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Author Topic: Peddler's Row
bob corrigan
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Good morning - I've got about 2k words in the can after a week or so of writing, and may I say those are the hardest 2k words I've ever written? I'm not even sure some of them are words. I'm pretty sure about the word count, tho.

Peddlers Row is (shaping up to be) a modern fantasy about a stretch of shops in an old northeastern city and the odd community that calls it home. I'm motivated by my love of junk stores, old book shops and over-crowded markets, and my sense that there's Something Going On in those dusty stores that is much more interesting than anyone can imagine.

As this is my first "serious" attempt at writing fiction, I'd like you to please consider the flow and energy of the fragment below, and to let me know if it makes you want to know more about this person. I've got other "fragments" in hand - character studies, scenes and some dialog - but before I get too stuck-in I wanted to check in with some Actual People.

Thanks in advance.

NOTE - Please scan down seven posts to read my actual 13-line fragment; I'll leave this here to remind myself to do a better job reading instructions In the Future.

-=0=-

He locked and barred the trailer's aluminum door and fed enough scrapwood to the stove to keep it burning through the night. Moving bars of headlights cut through the shades covering the porthole window next to his bed, the same window that leaked cold air and road noise all night long.

He covered his face with his arm, another week of endless job-searching and not-finding finally over. Thursday was one phone interview and three hours on a computer at the library reading message boards and postings and six emails to recruiters and one call-back. One coffee from the library lounge, with enough Mini Moos and sugar packs to call it breakfast, calorie-wise. A baloney sandwich and an orange from the Lutheran kitchen after a thirty-minute pep talk. Canned ravioli for dinner. He was getting sick of canned ravioli.


Note from Kathleen:

We have a 13-line limit for posts from manuscripts. Please read the topics in the Please, Read Here First to understand our reasons and how to tell if you have 13 lines.

Thank you.

[ October 14, 2013, 06:01 PM: Message edited by: bob corrigan ]

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History
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I have a bugaboo about beginning stories with "He" or "She" or "They". It's vague and disengaging. If the character has a name, use it.

I stumbled over "Moving bars". I'd suggest just mention "the glare of passing headlights". Also this sentence would be better as two separate sentences, I believe.

Otherwise, you've established a character down-on-his luck, struggling to get by. This is something many (especially in the recent economic climate) many can relate to (or fear they could relate to).

That's the extent you've accomplished in your 1st 13 (which is the challenge with only 13 lines). You've demonstrated no "odd community" nor any "fantasy" elements.

I can see the setting and know a bit about him. It's a good start as far as this goes. Best of luck with this.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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The preamble gives me pause to begin with. Shorthand term usage like "tho" and "dialog" signal shorthand, hasty writing.

The first paragraph is stronger than the second in terms of scene development from more sensory description (show) and less summary and explanation (tell).

I've never fired a wood stove that kept heating on one stoking through a night. Six hours is about the longest I've managed on dry, well-seasoned, solid oak. Four hours is average on regular firewood. Scrapwood, I'm lucky to get two hours of heat.

"Bars of headlights" is at once specific and vague. I see light bars on top of vehicles, like police cruisers.

"all night long" at the end of the first paragraph implies he sat up all night and the second paragraph is the next morning, Thursday, then Thursday midday then Thursday night.

This opening feels too unspecific at the same time as it feels too specific to me. The opening's descriptive power feels blunted from underdevelopment, rushed, overlooking expressive sensory details. The second paragraph feels too specific from expressly telling what this scene means. Bald depictions that readers can interpret are more appealing than ones that tell readers what they mean. Leaving a little mystery, arftully, for readers to decode engages our powers of imagination.

"Call-back" is conventionally, now, a compound word: callback.

This opening points out a challenge of scenes with only one person and no one else to interact with, they bog down in ennui like being stuck in a bathtub and navel contemplating.

Clearly, joblessness is a dramatic complication: a want or problem wanting satisfaction, the most essential feature of a plot. But not giving what kind of work he is capable of and what work he's looking for and how they connect along with joblessness to "Peddler's Row" is unclear at this point. So I feel like this opening point in time might be too early, priming the pump, so to speak, and unconnected to the main action.

[ October 14, 2013, 05:22 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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First, I question the wisdom of having a wood stove burning inside a trailer. My initial research on this tells me it's more of a luxury item than anything, and he'd be better off, financially, with an electric space heater. Anyway, I think I need some explanation for its presence.

quote:
Moving bars of headlights cut through the shades covering the porthole window next to his bed
I think you want blinds, not shades. If I'm picturing this correctly, it's the interaction of headlights and blinds that create the bars, so they wouldn't cut through the blinds.

quote:
He covered his face with his arm, another week of endless job-searching and not-finding finally over.
The "finally" is bothering me here. If it was just "over," I could get a sense of disappointment or frustration. "Finally over" is that he sees this as a chore, that he's just going through the motions for the sake of appearance. This would be fine, except that he's apparently living alone in the trailer. So who is he keeping up appearances for?

quote:
Thursday was one phone...
The week's over. Why is he thinking about Thursday? Nothing that follows in this opening explains why Thursday deserves reflection over Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday. If we had something along the lines "At least on Thursday he got a call-back" then I'd understand the focus.
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bob corrigan
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Thank you everyone. I clearly failed on the 13 lines - I read that as 13 sentences. If the goal of this exercise is to capture the imagination of the reader in 13 lines, then I've got some work to do. Give me a minute.

[ October 14, 2013, 05:43 PM: Message edited by: bob corrigan ]

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bob corrigan
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In the interest of failing fast, here is an effort to abandon much of the "telling" and introduce Oliver by "showing". It clocks in at 13 lines (not counting line feeds).

--

Oliver struggled under the weight of his backpack and the cardboard box in his arms as he waddled across the gravel parking lot towards the flea market grounds.

A young girl wrapped in a blanket sat behind the admissions table counting out change into a toolbox. "Hey, Ollie," she said. "You're early."

"Hi Suse, well, yes, but I need some, I mean, I'd like a little extra time to set up," Oliver said. "Can...can I put this down? It's awful heavy."

"Sure! Set it down right here," she said, pushing a pile of flyers to one side of the folding table. She stood up and peered into the box. "Whatcha got this week? Got anythin' special? Any more of those cool jingle jars? Those were nice. All sparkly."

[ October 15, 2013, 06:32 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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extrinsic
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The second version clocks in by my reckoning at twenty lines. Line breaks signaling paragraph breaks don't count against thirteen lines. A straightfoward method for gauging line count is to paste the text into a Full Reply Form text box, or the New Post text box, sans line breaks. The text box is set to display exactly sixty-six columns and thirteen rows of glyphs, including word spaces and punctuation. If a text goes over, the scroll bar on the right of the text box activates.
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bob corrigan
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Oliver pulled his handcart across the gravel parking lot to the flea market gate.

"Hey, Ollie," said the girl behind the admissions table. "You're early."

"Hi Suse, well, yes, but I need some, I mean, I'd like a little extra time to set up."

She looked past him to his cart. "I might make an exception. Got anythin' special this week? Any more of those cool sparkly jingle jars? I saw 'em, they were real nice."

"I am happy to say," he announced in a formal voice, "it's your lucky day. Oliver Levant has outdone himself with a range of treasures that happens to include jingle jars."

"You could use a spot of luck, Ollie," she said, smiling. "Go on in. I'll come by later."

[ October 14, 2013, 06:26 PM: Message edited by: bob corrigan ]

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bob corrigan
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Funny thing, I like the 13-line fragment better than the first one. Huh.
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arriki
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Seems nice. A good, low key intro.
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extrinsic
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The third version feels stronger to me, probably because, in general, dialogue is more engaging. The dialogue feels stilted, though, from being pleasantries without appreciable tension, particularly contentious interaction. A little bit of simmering undercurrent I feel would bring this opening's tension forward. A method for that would involve leavening other sensory details into the dialogue, like if Ollie notes Suse make a mark on her records for Ollie's earliness, contradicting her pleasant and agreeable demeanor. She has a boss or other flea-market vendors to answer to, right? Ollie wonders what the mark means and what trouble it will cause later on. That's a visual sensation depicting an action and three thoughts to give the visual sensation-action context and texture (who, when, where; what, why, and how).

When I visualize a handcart, most every one I can think of is pushed rather than pulled. Pushing a two-wheel cart is easier and more secure than pulling one. The pusher can keep an eye on the merchandise and not catch his ankle on the axle. Also, I think "pushcart" is a stronger and clearer descriptive noun than handcart. I'm picturing anything from a one-wheel wheelbarrow to a garden cart to a wheeled table to a tall case of glass-fronted shelves on wheels. "Pushcart" gives me a solid image of a sales table on two wheels and two legs.

[ October 16, 2013, 02:04 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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I immediately like Oliver Levant, so you've got that going for you. He strikes me as a lovable underdog sort, and who doesn't love a lovable underdog?
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bob corrigan
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Oliver pulled his overfull handcart across the gravel parking lot to the flea market gate.

"Hey, Ollie," said the girl behind the admissions table. "You're early. Like, too early."

"Oh, hi Suse, well, yes, but I need some, I mean, I'd like a little extra time to set up?"

She looked past him to his cart. "Well, I *could* make an exception... got anythin' special this week? Any more of those cool sparkly jingle jars? I saw one, they were real nice."

"I am happy to say," he announced in his formal voice, "it is your lucky day. Oliver Levant has outdone himself with a range of treasures that just happens to include jingle jars."

"You could use a spot of luck, Ollie," she said, smiling. "Go on in. I'll come by later."

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bob corrigan
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He is lovable, it is low-key, and yes it could use some more tension.

I tweaked it a wee bit to incorporate your feedback within the space limit:

1. Some tension in how Suse replies.

2. Some tension in how she negotiates with Oliver.

I think I will go back and tweak how he replies to her request too, to make it a bit less sing-songy.

There are so many little things I want to do with this intro but they would drive it outside the line limit:

1. Add some indication to the first line that he's sweating his poor touchas off.

2. Add some sensory language that let you experience just how early it is, with dawn barely breaking and the fall air quite cool.

3. Add some extra description to Suse to make her a bit more 3-dimensional

The intro continues with him meeting various and sundry other vendors at the flea market, his detailed and somewhat complicated table preparations, some interactions with customers, and one particular interaction with an individual sent there to meet/find him, which leads to chapter 2.

If anyone would like to learn more about Mr. Levant and the strange adventures he encounters, let me know and I'd love to have you read a bit more.

What an interesting exercise this has been.

bob

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extrinsic
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My concern at this point, based on your summary is that this might be more like a documentary or travelogue about a Peddler's Row than a drama.

Fiction, of course, comes in travelogue and documentary-like forms. However, fiction's primary, if not exclusive, appeal is drama, whether classic Aristotlean tragedy or comedy or the more recent bildungsroman, which is personal growth commensurate with personal cost, or maturation drama. Tragedy and comedy at once. The young adult coming of age vogue is an example of bildungsroman.

Comedy, need I say, in the classic Aristotlean sense, is when the drama starts out in unfortunate straights, struggles to redress the unfortunate circumstances, and ends on a fortunate turn of events. Comedy is not per se humorous, though a drama may be. Tragedy, of course, is the opposite: from good fortunes to misfortune.

Ollie's flea market encounters seem poised to portray his everyday routine. In dramatic terms, a routine harks for interruption. Hints that Ollie's fortunes are bad at first are given in the several versions as expressed by Suse, that he could do with a spot of luck. When I think of flea markets and their carnival-like atmosphere, I think of location as problematic. I've been stuck at the back end of beyond when I've offered my wares for sale at flea markets, street fairs, consignment and curio shops, carnivals, festivals, and art shows.

I got poor locations all around. A little payola gets a better spot or knowing someone, the old patronage and nepotism games, or having been accepted as a regular and a revenue-performing insider for the group. None of which I'm willing to stand for on general principles. Though the publishing culture is exactly that way, I'm more open to publishing's conventions for reasons that publishing culture effectively if subjectively filters content based on appealing artistic merits.

Anyway, patron appeals of the carnival-like atmosphere of flea markets and the like are the possibilities for finding a bargain, for finding an unrecognized treasure, for discovering that one collectible item missing from a set, and so on. The appeals for vendors are likewise those, as well as personal interactions with engaging patrons and income, not to mention the appeals of a gray market economy and the independence from restrictive, normative social conventions represented therein.

I say that latter because the mystiques of carnivals is their appeal, Including that mystique, the mystery of carnivals might be a dramatic feature for this novel that carries the documentary or travelogue's expression. Hence getting a mystique cued up, hinted at, or implied in thirteen lines I think is essential for a novel or narrative of any length, maybe this novel.

Of the three principal dramatic fiction meaning spaces, Coleridge's readers' willing suspension of disbelief, Tolkien's exotic secondary settings appealingly different from readers' everday routine ones, and Levy-Bruhl's readers' participation mystique, I think this opening could benefit from emphasizing the latter two.

How is this flea market appealingly exotic, idiosyncratically unique from other flea markets and the like? How does Peddler's Row appeal to readers otherwise indifferent to flea markets and the like so that they participate in this one's mystique?

[ October 16, 2013, 02:10 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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Honestly, my advice is to quit tinkering with the opening and write the rest of the story. Come back and perfect your opening during revision. Otherwise, you'll get bogged down in the details and never finish.
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bob corrigan
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There's plenty of drama - seriously, folks, how much can I reveal in the 13-line straightjacket of this format? I'm comfortable with the story and the conflict, and I'll check back in when I've got something more.

FWIW the flea market is just the first setting - a familiar, somewhat everyday space that readers can understand. Putting that first makes the transition to the more exotic, dangerous and interesting Peddler's Row more interesting.

Think of the transition from Ender's house to the Battle Room [Smile] Same thing.

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extrinsic
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Openings are challenging. The thirteen-line principle is based on the average a screening reader will read and make a decision to read on or not. One hundred thirty words does triple or more duty when artfully crafted using figurative language, subtext, and implication and benefiting from readers' imaginations filling in gaps. Ernest Hemingway's famous microfiction story, "For sale: baby shoes; never worn." illustrates those features in an entire three-act story of just six words and three punctuation marks.
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