Author Topic: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story  (Read 1156 times)

Offline GMack

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Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« on: November 30, 2008, 11:53:30 AM »
Hi friends. This is a tad long at 1100 words but it's a complete scene from my short story drama. With the last installment, our protagonist, Michael, a lonely twenty-something, is being pushed to overcome his social anxiety by Sidney, a therapist recommended by Michael's now-deceased father. Sidney has sent Michael on a mission: attend a social event, a ski club meeting at a Dearborn hotel. The shrink has pre-arranged a social "guide" named Damien.

I am so grateful for any feedback that you might have.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Damien Wills, cupping a cigarette, leaned against the stucco wall between the hotel entrance and a neat row of evergreens. Light from overhead sparkled in his gelled hair. He noticed my approach, flicked his smoke and stepped briskly to meet me.

"Hey Mike, glad you could make it," he said, smiling and shaking my hand like a brother-in-arms.

"Mostly I go by Michael but I'm not a stickler about it."

"Fine by me, Michael.” He threw his arm around my shoulder and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Look, Sidney told me a little bit about your situation, like maybe this isn't so easy for you and being around people rattles your coins," he said.

Jesus, why would Sidney tell him that? I struggled to keep the shock from my face.

I scrambled to clarify, "Something like that. I'm not a big fan of crowds but then who is? Sidney has this face-your-fear-and-it’ll-disappear philosophy and I'm trying to be a good boy."

"Look man, who isn't a little bit whacked?"

So that’s what I am.

Damien continued, "This thing is no big deal. Everyone here is pretty much interested in themselves, not you, so there's no need to feel in the spotlight."

We walked through the lobby, down the hall and entered a ballroom pulsing with people. The high ceiling lessened the impact of the crowd. I stuck with Damien like a dog on a leash. How pitiful, I thought, to find comfort with someone I don't know. To our left, a sunburned guy explained his arm sling as “collateral damage.” To our right, a no-nonsense woman read team pairings from a clipboard. Ahead was the line to the cash bar.

"Hey, grab me a Corona and no damn lemon. Back in a minute," Damien said, pressing a five into my palm. I suppressed a tremor and queued up. I noticed ahead the guy from my old office who makes cubical calls to treat sick PCs. He's a geek, for sure, but friendly enough. Maybe he's a lonely heart. A Kate Bush lyric flashed through my mind: every sock meets an old shoe. We’re all looking for a shoe, I thought.

Minutes later, with beers in hand, I moved toward the air wall in search of space and anonymity, an unlikely combination under the circumstances. Emerging from the crowd, Damien approached with an attractive young woman in tow.

"There he is. Michael, meet Anna. Anna, Michael," he said, grinning. "I figured you guys could compare notes on writing."

After exchanging hellos and handshakes I said, “So you're a writer." Duh! Stupid comment. "Writing what?"

"I'm in the Masters program at the school of journalism so, officially speaking, nothing but homework for now." She spoke softly and deliberately, a welcome contrast to Damien's verbal fireworks. "When I'm done who knows what I'll end up doing. Not quite the reporter type. Too much rushing around for me."

My brain searched for the right follow-on question but stalled.

She saved me. "Damien told me you work for a software company?"

"Yes, technical writing, sort of. Not quite as glamorous as journalism but it pays the bills. At least I can pretty much make my own schedule," I spun. "I work from home mostly."

She stood an inch or two shorter. Her brown hair was pulled back easily and retained by a bright green elastic. She held her trim body with ramrod-straight posture. With her no-name jeans, maroon tee and no makeup, she struck me as rare in the singles scene, one not voguing an image.

"Listen, you two save my spot,” Damien grinned and stepped away. As he zigzagged out of sight her eyes followed him and then aimlessly scanned the crowd.

That explains it, I thought, my cynicism graying my thoughts like ground fog. No harm if she tags along with Damien, concedes to meet a nobody for a half-baked reason and shoots the breeze because, of course, she's either in a relationship or miles from wanting one. Hell, I’ll bet she skis like Lindsey Vonn.

My pretenses suddenly seemed so ridiculous, as the absurd circumstances that tossed me into this Crock Pot bore down. Regretting it before saying it, I leveled my gaze and blurted, "Why do you come here?"

She returned my gaze. I felt like the fly facing the oncoming windshield. At that point she could've said anything she wanted. She could've called out my impudence, or bristled and turned away, or worse, simply left, dismissing me as not deserving the slightest emotional reaction.

Instead, she appeared to give my question serious thought. She stopped herself before answering.

"You go first," she said and smiled, enjoying the game.

Having been granted my second wind, I told her the safe parts of my story, bending the truth as needed: how I knew Damien through a mutual friend, that it's easy for work to become all-consuming, that I spend too much time with old college friends instead of meeting new ones, and who knows, I've always loved tennis and it's been years. Not really much of a skier though.

Neither was she. She’d lost touch with friends from undergrad, which wasn't helped by a few starts and stops because of some health problems -- "nothing dreadful," she said with a smile -- and difficulty sticking with one major. Writing seemed to be the only common thread. But, yeah, she agreed, it's a solitary business, no need for study groups, and besides, she didn't live on campus. The club seemed like a good way to meet people and have fun. She'd only been to a half-dozen meetings.

As the supply of small talk dwindled, the energy drained from our back-and-forth. Suddenly I again became aware of the voices, bodies and walls encircling me. Yet something else struck me: temporarily I’d forgotten my surroundings. Nice.

“Listen, Michael, I need to be going. My sister and her husband are visiting from Ann Arbor and we’re meeting for dinner. Maybe I'll see you at the next meeting. Tell Damien bye for me."

A smile, a handshake and she disappeared into the crowd. With that, the ceiling began lowering and the walls moved to flank me. I made for the door.

Outside, the rain had picked up, now streaked with color from the big-box stores that crowded Lincoln Avenue. The normal relief from an escape to open air didn't come. I cursed Sidney for his indiscretion, for enlisting his own silly salvation army, and for revealing me to a poseur.  If not for a shot at Sidney's letter of recommendation, Damien would never have risked my tainting his carefully managed social circle.

[[[After this, Michael confronts Sidney about his loose lips.]]]

Offline BrigidMary

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2008, 04:42:14 PM »
I still like this a lot. You're a good writer, and you certainly have a flair for imagery. I like the lines about the green ponytail elastic--it suits your character perfectly to notice something like that--and the rain being streaked with color from the big box stores. Nice stuff.

I don't have a lot of criticism, which I know is a pain to hear. The only comments I have are in regards to your dialogue. There are a few spots where your characters say too much in one line, and it ruins the flow. For example:

"Hey Mike, glad you could make it," he said, smiling and shaking my hand like a brother-in-arms.

"Mostly I go by Michael but I'm not a stickler about it."

"Fine by me, Michael.” He threw his arm around my shoulder and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Look, Sidney told me a little bit about your situation, like maybe this isn't so easy for you and being around people rattles your coins," he said.


I wouldn't change it much, but maybe loosen it up a bit:

"Hey Mike, glad you could make it," he said, smiling and shaking my hand like a brother-in-arms.

"Mostly I go by Michael--"

Some kind of irritated surprise flickered across his face, and I rushed to erase it. "But I'm not a stickler about it."

"Fine by me, Michael.” He threw his arm around my shoulder and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Look, Sidney told me a little bit about your situation, like maybe this isn't so easy for you [I'd put something here about how Damien sounds. Condescending? That's the impression I get after reading the whole piece. But just something to break up this long sentence.] and being around people rattles your coins," he said.


I think that might be the only place. I LOVED the line where you say, "Jesus, why would Sidney tell him that?"

I hope this helps. Nice stuff.
Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Offline GMack

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2008, 11:13:13 AM »
You may not have a lot of criticism, but the comment you made helped me. I consider myself somewhat new to this dialogue business (ironic since I just gave another contributor advice on dialogue. Gee, we all get to be experts!  ;))

You also hit the nail on the head with the right chunk of dialogue to be working on. That little exchange between our -- yes, condescending -- Damien and Michael is pretty important. Let me see what I can do to break it up.

Also, let me throw you one quick question. There's that bit when Michael, with all of his churning self-doubt, assumes prematurely that this woman is completely off-limits, already "taken" or, at a minimum, uninterested. He then figuratively gives up and someone accuses her, saying, "Why do you come here?" Instead of blowing him off, she responds with sincerity. As you read it did you find it believable? I'm a few years past that stage in the infancy of a singles relationship.

Thank you, BrigidMary!

Offline BrigidMary

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2008, 12:28:39 PM »
Oh, I definitely found it believable. I'm not sure what her angle is, but I didn't notice anything difficult about their exchange.

This one part:

As the supply of small talk dwindled, the energy drained from our back-and-forth. Suddenly I again became aware of the voices, bodies and walls encircling me. Yet something else struck me: temporarily I’d forgotten my surroundings. Nice.

“Listen, Michael, I need to be going. My sister and her husband are visiting from Ann Arbor and we’re meeting for dinner. Maybe I'll see you at the next meeting. Tell Damien bye for me."


I wouldn't mind seeing a softer transition from his mental ramblings into her dialogue. (Maybe some meaningful action on her part that could tell us more about him? Touching his arm -- and he recoils or something?)
Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2008, 12:09:00 AM »
Hi mate,
Very good.  Just a few minor observations I noticed.

Quote
Damien Wills, cupping a cigarette, leaned against the stucco wall between the hotel entrance and a neat row of evergreens. Light from overhead sparkled in his gelled hair. He noticed my approach, flicked his smoke and stepped briskly to meet me.

"Hey Mike, glad you could make it," he said, smiling and shaking my hand like a brother-in-arms.

"Mostly I go by Michael but I'm not a stickler about it."

"Fine by me, Michael.” He threw his arm around my shoulder and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Look, Sidney told me a little bit about your situation, like maybe this isn't so easy for you and being around people rattles your coins," he said. You've already said he whispered

Jesus, why would Sidney tell him that? I struggled to keep the shock from my face. This is kind of implied with the previous and next line ... looks like you're telling

I scrambled to clarify, "Something like that. I'm not a big fan of crowds but then who is? Sidney has this face-your-fear-and-it’ll-disappear philosophy and I'm trying to be a good boy."

"Look man, who isn't a little bit whacked?"

So that’s what I am.

Damien continued, "This thing is no big deal. Everyone here is pretty much interested in themselves, not you, so there's no need to feel in the spotlight. I'd look at this line.  Not as crisp as the rest of the diaogue.  I needed to read it a couple of times to get it."

We walked through the lobby, down the hall and entered a ballroom pulsing with people. The high ceiling lessened the impact of the crowd. I stuck with Damien like a dog on a leash. How pitiful, I thought, to find comfort with someone I don't know. To our left, a sunburned guy explained his arm sling as “collateral damage.” To our right, a no-nonsense woman read team pairings from a clipboard. Ahead was the line to the cash bar.

"Hey, grab me a Corona and no damn lemon. Back in a minute," Damien said, pressing a five into my palm. I suppressed a tremor and queued up. I noticed ahead the guy from my old office who makes cubical calls to treat sick PCs. He's a geek, for sure, but friendly enough. Maybe he's a lonely heart. A Kate Bush lyric flashed through my mind: every sock meets an old shoe. We’re all looking for a shoe, I thought.

Minutes later, with beers in hand, I moved toward the air wall in search of space and anonymity, an unlikely combination under the circumstances. Emerging from the crowd, Damien approached with an attractive young woman in tow. I'd like to see what she looks like rather than just being told she's attractive

"There he is. Michael, meet Anna. Anna, Michael," he said, grinning. "I figured you guys could compare notes on writing."

After exchanging hellos and handshakes I said, “So you're a writer." Duh! Stupid comment. "Writing what?"

"I'm in the Masters program at the school of journalism so, officially speaking, nothing but homework for now." She spoke softly and deliberately, a welcome contrast to Damien's verbal fireworks. "When I'm done who knows what I'll end up doing. Not quite the reporter type. Too much rushing around for me."

Is this all necessary?  I find in short stories every word is precious ... you could save yourself 100 here by cutting this scene

My brain searched for the right follow-on question but stalled.

She saved me. "Damien told me you work for a software company?"

"Yes, technical writing, sort of. Not quite as glamorous as journalism but it pays the bills. At least I can pretty much make my own schedule," I spun. "I work from home mostly."

She stood an inch or two shorter. Her brown hair was pulled back easily and retained by a bright green elastic. She held her trim body with ramrod-straight posture. With her no-name jeans, maroon tee and no makeup, she struck me as rare in the singles scene, one not voguing an image. Here it is!  Maybe move this up a few paras

"Listen, you two save my spot,” Damien grinned and stepped away. As he zigzagged out of sight her eyes followed him and then aimlessly scanned the crowd.

That explains it, I thought, my cynicism graying my thoughts like ground fog nice line. No harm if she tags along with Damien, concedes to meet a nobody for a half-baked reason and shoots the breeze because, of course, she's either in a relationship or miles from wanting one. Hell, I’ll bet she skis like Lindsey Vonn.

My pretenses suddenly seemed so ridiculous, as the absurd circumstances that tossed me into this Crock Pot bore down. Regretting it before saying it, I leveled my gaze and blurted, "Why do you come here?"

She returned my gaze. I felt like the fly facing the oncoming windshield. At that point she could've said anything she wanted. She could've called out my impudence, or bristled and turned away, or worse, simply left, dismissing me as not deserving the slightest emotional reaction.

Instead, she appeared to give my question serious thought. She stopped herself before answering.

"You go first," she said and smiled, enjoying the game.

Having been granted my second wind, I told her the safe parts of my story, bending the truth as needed: how I knew Damien through a mutual friend, that it's easy for work to become all-consuming, that I spend too much time with old college friends instead of meeting new ones, and who knows, I've always loved tennis and it's been years. Not really much of a skier though.

Neither was she. She’d lost touch with friends from undergrad, which wasn't helped by a few starts and stops because of some health problems -- "nothing dreadful," she said with a smile -- and difficulty sticking with one major. Writing seemed to be the only common thread. But, yeah, she agreed, it's a solitary business, no need for study groups, and besides, she didn't live on campus. The club seemed like a good way to meet people and have fun. She'd only been to a half-dozen meetings.

As the supply of small talk dwindled, the energy drained from our back-and-forth. Suddenly I again became aware of the voices, bodies and walls encircling me. Yet something else struck me: temporarily I’d forgotten my surroundings. Nice.

“Listen, Michael, I need to be going. My sister and her husband are visiting from Ann Arbor and we’re meeting for dinner. Maybe I'll see you at the next meeting. Tell Damien bye for me."

A smile, a handshake and she disappeared into the crowd After the warmth of the previous exchanges this is a pretty cold parting.  Maybe she whipsers something in his ear?  Just something a bit more intriguing . With that, the ceiling began lowering and the walls moved to flank me. I made for the door.

Outside, the rain had picked up, now streaked with color from the big-box stores that crowded Lincoln Avenue. The normal relief from an escape to open air didn't come. I cursed Sidney for his indiscretion, for enlisting his own silly salvation army, and for revealing me to a poseur.  If not for a shot at Sidney's letter of recommendation, Damien would never have risked my tainting his carefully managed social circle.

[[[After this, Michael confronts Sidney about his loose lips.]]]

Like ma says, very good writing.  I think on occasions you over elaborate and I find myself having to to go over lines again.  But it is very tight, well edited.  You seem to write better when there is an awkard elephant in the room - the scene between Anna and Micheal is very good.

Quote
As you read it did you find it believable? I'm a few years past that stage in the infancy of a singles relationship.

Me too!  So many years since I actively pursued a woman.  But yes, i'd say it was believable.  Blurting out a mundanity and the other party helping you out.  Usually a bad sign - the ones that pity you usually get away.  Is your intention for them to sleep together?  If so, make her drunk.  Then, her response should be mocking, but push her body into his, and make her accidently discover something interesting about him.  Then let it flow...

Offline GMack

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2008, 05:19:08 PM »
Hello sonofdenis, I should be replying sooner. Funny thing about this day job. Need to get to Friday evening to find the time to do what I really want to do. :)

You've once again provided fantastic feedback. Don't call it minor because I learn so much from an observation on a single phrase or sentence. Interesting your question about whether or not these two characters might sleep together. I'm not sure myself but the abruptness of their parting is part of the plot and character development. I'm hoping to leave ambiguous for now where this relationship might go. Our hero struggles in a social situation. As for the woman, we'll see. She definitely wouldn't be drunk. She's way more than a one-time encounter at a party.

Your observations on lines you felt needed to be made more crisp, I agree. Why is it difficult for the author to take a reasonable critical eye? Anyway, let me work your comments into the story. I so much appreciate your taking the time. I'm also very appreciative of your words of encouragement, much needed in this business.

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: Your Father's Son, 3rd section, drama, part of short story
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2008, 02:20:09 PM »
Quote
Why is it difficult for the author to take a reasonable critical eye?

Because we love every word!  It's so easy for a reader to say 'cut this sentence' or 'scale back the description in this paragraph'.  What they don't realise is that that line took a precious half-hour to write ... and we only get 4 hours a week to write anything!  In between kids and work.  Every word is precious so we try and ignore what is blinding us.  I've tried grouping work together, printing it off with lulu.com and reading it in bed as you would a night time read - create the conditions under which your work would be read.  It works very well.

But it is expensive...