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  1. #1
    Rogue Mutt

    The Carnival Papers

    This is the first 1000 words of a short story I'm writing. The rest is going to be put into a little collection of stories. Of special interest to me is if anyone can think of some better carnival barker patter at the end of this segment. Anything else is welcome too. Thanks.
    The Carnival Papers

    Fifty weeks of the year a broken windmill was the only resident of the old Martin field. The other two weeks, the field was transformed into a vibrant place of dreams. Bright colors shone all night, accompanied by jaunty organ music and screams of joy. In those two weeks, the carnival came to town.

    As a child, Steve had looked forward to the carnival all year. With the exception of Christmas and his birthday, it was his favorite time of the year. The first night of the carnival, his parents had always taken him, letting him stay out well past his bedtime and devour all manner of fried foods: corn dogs, French fries, and the mysterious elephant ears. By the end of the night, his father would carry his sleeping form back to the car while his mother carried the accumulated loot of the evening.

    By the age of thirteen Steve, like all boys his age, didn’t want to go with Mommy and Daddy any longer. He went instead with his friends Jimmy and Sammy. They ate more of the fried and sugary foods to leave themselves bloated and nauseous in the morning. Instead of fuzzy elephants and plastic combs they competed for far more serious prizes—the phone numbers of girls. More often than not they came home empty-handed.

    The one time Steve was successful, he got the number for Sherry Springs. They literally ran into each other, Sherry stumbling into him after a ride on the Tilt-O-Whirl. In the process, she splattered Steve’s ice cream cone into his shirt. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said with a giggle, her hand clamping onto his arm for support.

    “It’s OK,” Steve said. Despite his mother’s protests, Steve left the chocolate stain on the shirt. Often he stared at the stain like a Rorschach test, seeing different images depending on his mood. When he was happy, Steve saw he and Sherry kissing behind her father’s tool shed. Near the end, he saw Sherry holding hands with that traitorous snake Jimmy after the homecoming game.

    Now Steve had no one left to take him to the carnival. His mother, sensing his predicament, had asked to go with him, but he refused. He was nearly eighteen, far too old to go there with Mommy and Daddy. Sherry and Jimmy had run off to Reno to elope; Steve received a postcard from them a week earlier. As for Sammy, he had already flown away to Chicago for school.

    He could have simply not gone to the carnival. He could have closed the windows, shut the blinds, and pretended like it didn’t exist. But this would be his last carnival before he started school in the fall; this would likely be the last chance he got to experience that old magic from his childhood.

    From the outskirts of town the bright colors mocked him, reminding him of all the good times he had spent in the old Martin field with Sherry. With grim determination he pedaled on, trying not to think about her. He tried to focus on the years before then, like the first time he beat the ring toss without his father’s help, winning a tin Lone Ranger lunchbox that had rusted by the next spring.

    No matter how hard he tried, though, he couldn’t help thinking of Sherry taking his hand on the Ferris wheel, screaming with delight as it rose into the air, and then kissing his cheek once they were safely back on the ground. The bike coasted to a stop at the sagging wire fence along the edge of the Martin field. This is stupid, he thought. He should go home and forget about the carnival. Carnivals were for little kids, not nearly eighteen-year-old men. He swung the bike around, pointing it towards home.

    The distant organ music fluttered through the breeze to his ears. He turned the bike around again, back towards the carnival. He couldn’t go home now. His parents knew he was going; if he came back now they would think he had chickened out—and they would be right. Besides, he had been going to the carnival since before Sherry moved to town. It belonged to him.

    He resumed pedaling until he reached the parking lot, where families and groups of teenagers were streaming towards the entrance with its welcoming strings of white lights. Dismounting from the bike, he fell in behind a cluster of younger kids, probably freshmen. He didn’t pay attention to their conversation, but gathered enough to know they were after the same thing as when he had come to the carnival as a freshman—they wanted to find girls. He considered imparting some of his wisdom on the topic before deciding not to waste his breath.

    The bike rack was already full, forcing Steve to leave his Schwinn in the grass behind the rack, where anyone might ride off with it. Not that it would matter; he wouldn’t need it in a couple of months anyway. He and Dad were nearly finished refurbishing the old truck so Steve could use it to get to Oklahoma City and back. The bike, like the carnival, was a childhood relic soon to be locked away in the attic of memory.

    Falling back into the crowd, Steve handed over his fifty cents for the entry ticket. The current of humanity pushed him along, towards the midway with its booths for likely crooked games and unhealthy fast food. With hands thrust resolutely in his pockets he trudged past these booths, ignoring the pleas to spend his money for a chance to win fabulous prizes.

    The howl of one barker rose above the others, “Step right up and see amazing, never-before-seen sights from the most remote corners of the world! See the world’s fattest twins, lured away from their village high in the Himalayas!” The barker went on describing the various freaks contained within the sideshow tent.

    The freak show was the one area of the carnival Steve never visited. His mother and later Sherry had eschewed the sideshow while Jimmy and Sammy had thought it not a worthwhile hunting ground for the opposite sex. Now, though, Steve reached into his pocket for another fifty cents. It would be good to see people more miserable than himself right now.

  2. #2
    Lisa K

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    I like your style. I don't have any advice really on the carnival barker patter at the end.

    My only advice would be to go into even more unique details. Carnivals have such a rich atmosphere, there is so much to work with.

    My favorite sentence was the one about the Lone Ranger lunchbox that had rusted by the next spring (for some reason my copy-paste function on my laptop won't work right now, sorry). That kind of personal detail made the character more real...at least for me.

    Maybe describe the field and how it looks when it doesn't have the carnival to keep it company. Does it change the whole atmosphere of the town? Is there a new electricity in the air?

    I'm curious to see what happens next!

  3. #3
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: The Carnival Papers


    I dunno what a carny might say. Mebbe things like,

    ---"Step right up, step right up.

    ---Find your way through the house of mirrors.

    ---For the pittance of one thin dime, experience the house of horror.

    Anyway, that aside, this isn't a bad opening. I think there are simple things you can do with your text to tighten it, make it stronger. I know, I know, you didn't ask for that kind of comment.

    I don't do much in the way of rewrite suggestions anymore. Too many issues surround that. Take this for what it's worth.

    "Fifty weeks of the year a broken windmill stood as the only resident of old Martin Field. The other two weeks, the field was a vibrant place of dreams. Bright colors lighting the night sky, jaunty organ music and screams of joy. That was when the Barnum and Mutt carnival occupied Martin Field. Even the windmill seemed to stand taller."

    S'mother thoughts in no particular order---

    Mommy and Daddy is fine the first time you use it. Not so much the second time.

    Jimmy and Sammy has the same rhythm as Mommy and Daddy.

    I really like that Steve left the chocolate stain on his shirt!

    Betcha 'nuther nickel there might could sorta oughta be a new paragraph after ..."Steve said."

    "He was nearly eighteen..." Consider deleting "far too old to go there with Mommy and Daddy." Your reader is smart enough to know what it means to be nearly eighteen.

    Mebbe, "Sherry and Jimmy had eloped to Reno."

    For me, too many names end in "y". Mommy, Daddy, Sherry, Jimmy, Sammy. They all sound the same. Gimme a change-up pitch.

    Not sure any of this helps.

    Feel free to ignore.


    Betcha nickel "images" yearns for a comma after it.

  4. #4
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    I know, I know, you didn't ask for that kind of comment.

    Actually I said anything else was fine. The carnival barker thing was just one area that really stuck out in my mind.

  5. #5
    judy spelbring

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    I know I am not one to critique anything, but I liked this. I enjoyed the descriptions, and I liked what the barker had to say.

    The only thing that popped out at me is I am not sure if a boy of 18 would be calling his parents mommy and daddy. Of course where I live and where you live are two different places, maybe they do from your region.

    Other than that, GREAT STORY

  6. #6
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    Yo, dog. (Shades of Randy Jackson.)

    You're right. I didn't see your comment that other observations were okay.

    I don't wanna hammer your excerpt. It has promise.

    But, after reading it again I was bumped, among other instances, when in one paragraph Steve gets off his bike and falls in behind a group of younger kids. In the next paragraph, Steve notes the bike rack is full and he has to leave it in the grass. Unless that was a tiny flashback, you might wish to jigger the graphs a little bit so it flows in real time.

    Just some thoughts. Take 'em for what they're worth.


  7. #7
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    Well, I guess I meant he got off the bike and was walking it towards the entrance so he wouldn't run over anyone.

  8. #8
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    I'm confused.

    "Well, I guess I meant..." Does that mean you think it deserves a tiny bit of rework, or that you're fine with it as is?

    Not trying to bust your chops.

    I get the sense my comments aren't helpful. If so, thazz okay.


  9. #9
    Lisa P

    Re: The Carnival Papers


    I found this in an article about carnival barkers and thought it was interesting...

    She's alive! Discovered in the jungle by a legendary wild animal tamer, she's more animal than human — and what you will see when I throw this live chicken into that steel cage, you will remember for the rest of your life!

    ; )

  10. #10
    John Oberon

    Re: The Carnival Papers

    The barker might say something about a bearded lady, a strongman, medusa, a giant, half-human/half-reptile, a human pincushion, a caveman frozen in ice, a mesmerist, a magician, a person with more than two arms/legs or two heads. Those are the things I've seen advertised.

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