Saturday, May 19, 2012

Here, there and nowhere ...much.

   John Ramsey Miller


MISSING PIECES

It was dark in the room, barely lit by the porch light filtering through red bedroom curtains, so Max was further stunned when he realized that a banging on his front door is what actually startled him awake. Who on Earth could be here at...4:17am? He attempted staying as still as possible, hoping the visitor had yet to hear anything from within. I mean really, it could be anybody! Anything!

Max peered through darkness of the bedroom doorway and into the corner of the living room. He attempted leaning over just enough to view the vehicle of the unwanted visitorrealizing they probably parked on the opposite side. Max didn't receive visitors often.

Three more alarming strikes against the metal screen door that never closed quite correctly, clanging incessantly through his head. He could hear a voice, but the sound of that CLANG-CLANG-CLANG! was overwhelming his every thought, seeming to fill every corner of his mind and soul. 

"--please, Max, just answer the door! It's Jill, just open the damn door already!" Oh. It sounds like my sister. Well, it could be my sister. He began feeling frantic, unsure who or what to believe anymore. Lately, people were no longer who they said there were. He knew how crazy it sounded in his mind and tried keeping these sort of ideas to himself, but it was getting more and more difficult by the day, yet he knew beyond a doubt it was Truth.

Max gradually stood up straight without moving his feet, worried the creaking of his knees was as loud as it seemed. He slowly took a step toward the door, thinking he could possibly escape to the back of the house, but instead slipping on one of his countless piles of notebooks. The entire pile fell to the floor, scantly missing another larger pile.

"Max, I can hear you in there, will you please just talk to me? You've got to talk to somebody. We used to talk so much." He knew that much was true, but wasn't sure if the Visitors could know so much.


Missing Pieces seems the perfect title for this submission. It's like the whole piece was a tissue left in a pocket and found after being run through the dryer. Now it's everywhere and yet nowhere.

First paragraph:
How can he be "more" stunned if he was sleeping and we didn't see him stunned the first time? I might do something like this, "It was dark, but no darker than it had been on other occasions in the dead of night. Thank God the porch light was on and illuminating the bedroom (?) through a curtain redly. THE CLOCK!!! Dear Lord is that the time???"  Or not.

So in reading this I'm not at all sure if it is dark or light? Is he is in bed or hanging from the ceiling? So... how does Max know what time it is? Wouldn't the clock light the room somewhat? Or did the mad hatter tell him what time it is? How does he move without lifting his feet? When did he get out of bed? Did he leave the bed or is he astro-traveling? He is looking out of windows without getting out of bed!  Is the driveway empty?

Okay, author.  First of all, put yourself in Max's house and maybe even in his bedroom. Imagine what is happening and what the reader is seeing, as you tell the story and slow down. Allow Max to actually do things as he goes from point A to... well you get the drift. Here is Max and this is what he'd doing. Don't jump from his mind to the voice at the door. Is this about Max's insanity? Or is everybody else is insane? Is this about Pod people? Would I read deeper into this? Of course I would. It's hilarious. It isn't very good, but I think it could be if it is fully thought through before being committed to paper.

For God's sake go back and try again. And then you may have to try again after that. This can take years and hard work. This is a tough line of work and the righter you do it, the harder it is.  Think hard before you write. Remember: if this is easy you are doing it wrong. "See" what you are saying. Don't write what you have not seen like it actually happened. Tell me what you are seeing and feeling and smelling and tasting.  Put me there. You may know what Max is thinking, feeling, doing, but I have to know what you know and see what you are seeing. Otherwise you are just playing at lining up words. I got nothing from reading this opening that I'm curious enough about to justify investing more time.

When I write, I am almost telling myself a story and typing it as I go. But I only write after I have thought all the way around and through the scene. In my opinion (and that is all it is) this piece is more sloppy scribbling than storytelling.

So go back at it and don't quit if you know you can do better. If you don't think you can, then get out now.

Please, for Christ's sake... take the narration away from Max before he hurts someone and give it to his sister... At least she's safely outside the house.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for the insight, Mr. Miller. I know I'm learning all of this on my own and have only written short stories in the past, but perhaps you're right. This definitely gives me plenty to think about, which is what I was hoping for anyway.

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  2. Keep doing it, Anon. Drawing me for the critique was just bad luck on your part. I'm miserably cruel. I wrote the critique while I was having a few, and I was going to come in and buffer my comments, but I couldn't fgure out how to do it. Don't let me hurt your feelings. Most of us just tried and tried and tried until it clicked. Read James Scott Bell's books on structure, etc...

    I posted one of my works in progress here once as a submission and got clobbered by many of my friends. I realized that I wasn't thinking hard enough. A lot of this is instinctive, and your problem isn't there. You just need to slow down and think the scene through.

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  3. My feelings aren't hurt, Mr. Miller. You've been famous for longer than I've been alive. I'm just honored to have someone famous give me some advice about something I'm getting back into, and you being tipsy just means you were being even more brutally honest than usual. I'd not want you to "buffer" that after the fact in any case.

    Some of what you've said resonates with what I've noticed (since submitting) about my weaknesses in writing. Other things you've said are honestly things I can now think about and work on. I know I'm more of an amateur than what was expected on here. I was just excited to play ball with the big kids.

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  4. You did as well as a lot of adults, and I was judging you as someone who was much older. Hang in there. Plus I was never famous.

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  5. I would also add, it's not a good idea to begin a book with "It was..."

    Way too weak.

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  6. Haha, I suppose I did make myself kind of young, probably from the deference...I'm 29. Just hadn't done much writing since high school.

    Thanks, Mike. I've learned since then that the first sentence should start with some sort of action or movement. I'm not so sure if that's what is generally agreed on with most authors and editors.

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  7. No need to pile on. Having the nerve to post here and take it straight says volumes about your desire to improve.

    Nuke every "attempt" out of here. As Yoda said, "do or do not, there is no try." (Or in this case "attempt.")

    Hey, I'm only a bit more than halfway through my million practice words and just now seeing a glimmer of success. And when I say glimmer, I mean the really dim stars that only come out late at night.

    Terri

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  8. I've been famous for 29 years? I was 33. I wish I could recall what I was doing then. maybe I was famous then, but it sure as hell wasn't for writing.

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  9. While the submission is a bit muddled, there are some good parts. For instance, why is someone knocking on the door in the middle of the night? That never bodes well for a character. Warns of trouble to come, and that's a great place to start.

    Why isn't he sure who people are anymore? Is he psychotic? And what's in all those notebooks he's knocking over? All great story questions that would keep me reading to find the answers when the prose were cleaned up. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water, eh?

    Kathy

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