Author Topic: The Boarder (first two sections)  (Read 182 times)

Offline jamiefranks

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The Boarder (first two sections)
« on: January 18, 2022, 11:09:37 PM »
These are the first two sections from a story I've been working on. I'd just like some fresh eyes on it as I've been reading and rereading it too many times to be objective anymore. Thanks!

I
   Gaylord Millingham was sitting in the hospital waiting room when he received a return call from a Mrs. Ramona Taylor, who was going to rent him a room in her house. He frowned when he saw who was calling: he didn’t like speaking to strangers, particularly not when they were women, but he knew he had to pick up because he couldn’t spend another night in his drafty, vacant home. With a frustrated grunt Gaylord sat up, scratched his scraggly beard, and answered.

   “Hello?” he said gruffly and with mock confusion, pretending that he didn’t know who was calling.

   “Hi,” the voice on the other end of the line replied. It was clear, velvety: refined. Or, as his mother would have said, prissy. “May I speak to Gaylord Millingham?”

   “Yep, this is him.”

   “Oh wonderful! I’m glad I was able to reach you. My name is Ramona Taylor, I hear you’re looking to rent a room?”

   “That’s right, Mrs. Taylor.”

   “Mrs. Taylor,” Ramona repeated, laughing, “please, call me Ramona! I insist, really.”

   Gaylord rolled his eyes. This was why he hated talking to strangers. Clearly this woman was trying to ingratiate herself with him, to make him feel at ease with her courtesy and warmth. But he knew that she was not doing this out of genuine affection, but rather because she wanted him to come lodge at her house—or, more specifically, because she wanted his money. She would playact the role of the affable hostess now, might even invite him to chat or pass the time with her in the early days of his stay; but after a week or two she would morph into a callous, aloof figure who would only deign to speak to him when it was time to collect her monthly rent check. Gaylord knew that he would have to take this room, that it would be better and cheaper than anything else he’d be able to find on short notice; but hearing Ramona now, he decided that he would not accept it without getting a word in himself. No, Gaylord thought, if she wants to play games, then I can too. He straightened out his spine against the hard plastic back of the waiting room chair and assumed his most businesslike voice.

   “Alright Ramona,” he said “let’s not beat around the bush here. I have all my stuff packed up and ready to go. What do you say I come over this evening, ’round 5:00, and move right in?”

   “Oh!” Ramona exclaimed. “You don’t want to see the room first?” A note of confusion had crept into her previously composed voice. She had expected to be in control of this entire interaction; and now that he had stepped out of bounds, refused to play by her rules, she didn’t know what to do. Gaylord congratulated himself on this victory and, flush with confidence, he smiled and swaggeringly stretched out his legs.

   “No,” he said, “I don’t think that will be necessary. In fact, Mrs. Taylor—Ramona—I may as well get things straight with you right now. I don’t know what kind of boarder you expect me to be, but I sure as hell won’t be the kind who gets all chummy with you. I won’t join in your tea parties or play bridge or sew or whatever it is that you and your little girlfriends do for so-called fun. That’s just not who I am. I’ll give you my rent money every month and, provided I don’t have any other plans, I might join you for dinner every once in a while. Other than that, though, you shouldn’t expect too much from me. Most of the time you won’t even notice I’m there. So you don’t need to pretend you care about me now; don’t waste your breath.”

   There was a long silence on the other end of the line, and Gaylord reveled in every second of it. But eventually, Ramona cleared her throat and said, “Well...well okay. 5:00 you said?” She was clearly trying to display fortitude; to sound exactly as she had before in order to give the impression that she was not unduly taken aback by what Gaylord had said. But despite her best efforts, her breathy, wavering voice betrayed her—Gaylord knew that he had shaken her up.

   “Yes, 5:00. That’s right.”

   “Alright, I’ll see you then.”

   “You sure will,” Gaylord said, and he hung up the phone without saying another word. He slid his cell back into his pocket and, still smiling, tilted his head back and closed his eyes.

II
   When Ramona realized that Gaylord had hung up on her, she scoffed, shook her head in disgust, and flung her phone onto the counter. She was hurt, offended; but more than anything she was completely baffled by the conversation that had just taken place. How, she wondered, could a human being think it was okay to act like that? to be so rude to a complete stranger? a complete stranger who had been nothing but welcoming and kind to him? She had only wanted to be nice, to start their relationship off on a good note, so why was he being so difficult? Ramona shook her head again, scoffed again, and crossed her arms. Her cheeks flushed red and hot tears started to pool behind her eyes; but she immediately gritted her teeth, shut her eyes tightly, and suppressed her sobs: she would not allow this young man—this boy, really—to make her cry. No: absolutely not.

   After a moment, this spell of indignant sadness passed and Ramona opened her eyes back up. Impulsively, out of a subconscious need to busy and distract herself, she turned and started picking at the crumbs that had accumulated on her kitchen surfaces since she’d last wiped them down a week before. Normally this simple activity was soothing to her, but now she was still so agitated by the recollection of what Gaylord had said that she could find no satisfaction in it. She wondered what she should do when she saw him. While she would have loved nothing more than to hurl his insolence back at him, to tell him that he was not welcome in her home and would have to find lodgings elsewhere, Ramona knew this wasn’t really an option: they had cut her hours at work, and she was so strapped for cash at the moment that if she didn’t find a boarder within the week she would have to start selling off her jewelry and fine silverware. So she would have to put up with Gaylord for a time; but she wanted, at the very least, to do something to assert her authority, to prevent him from ever again speaking to her as he just had on the phone.

   Ramona thought and thought about what to do and could find no solution. But suddenly, as she was peeling bits of caked-on grease off from her stovetop, an idea occurred to her that seemed so perfect and so simple that she was amazed she hadn’t thought of it right away. Ramona was a woman who ardently believed that all human beings, whether they knew it or not, had an innate respect for dignity and order. So, she reasoned, if she could thoroughly clean her house and fix herself up; if she could present to Gaylord a home that was the perfect picture of cleanliness, grace, and beauty, and show herself as the worthy mistress of it—then something within him would naturally give way, and he would drop his surly routine and capitulate to her. Imagining his acquiescence, Ramona bounded forward and set about sweeping, dusting, organizing. She scrubbed what needed scrubbing and attacked each speck of dust as though it had offended her. In almost no time at all, her house shone brilliantly and was fragrant with the smell of lemon disinfectant. Once she was pleased with it, Ramona withdrew to her room. She showered, changed into fine expensive clothes, styled her hair. When she had finished, she looked at herself in the mirror and nodded with satisfaction. There would be no more foolishness now. Her appearance projected an air of sovereignty and command that would have intimidated a king; and between her stately aspect and immaculate home, she was confident that Gaylord would be too awestruck—too aware of his own shortcomings—to mock her anymore.

   Ramona was still absorbed in these ruminations when the doorbell rang. Hearing this sound, she shook herself, cleared her throat, and straightened her collar. It was time. She left her bathroom and headed for the hall with a look of steely determination in her eyes and a slight, almost imperceptible smile on her lips.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2022, 03:17:07 AM by jamiefranks »

Offline Clarius

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Re: The Boarder (first two sections)
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2022, 06:34:32 PM »
The trick with editing is to leave it, go away, do something else for a while, and then come back to it. It'll never be as good as you think it is, nor will it ever be as good as you want it to be. At some point you have to say enough is enough.

First impressions are is looks like a daunting read. All those solid block paragraphs. I often say it's like cooking. The more interesting it looks, the better it'll likely taste.

Gaylord Millingham was sitting in the hospital waiting room when he received a return call from a Mrs. Ramona Taylor, who was going to rent him a room in her house. He frowned when he saw who was calling: he didn’t like speaking to strangers, particularly not when they were women, but he knew he had to pick up because he couldn’t spend another night in his drafty, vacant home. With a frustrated grunt Gaylord sat up, scratched his scraggly beard, and answered.

Gaylord Millingham! Really? Did you think giving your antagonist a villainous name would make them villainous? Might as well give him a moustache to twirl while he beats orphans to death with his silver topped cane. It's pantomime. It's melodrama. Names become synonymous with notoriety because people with those names do notorious things. The only example I can call to mind of a name influencing a person's character was the eponymous Boy Named Sue.

was sitting in the hospital waiting room when he received a return call from a Mrs. Ramona Taylor, who was going to rent him a room in her house.

^ this is a telling summary of a triggering event. Show, don't tell. If you spot the word 'was' then it's likely telling not showing. Imagine you're watching this, what would you see? There's no narrative voiceover in real life, and you want your readers to believe this is real, right?

FYI, as a guide, character is what people say, do, and think. The human nervous system is such that people think, move, and speak in that order. When a phone rings it interrupts the recipient. Don't tell that but rather show it.

That he's in a hospital is something you should have made more of. Hospitals offer many dramatic possibilities. What if we learn after he hangs up that he's being released from a secure psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. That would rack up the lady in peril tension.

The fuck... Gaylord snatched his phone up. 'What!'

^ Thinks, moves, speaks. You don't have to have all three, but they must be in that order. Does that show someone none too pleased to be interrupted by their phone ringing?

“Hello?” he said gruffly and with mock confusion, pretending that he didn’t know who was calling.

^ if you find yourself using adverbs (words that end in -ly) its because you used a weak verb and the adverb is there to prop it up. And why is he pretending to be confused?

“Hi,” the voice on the other end of the line replied. It was clear, velvety: refined. Or, as his mother would have said, prissy. “May I speak to Gaylord Millingham?”

^ that's you the author intruding to tell us how the woman's voice sounds? This should be internal dialog; his thoughts, not yours. And what he thinks of her voice is important because it gives us an insight into his character.

The fuck... He snatched his phone up. 'What!'
"Hi..., may I speak to Gaylord Millingham, please?"
Sounds like a right prissy cunt. My moms would love her. 'Uh, yeah, speakin'. Who's this, please?'
"Oh, ok, hi. Hmm... this is Ramona Taylor, Mister Millingham. I have a room for rent?'

^ thinks, speaks. Before he even replies we're shown something of his character: a misogynist/misanthrope with a bad relationship with his mother, the relationship that will shape and inform all his interactions with the opposite sex.

He's the PoV, we hear his internal dialog. We don't hear her internal dialog so we need clues to what she's thinking. Hesitation in the conversation are showing her maybe having second thoughts upon hearing him?

Gaylord rolled his eyes. This was why he hated talking to strangers. Clearly this woman was trying to ingratiate herself with him, to make him feel at ease with her courtesy and warmth. But he knew that she was not doing this out of genuine affection, but rather because she wanted him to come lodge at her house—or, more specifically, because she wanted his money. She would playact the role of the affable hostess now, might even invite him to chat or pass the time with her in the early days of his stay; but after a week or two she would morph into a callous, aloof figure who would only deign to speak to him when it was time to collect her monthly rent check. Gaylord knew that he would have to take this room, that it would be better and cheaper than anything else he’d be able to find on short notice; but hearing Ramona now, he decided that he would not accept it without getting a word in himself. No, Gaylord thought, if she wants to play games, then I can too. He straightened out his spine against the hard plastic back of the waiting room chair and assumed his most businesslike voice.


^ well, duh! She's doing it for the money. Invite someone into your house and you're going to want to be on good terms with them. You're going to be living with another person in an at best platonic relationship. Your protagonist (or is it your antagonist?) comes across as someone grown weary from having been moving from one lodging to another in ever decreasing circles. But this is telling and not showing. Two good rules to write by: omit needless words and never use a fancy word where a plain one will do. Brevity and clarity.

Another town, another room.

     Gaylord's fingers beat a tattoo on the greasy table top. He glanced at the clock over the serving hatch. Come on! Come on! He glared at the occupant of the next table. Jez, lady, put an egg in your shoe and beat it, would ya.

     The old woman drained her cup, wiped her lips, and made as to stand. Gaylord reached across and snagged the newspaper before she could slip it into one of her many bags. She scowled at his effrontery.

Yeah, bitch. There goes tonight's clean sheets.

     Gaylord ran a practised eye down the classified ads. Please, please, please... there! "Room to let in private house", he read. He mouthed the words as he read them. "Shared facilities. Inclusive of taxes and utilities. Breakfast and dinner included. Out by nine, in by eleven. No pets. Tel - " Sounds great. Not.

He dialled the number, listened to it ring... Please be in, please be in -

'Yeah, hi. It's about your ad, a room for rent...'

'Oh, yes. The room. You're ringing about the room, are you?'

Stay cool. Don't sound too -'Is it...is it still available, maybe?'

'Yes, the room is indeed still available, Mister?'

Sounds like a right prissy cunt. My mother would love the bitch. 'Millingham. Gaylord Millingham. The second.' Well, two can play at that game.

^ I think that of mine covers the same ground in a style more akin to that of a literary fiction?

The next couple of paragraphs are a highly unlikely misogynistic rant guaranteed to have her hang up on him. He's more likely to want/need to inveigle himself into her good books that the other way round, no?

When Ramona realized that Gaylord had hung up on her, she scoffed, shook her head in disgust, and flung her phone onto the counter. She was hurt, offended; but more than anything she was completely baffled by the conversation that had just taken place. How, she wondered, could a human being think it was okay to act like that? to be so rude to a complete stranger? a complete stranger who had been nothing but welcoming and kind to him? She had only wanted to be nice, to start their relationship off on a good note, so why was he being so difficult? Ramona shook her head again, scoffed again, and crossed her arms. Her cheeks flushed red and hot tears started to pool behind her eyes; but she immediately gritted her teeth, shut her eyes tightly, and suppressed her sobs: she would not allow this young man—this boy, really—to make her cry. No: absolutely not.

Second chapter and PoV is shifted from him to her. That's fine. But there's more summary telling that showing here.

When Ramona realized that Gaylord had hung up on her, she scoffed, shook her head in disgust, and flung her phone onto the counter.

^ too much choreography IMO.

She was hurt, offended; but more than anything she was completely baffled by the conversation that had just taken place. How, she wondered, could a human being think it was okay to act like that? to be so rude to a complete stranger? a complete stranger who had been nothing but welcoming and kind to him? She had only wanted to be nice, to start their relationship off on a good note, so why was he being so difficult?

^ looks like telling summary to me. Putting someone else in the room with her would allow you to break this up a bit. Like this, maybe.

'Well,' she said. 'I do have other people interested in the room, so -'
'I'll be there at five,' he said, and hung up.

II

Did he just hang up on me! She tossed the phone on the counter. Honestly, some people.

'Mom?'

She spun round.

Scott was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the hallway, supporting himself against the frame. He was favouring his right leg. Her gaze moved from his leg, to the crutch hanging off his arm, to his face -

Oh, he looks so much like his... "You scared me," she said. 'Sneaking up on me like that.'

He looked at the floor. 'I need to go out,' he said.

Her heart sank. 'Oh, Scott.'

'It's bad, Mom. Real bad'

Damn that motorcycle! 'Ok, honey' she said, and reached for her purse.

Ramona thought and thought about what to do and could find no solution. But suddenly, as she was peeling bits of caked-on grease off from her stovetop, an idea occurred to her that seemed so perfect and so simple that she was amazed she hadn’t thought of it right away. Ramona was a woman who ardently believed that all human beings, whether they knew it or not, had an innate respect for dignity and order. So, she reasoned, if she could thoroughly clean her house and fix herself up; if she could present to Gaylord a home that was the perfect picture of cleanliness, grace, and beauty, and show herself as the worthy mistress of it—then something within him would naturally give way, and he would drop his surly routine and capitulate to her. Imagining his acquiescence, Ramona bounded forward and set about sweeping, dusting, organizing. She scrubbed what needed scrubbing and attacked each speck of dust as though it had offended her. In almost no time at all, her house shone brilliantly and was fragrant with the smell of lemon disinfectant. Once she was pleased with it, Ramona withdrew to her room. She showered, changed into fine expensive clothes, styled her hair. When she had finished, she looked at herself in the mirror and nodded with satisfaction. There would be no more foolishness now. Her appearance projected an air of sovereignty and command that would have intimidated a king; and between her stately aspect and immaculate home, she was confident that Gaylord would be too awestruck—too aware of his own shortcomings—to mock her anymore.

^ why does she care about this guy so much? She's jumping through hoops to appease someone she doesn't know, and who based on first impressions is a misogynist or a misanthrope. It has to be credible. This is standard pulp romance fodder. Woman doing anything to get the man of her dreams to notice her. But in this case the guy is someone she's never met before. So why?

What I see here is what looks like a cuckoo in the nest trope. Woman in peril. Sociopath moves in and starts gaslighting her. A couple of ideas to play with.

She's a single mon. Her husband's passed away. She has a teenage son. Kid had a bright future as an athlete till he wrecked his leg when he spilled his dad's motorcycle. The doctor's reducing his meds to wean him off the stuff. Too late. Kid's hooked on perscription painkillers. Now he has to go to pushers to get his fix. But the dealers keep upping the price 'cause the kid comes from a good neighbourhood. Kid's in debt and mom has to step in. Dad left her a big old rambling house in a prime location. She's asset rich but cash poor; can't sell the house 'cause of some legal issue. She has to take in a lodger to pay off the dealers. But the lodger is a sociopath. He gaslights mom to get his hands on the property, making her think the kid's to blame for a series of mishaps. Mom gets fed up and kicks her son to the kerb. Psycho lodger and mom are alone in the house. Kid learns what's going on and comes back in the nick of time to save mom, banish the monster, and redeem himself. Hooray!

See the movie Pacific Heights.

Closing advice. Parting shot. Review other people's work. You'll learn a lot. Though it may be true you should attend to the beam in your own eye before attending to the mot in your neighbour's, in creative writing you sometimes have to see the mot in someone's else's eye before you realise you have a beam in your own.

It's all just opinion. And you know what they say about opinions.

Luck.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us

 - Robert Burns