the story.

And a few nit-picks:
-The first line of dialogue should have a question mark at the end.
-I think bluntly-pointed and four-fingered should be hyphenated, might be wrong about that.
-You can drop the word "looking" from phallic looking and it still essentially means the same thing.

Cheers,
A.L.

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Denevius
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There's a bit of narrative withholding here that's meant to inspire curiosity, but I think it doesn't quite achieve the effect you're looking for.

The mystery of the opening is, what's their job? You don't have to answer that in this fragment, but I have a feeling that once it's revealed what their job is, Gray's first question is going to seem contrived. My point being that I think Gray knows exactly why he has the phallic artifact.

Plus, Gray seems to know what the item is since he knows its purpose, to go "right up the bum". So instead of contemplating a 'bluntly pointed, chrome-bright cylinder', he would be contemplating (though what's to contemplate if he already knows what its purpose is) what seems to be a sex toy.

And I guess his question could be rhetorical except most of the opening is focused on the sex toy in question, and we never actually get into Gray's head to see his inner thoughts or how he feels about the object, his job, or Clone.

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TaleSpinner
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I'm hooked by the metallic whirring of engines and the saucer, which to me feels like the old Golden Age SF I love - and maybe very appropriate for a humorous piece.

I thought the device was an alien probe, human anatomy for the analysis of. Sex toy didn't occur to me. I doubt that it matters though.

I did think the probe got too many different descriptions and too many adjectives - might be an idea to give it the name they call it.

The four fingers felt alien, but their slang ("Why the hell...", bum) felt English (American or Brit, take your pick). I think I'd be drawn into it better if they had an alien way of speaking.

A final small point. I don't care for measurements in centimetres, sounds to me more like a report than a story and pulls me out of immersion. A bulb the size of his thumb might have been an idea but I guess he doesn't have one!

Hope this helps
Pat

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Denevius
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quote:
I thought the device was an alien probe, human anatomy for the analysis of.
Ah. That went over my head, though I guess both go in the same hole.

I think the concern, though, which Tailspinner notes, is that the aliens don't sound alien. They just sound like a couple of blokes complaining about work. And since I have no description of them yet except that they have four fingers (could have happened in an accident), then I gave a more mundane (somewhat mundane) explanation to the device.

But yeah, in their language, they'd have a name for the device, and it wouldn't be described as if they've never really seen it before.

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Kent_A_Jones
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Thank you, Lamberguesa. I'll investigate the hyphens and have dropped "like." There are sexual overtones, but it is not quite one of THOSE stories. High school and up is my target.

You're right, Denevius, the first dialog is now, "I hate this job;" thank you. I thought I'd pretty well explained what the job was. I'm playing on the anal probe rumors that have been bandied about since the sixties. That's more than fifty years of an ugly job for Gray. Would stating the purpose of the artifact immediately have a better comic effect than allowing the reader to discover it?

Thank you, Tale Spinner, for the compliment. I do, indeed, wish to parody B film stereotypes of aliens from the golden age. I would appreciate any insights that may help. I've removed a couple descriptions of the probe. (Yes, Denevius, I was aiming at "sex toy," but fiction is subjective. My sex toy might be Gray, the alien's rectal probe. It's funny, dammit.)
Spinner, what do you suppose an alien might call a diagnostic medical device made for rectal insertion (others may certainly reply)?
Point taken about alien dialog being human. Humor, I think, is idiomatic, and as such should reflect the target language. I don't think the characters - a cut-up and a straight man - can be truly alien and still be humorous. How do you think I can make them more alien and yet still funny?

Thanks again.

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Denevius
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quote:
Yes, Denevius, I was aiming at "sex toy," but fiction is subjective.
Two points for me, I guess.

In 13 lines, you don't have to stuff in a story's worth of information, and trying to do so will just ruin the opening. Having said that, I, personally, have no idea what their job is from what you've given us so far. I can surmise that part of their job revolves somehow around this object Gray is holding. If it's supposed to be a probe, no matter what orifice they stick it in, the question still remains, what are they probing for? A doctor or nurse who gives a rectum exam is looking for signs of illness, like cancer. Their job isn't the rectum exam itself, their job is health.

Whether a sex toy or probe, the question of what the aliens' purpose is in relation to the device is, in my mind, far from answered. My central concern still revolves around the fact that the opening deals almost exclusively with the object, leaving readers too much in the dark about the actual aliens.

quote:
I don't think the characters - a cut-up and a straight man - can be truly alien and still be humorous. How do you think I can make them more alien and yet still funny?
You've given yourself a tough story to write. First, writing humour is probably the most difficult endeavor any writer can take on. Trying to write humour while capturing an alien voice is a real doozy. What keeps popping into my head is Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Or the late Robin Williams' Mork from the 80s. You might want to emulate these examples.
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TaleSpinner
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"Thank you, Tale Spinner, for the compliment. I do, indeed, wish to parody B film stereotypes of aliens from the golden age. I would appreciate any insights that may help."

They could do some anatomical research by watching Russ Meyer movies? [Smile]

"Spinner, what do you suppose an alien might call a diagnostic medical device made for rectal insertion (others may certainly reply)?"

Rectifier? Bumscope? ManBrain Detector? An Anal Anatomotron? Rectilluminator?

Why do they do it? What do they call earthmen? If they do it to map our internals, and if they call us little pink men, then maybe its a little pink probe? (Can't believe I said that.)

"Point taken about alien dialog being human. Humor, I think, is idiomatic, and as such should reflect the target language. I don't think the characters - a cut-up and a straight man - can be truly alien and still be humorous. How do you think I can make them more alien and yet still funny?"

Yes, a tough one indeed. There are some precedents as I'm sure you know: the Firefly crew speak English but swear in Chinese, a constant reminder they're not from today's culture. Mork used to speak funny and toss in nonsense words. Yoda, his words, in the right order, he never gets them. Daleks speak in a monotone, but that only works on TV.

What do they look like? Does their speaking apparatus have a fault that makes them squeak or wheeze something? Maybe their voices lack volume control so they emphasise the main - main - words (those we would articulate more loudly - loudly) by saying them twice twice?

If it were me, I'd make them speak in the language of B movies of the fifties, or maybe like those old Batman TV series - but they'd get it wrong, comically, as if they learned our language by watching TV but didn't quite understand it all.

Hope this helps,
Pat

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JSchuler
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I just want to say I read the first 13 and immediately thought of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tZar4wRP40
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Lamberguesa
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Nice link JSchuler, I love Kids in the Hall.
I recall another great animated short (I think it was mocapped) about aliens firing a guy who had been sent as a dignitary to Earth but had decided to probe humans instead. It was someone's weird uncle that they'd employed out of pity. It ended with, "Well, did you learn anything?" "Yeah, they don't like it very much."

Anyways, Kent, when I said "one of those stories," I meant an alien anal probe story, not something x-rated. Your intro about "an age old question" and the phrase "right up the bum" were more than enough to clue me in [Wink]

The dialogue did remind me of Douglas Adams while reading it, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

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Kent_A_Jones
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Thank you all for your valuable input. JSchuler, enjoyed the skit.

TaleSpinner, thanks for the names; I think I might go with Sphincterizer 5,000 to more completely parody modern culture. A number of impressions, my MC already does. Speaks in anastrophe, does Yoda. Try it, I will.

Take care.

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extrinsic
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Rumor, like gossip, and conspiracy theories generally, related to extraterrestrials say much about the moral human condition; that is, a want to believe in and belong to a larger and more mysterious cosmos than the everyday alpha reality existence normally provides.

Alien probes, for example, express a fear of personal violations by strangers exaggerated for effect. The fear in and of itself represents a desire for safety, a continuance of routine, though, contrarily, a nonconscious desire for a shakeup of routine.

This fragment sets those parameters on a different base. The aliens are bored, Gray more so than Clone, with the routine of upsetting human routines. Some routine interruptus is afoot. As an implication, that works as a "hook," if only the nature of the interruption development were strong and clear, perhaps foremost as a core feature that informs the whole.

A narrative statement about the contending desires of want for safety and want for excitement, the substantive moral human condition crisis at the forefront or otherwise a similar moral crisis feature, would make this potentially a humorous farce and meaningful for a satisfying reading experience. That would then inform the name of the device, its mythology development, the events, settings, characters, the sequences, the beginning, middle, and end, the rhetoric, irony perhaps, inform the whole.

As is, the fragment for me is directionless at this time.

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Kent_A_Jones
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Hello extrinsic,
Thank you for your comments. Your points about the rise of probe rumors are well taken.

I believe that probe humor arises from the attack on stereotypes of masculinity, particularly heterosexuality and the illusion of control. Also, there is a certain cognitive dissonance owing to the overt homosexual nature of the action. The juxtaposition of physically weak, unemotional aliens taking control in humiliating fashion from physically powerful, proud heterosexual men raises cognitive dissonance. But this is not enough to create humor.

In JSchuler's Kids In The Hall clip, the humorous twist is when a subject likes what is happening to him.

The iconic gray: a big headed, child sized sentient, bereft of all emotion, unable to create facial expression (My straight man). I've chosen to create an alien with over-the-top human qualities as a twist. He is the working grind, office jokester who, in the fragment, should cue the reader that things are about to change.

A beginning is a place to start. In this case, I think it should inform the reader that the piece is humorous; that it will deal with humor surrounding anal probes; that the MC's dilemma is how to relieve abject boredom.

Perhaps, in accordance with your post, a statement of boredom would be more in keeping with my thoughts than the first line of dialog. Secondly, (while I was attempting to do it visually with the probe) Clone could include a hint at Gray's jester's nature in his line.

Thank you,
Kent

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extrinsic
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An "office jokester" who might wear a lampshade at office parties? A possible delicious connection to how many extraterrestrial costumes use some kind of lampshade, maybe? Those kinds of motifs are ironic and appeal for their irony; that is, are clumsy attempts at humor and alll the more amusing for their schadenfreude qualities: amusement obtained from the mishaps of others.

The irony being a jester who expresses more about her, his, or its amusements than others' amusements, though amuses from self-embarrassment mishaps the jester is unaware of. Even more delightful when the irony adds another level of a jester aware of self-embarrassment mishaps though others are unaware the jester knows. Perhaps artful use of the socially goache cliche office party lampshade jester and similar? The jester believes he, she, or it is the life of the party! The party believes otherwise. Yet the jester knows his, her, or its antics are goache and amuse the party for their self-effacing mishap nature.

Huh! A story title with potentials and promises: "The Jester Knows." I'll add that to my inspirations file.

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