Author Topic: Your Father's Son, 2nd section (about 1000 words total, incl. 500 new words)  (Read 2031 times)

Offline GMack

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 119
Hello MWC: From my last installment of this short story, we learned that Michael, a lonely twenty-something, is being pushed to overcome his social anxiety by Sidney, a therapist recommended by Michael's now dead father. I'm including the entire start (now updated based on excellent feedback by MWC members), but those earlier readers wanting to jump ahead to the mostly-new material, please look for the keywords "new section." Thanks so much for any feedback. In addition, if someone has a few words about the dialogue between Michael and Sidney, that would be greatly appreciated.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I parked in front of the Marriott Dearborn and shut off the old sedan, the wipers halting mid-sweep. A few minutes of timed breathing will slow my pulse and loosen my chest, and then I'll walk into the lobby. Sidney had made me promise, and in spite of the urge to drive off -- to defy -- I had to follow through.

Liquid fingers streaked the windshield, distorting the rays from a nearby streetlight. In the rearview mirror my face appeared to be melting. I surveyed the sky. Soon, all light would drain from the clouds. Days of drizzle had soaked the sycamores in the parking lot. A fat auburn leaf broke loose and slapped the glass.

We'd reached a moment in my last counseling session when, typical of Sidney, he tapped his notebook with the butt end of his pen, peered over his reading glasses and delivered his tough-love direction. "Michael, you've had a rough couple of months, but you're making progress," he said. "A young man should take a few chances, so here's your assignment."

Six years earlier, my father slipped into my hand a neatly folded sheet of his office stationery bearing the name "Dr. Sidney Braddock Ostrander," and in doing so, removed another item from his final to-do list. Since then, Sidney had learned to recognize every self-defeating pattern of behavior in my psychological portfolio. His work routine with me: listening, reassuring me that I wasn't to blame for my problems, occasionally yanking me back from the brink, and refusing to let me get too comfortable.

Three years ago, once I had found the strength to work from home part-time, he insisted I attend a party at his house, a reunion of former grad students and faculty chums. Thank God it was a barbecue; I escaped to the deck, escaped the tension of walls, ceilings and questions, and pretended to care about cooking ribs without drying them out.

When his wife Helen called us to her beautiful table, Sidney led me inside by the upper arm and whispered, "These are nice people. Out of courtesy, they’ll show interest in you. You don't need to prove yourself."

I got through dessert, with help from 40 mg of Paxil, breezes from the open window and one watery vodka tonic, approved by Sidney with a subtle nod from across the room. But before coffee I ducked out “to pick up my cousin who's arriving on a late flight.” Sidney spotted the lie and the panic in my eyes.

Rain drummed the roof of the sedan. I squeaked my hands on the steering wheel. That dinner party at Sidney's house was a controlled environment, just friends, and I’d had him close by. This was a bigger challenge: a ballroom of strangers, judgments and, no doubt, direct questions.

++++++++++ new section +++++++++++++

While the Dearborn Ski Club contained a handful of real skiers, the rest of the few hundred members were 20- and 30-something singles looking for friends, fun, sex and marriage.

True to form, Sidney had researched. "It's a social club, with tennis ladders and volleyball teams, a golf tournament and who knows what else, just so people can get together. It's harmless. They meet at the Marriott Tuesday evenings."

"So I'm supposed to apply to become a member?" I imagined standing in front of a portable table, facing a knockout blonde, her slender arms guarding a stack of application forms. She scans me, screws up her face and raises a manicured index finger to flag the membership director.

"Michael, it's not really a club. You don't need to join or make any commitment, " Sidney explained. "Show up and you're a member, or at least you’re assumed to be, and besides, nobody keeps track. It's just a place to be, and you never know, you might make some friends."

"I don't know anybody there and don’t want to know any of them. A bunch of airheads hoping to get laid."

"Don't tell me you've figured out every single person who joins a group like that."

"Sidney, I'm not sure how well I can fake it, or how long..."

"We've been over this before, Michael,” he reminded. “It's counterproductive when you divide the world into abnormal versus normal, as if you’re alone on one side of a wall of glass, with all the ‘normal’ people staring at you from the other side.”

“My little fishbowl.”

Sidney ignored me. “No one is normal. It's the right time for you to go to this thing, and I expect it. It's what you need for this point in your recovery." He tapped his pen, snapped his notebook, stood and walked to the door. He might as well have said, "Soldier, you have your orders."

He turned back toward me and said, "One more thing about Tuesday evening… Damien Wills goes to these things. You met him over at my house. Curly black hair, colored contacts, used to be one of my grad students. He'll be there and I've asked him to show you around."

"I don't need a chaperon," I bristled. Damn his paternalism.

"Right, you don't, so don't expect him to stay with you the whole time,” he said. “He's got his own agenda anyway, someone with big tits.”

Frat boy humor goes with Sidney like pleated pants on a cowboy, with his neatly clipped white hair, ‘80s glasses and use of words like predilection.

I watched the steady flow enter the Marriott and felt the dwindling time like sandbags draped over my neck. I systematically fingered all four window buttons, then closed my eyes and slowed my breathing again, consciously relaxing my shoulders. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I recited to the cracked dashboard; or maybe it just prolongs the inevitable.

I climbed out, checked the door locks once, then twice.

Cars hissed on Lincoln Avenue as I took a deep breath. A scent of lilac took my mind back to an easier time -- in front of Joshua Howard Elementary School, Dad on one knee, young and vibrant, his arms outstretched as I ran toward him -- but then the aroma and memory were lost to the rain. I took a breath and put one foot in front of the other.

Offline BrigidMary

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
    • Visit my website!
Oh, GMack, you're killing me.  :D

One of the most brutal things about these boards is when you find something you truly connect with, that you're really enjoying, and then...it ends. It's like, wait wait wait! I wasn't done reading!

I read the entire thing, and I remember a lot about your initial post. I think you've added too much in the beginning. One of the things I loved most about your initial piece is that you had left just enough clues to keep it enticing. Now it feels a bit more like you're laying it all out, and I think it has lost a bit of that initial spark. Another one of the challenges of these boards is that your readers are seeing just a snippet -- if they want to know more, it's a good thing. That doesn't always mean that you need to include more, just to get more comprehension here, on the boards. With what you'd had before, I definitely would have kept reading, and now I think you may have slowed it down too much. I'll be interested to see what other people are saying.

With the new section, I really admire your artful way of interjecting the conversations with Sidney into the present tense scene. This is the kind of thing people should read when they want to see how to make flashbacks interesting. You're not laying out a lot of back story, you're not killing us with description. You're making both the past and the present equally interesting, and equally compelling. Nice work.

There was one line that jumped out at me:
"I don't need a chaperon," I bristled. Damn his paternalism.

It's the "I bristled," because you're doing such a nice job with the dialogue that I knew he was irritated. Calling it out pulled me out of the reading. I'd either do it this way:

I bristled. Damn his paternalism. "I don't need a chaperon."

Or, just get rid of the "I bristled" altogether. Either would work just fine.
Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Orpheus

  • Guest
Hi GMack,
 The 'new section' is great. My opinions on the first piece are as follows:

I parked in front of the Marriott Dearborn and shut off the old sedan, the wipers halting mid-sweep. I don't think you need this last bit, it adds nothing.

A few minutes of timed breathing will slow my pulse and loosen my chest, and then I'll walk into the lobby. I'm confused by the change in tense. It might work if you were writing present tense to predict what will happen next, but not when you're writing in past tense. This is only my view of course - it jolted me.

Sidney had made me promise, and in spite of the urge to drive off -- to defy -- I had to follow through. this sentence also confused me - sorry. I'm sure you can simplify it.

Liquid fingers streaked the windshield, distorting the rays from a nearby streetlight. In the rearview mirror my face appeared to be melting. I surveyed the sky. Soon, all light would drain from the clouds. Days of drizzle had soaked the sycamores in the parking lot. A fat auburn leaf broke loose and slapped the glass. nice description, although be careful not to overdo it, i.e. 'liquid fingers' doesn't do it for me. Again, just my opinion.

We'd reached a moment in my last counseling session when, typical of Sidney, he tapped his notebook with the butt end of his pen, peered over his reading glasses and delivered his tough-love direction. "Michael, you've had a rough couple of months, but you're making progress," he said. "A young man should take a few chances, so here's your assignment." I love your dialogue, but again, I'm tempted to chop it down a wee bit as shown.

Six years earlier, my father slipped into my hand me a neatly folded sheet of his office stationery bearing the name "Dr. Sidney Braddock Ostrander," and in doing so, removed another item from his final to-do list. Since then, Sidney had learned to recognize every self-defeating pattern of behavior in my psychological portfolio. His work routine with me: listening, reassuring me that I wasn't to blame for my problems, occasionally yanking me back from the brink, and refusing to let me get too comfortable.nothing wrong with your writing mate, but what are youe REALLY trying to say here? I think you need to be more specific or this comes across as 'telling without purpose.'

Three years ago, once I had found the strength to work from home part-time he insisted I attended a party at his house, a reunion of former grad students and faculty chums. Thank God it was a barbecue; I escaped to the deck, escaped the tension of walls, ceilings and questions, and pretended to care about cooking ribs without drying them out. you're obviously a skilled writer, but as a reader I feel you need to be more precise and cut out some of the 'waffle.' Sorry if this sounds arrogant - it's my honest feedback :) 

When his wife Helen called us to her beautiful table why is it beautiful? this means nada, Sidney led me inside by the upper arm and whispered, "These are nice people. Out of courtesy, they’ll show interest in you. You don't need to prove yourself."

I got through dessert, with help from 40 mg of Paxil, breezes (TRY: a stiff breeze 'breezes' is confusing) from the open window and one watery vodka tonic, approved by Sidney with a subtle nod from across the room. But before coffee I ducked out “to pick up my cousin who's arriving on a late flight.” Sidney spotted the lie and the panic in my eyes.

Rain drummed the roof of the sedan. I squeaked ( are you sure about this - 'squeaked) my hands on the steering wheel. That dinner party at Sidney's house was a controlled environment, just friends, and I’d had him close by. This was a bigger challenge: a ballroom of strangers, judgments and, no doubt, direct questions.

++++++++++ new section +++++++++++++

While the Dearborn Ski Club contained a handful of real skiers, the rest of the few hundred members were 20- and 30-something singles looking for friends, fun, sex and marriage.given - aren't we all (if we're single?)

True to form, Sidney had researched. "It's a social club, with tennis ladders and volleyball teams, a golf tournament and who knows what else, just so people can get together. It's harmless. They meet at the Marriott Tuesday evenings." I like this.

"So I'm supposed to apply to become a member?" I imagined standing in front of a portable table, facing a knockout blonde, her slender arms guarding a stack of application forms. She scans me, screws up her face and raises a manicured index finger to flag the membership director. great!

"Michael, it's not really a club. You don't need to join or make any commitment, " Sidney explained. "Show up and you're a member, or at least you’re assumed to be, and besides, nobody keeps track. It's just a place to be, and you never know, you might make some friends." again, the dialogue works.. imo

"I don't know anybody there and don’t want to know any of them. A bunch of airheads hoping to get laid."

"Don't tell me you've figured out every single person who joins a group like that."

"Sidney, I'm not sure how well I can fake it, or how long..."

"We've been over this before, Michael,” he reminded. “It's counterproductive when you divide the world into abnormal versus normal, as if you’re alone on one side of a wall of glass, with all the ‘normal’ people staring at you from the other side.”

“My little fishbowl.”

Sidney ignored me. “No one is normal. It's the right time for you to go to this thing, and I expect it. It's what you need for this point in your recovery." He tapped his pen, snapped his notebook, stood and walked to the door. He might as well have said, "Soldier, you have your orders."

He turned back toward me and said, "One more thing about Tuesday evening… Damien Wills goes to these things. You met him over at my house. Curly black hair, colored contacts, used to be one of my grad students. He'll be there and I've asked him to show you around."

"I don't need a chaperon," I bristled. Damn his paternalism.

"Right, you don't, so don't expect him to stay with you the whole time,” he said. “He's got his own agenda anyway, someone with big tits.”

Frat boy humor goes with Sidney like pleated pants on a cowboy, with his neatly clipped white hair, ‘80s glasses and use of words like predilection.

I watched the steady flow enter the Marriott and felt the dwindling time like sandbags draped over my neck. I systematically fingered all four window buttons, then closed my eyes and slowed my breathing again, consciously relaxing my shoulders. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I recited to the cracked dashboard; or maybe it just prolongs the inevitable.

I climbed out, checked the door locks once, then twice.

Cars hissed on Lincoln Avenue as I took a deep breath. A scent of lilac took my mind back to an easier time -- in front of Joshua Howard Elementary School, Dad on one knee, young and vibrant, his arms outstretched as I ran toward him -- but then the aroma and memory were lost to the rain. I took a breath and put one foot in front of the other.

[/quote]

Offline GMack

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 119
BrigidMary and Orpheus, so wonderful to get your feedback. Energizing and challenging, just the way it should be. Thank you for taking the time to give this intelligent and serious consideration.

This will be a short story, but I'm starting to learn why the short form can be problematic. There's so much I want to say about this handful of characters but so little space. On the flip side, those constraints forced tight writing, and you've given me great insights about making it tighter.

I'd like to comment on your comments in tandem, if I might. First, Orpheus, you've hit on something that I'd love to follow through with and learn even more. In a few places I snuck in a word or two because I thought it might help me say something about the setting or a character. But maybe you're thinking it's too much. Some examples:

I parked in front of the Marriott Dearborn and shut off the old sedan, the wipers halting mid-sweep. Maybe those last five words are not necessary. I felt compelled to describe a rainy setting. Michael is gloomy as is the world around him.

Sidney had made me promise, and in spite of the urge to drive off -- to defy -- I had to follow through. You found this sentence confusing and needing simplification. You are so right! I've rewritten it too many times. I wanted to establish the first tidbit about their relationship: Sydney is pushing him, and Michael only reluctantly submits.

Liquid fingers streaked the windshield. At first, I loved this. But on the other side, maybe it's too bizarre, stretching too far. To sci-fi anatomical? How about "Fingers of water streaked the windshield..." Or back to basics: "Water streaked..."

Your trimming of the paragraph that followed that was just perfect, but I wouldn't have seen it myself. Thanks.

Six years earlier, my father slipped into my hand a neatly folded sheet of his office stationery bearing the name "Dr. Sidney Braddock Ostrander," and in doing so, removed another item from his final to-do list. Since then, Sidney had learned to recognize every self-defeating pattern of behavior in my psychological portfolio. His work routine with me: listening, reassuring me that I wasn't to blame for my problems, occasionally yanking me back from the brink, and refusing to let me get too comfortable. Here's another one I struggled with. So much to say, but do I need to say it? Points I wanted to communicate: engaging Sidney was Michael's father's idea; an act of dying man ("final to-do list" -- did that come through?); that Michael is mentally screwed up; but that Sidney has truly helped him, maybe even saved his life. Given all that I wanted to get across, am I trying to say too much? Too obfuscated? Too [opposite of obfuscated :)]?

As for the next paragraph, you are not sounding arrogant, simply straightforward. I greatly value that. You saw "once I had found the strength to work from home part-time" as extraneous. I thought it was important plot development. This guy's been debilitated in the past.

I squeaked my hands on the steering wheel. Ha! No, "squeaked" isn't the best word choice. My first draft had "hands slick with sweat" and Ivy -- right on the mark, as usual -- nailed my cliché. That's why I love this writer's group.

The reference to the "beautiful table" -- I so thoroughly agree. I wanted to say something about Helen's aesthetic, her attention to detail, but why? She's not a main character.

BrigidMary, you are too kind (keep it up! :) ). You and Orpheus might be saying the same thing about the volume in that opening section. If I could just figure out what is the right amount of information and what is too much.

I'm also glad to hear your supportive comments regarding flashbacks. Back to the constraints of the short story, to try to keep everything in present tense in a few thousand words would be like an episode of "24." But one thread on MWC was quite negative on flashbacks. This thing couldn't work without flashbacks, in my opinion.

I also struggle at times with the right form of attribution. Said, replied, acknowledged, bristled. You're right, "bristled" isn't needed. "Damn his paternalism" says everything that's needed about Michael's inner feeling. Orpheus, you've reminded me that often the attribution just isn't necessary. As long as the reader knows who's saying what, I need to let the words communicate the emotions, not my description of the motion.

Once again, I'm delighted to have you guys provide your insightful comments.

Orpheus

  • Guest
Hi Gmack,
 I didn't think the reference to wipers necessary as you describe the rain on the windscreen later on. Sorry, I should have made this plainer. It's basically doubling up on what you later describe in much better detail.

By using the metaphor, 'fingers of liquid' you are in fact complicating the descripition if that makes sense. Personally, I would keep this simple, but descriptive writing isn't my forte (sadly). I look for plot in stories so I'm probably not the best to ask. I would say 'rain streaked.' It's not a cliche, it's a fact - you can't change what something does. Fire crackles, heat rises, and rainwater streaks down a window - simple (but effective).

I can see what you're trying to achieve with the following pasage, but it's too vague. Better to give examples to highlight your point.

Six years earlier, my father slipped me a neatly folded sheet of his office stationery bearing the name "Dr. Sidney Braddock Ostrander," and in doing so, removed another item from his final to-do list. Since then, Sidney had learned to recognize every self-defeating pattern of behavior in my psychological portfolio HERE - give an example to justify what you're saying. His work routine with me: listening, reassuring me Here - how does he reassure you... and what problems? that I wasn't to blame for my problems, occasionally yanking me back from the brink, the brink of what? it needs to be more powerful...if its suicide then say it. Some things are too powerful to leave the reader guessingand refusing to let me get too comfortableand here.. what does this mean?

To be fair, this is only a snapshot, so these things maybe explained during the story. But I would say this: treat every word as if its costing you a $100.00. If you keep it, you're gonna have to pay for it. This advice comes from someone who self publishes and every word does in fact cost you money! 

As for the squeaked - again, I have to disagree with the cliche to a certain extent. If your hands sweat on the wheel, then that's what they do... you can't change physics. I've never heard a hand squeek though... Sadly there just aren't enough words in the English language. If in doubt, keep it simple or don't say it at all....

I love your writing G, its high quality stuff and my comments are 'detailed' because it so good.

Orph :D

Offline BrigidMary

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
    • Visit my website!
Before you go changing a bunch of your words, think about which ones are words (or phrases) your characters would use. I disagree with Orpheus on some points, in that your descriptions are coming out of your narrator's mind. You're in third person limited, so your word choice can make it very clear where your character is coming from. For instance, the "beautiful table" or the "fingers of liquid." You may be slightly complicating the description, but you're also giving us a slightly psychotic point of view, which I think lends itself well to the piece. You're not writing a term paper describing the room, you're speaking right from your character's head. Just my two cents.

Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Orpheus

  • Guest
Sure, its horse for courses and I can't read it like that Brigid which is why this whole process is so subjective. My comments are only right to me because that was my reaction as a reader - the entire forum may disagree with me. But to me simply describing something as 'beautiful' with no reason why, is 'telling' in the worst possible way. It is one step up from saying it is a 'nice' table.

This piece of writing is easy to critique because it so good, and little things like this really stand out. For me it needs to be more concise in areas like this... but I speak as a reader not someone marking a term paper. That was unnecessary. :(

Offline BrigidMary

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 305
    • Visit my website!
Quote
This piece of writing is easy to critique because it so good, and little things like this really stand out. For me it needs to be more concise in areas like this... but I speak as a reader not someone marking a term paper. That was unnecessary.


That wasn't a dig at you, Orpheus, not in any way at all. I'm sorry if it came out that way.
Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Orpheus

  • Guest
No worries Brigid, don't apologize. I know I can come over a little strong at times, and I guess I'm sensitive that people might think I'm an arrogant egotistical so-and-so - hey! even I think so at times. ;D Sorry I took it the wrong way. :)


Offline GMack

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 119
You two as a tag-team, each with a distinct perspective, is SO valuable to upstart writers like moi. Viva la difference.