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  1. #1
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    Comments on this story opening?

    [*xxx* = italics]

    The dental assistant smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, "William, I suppose by now you're just absolutely sick of having those horrid braces. Well, I have good news for you. Those braces are going to come out today. We're going to take them right off, and it won't hurt a bit."

    William nodded. It was probably a lie, of course, that it wouldn't hurt a bit. But since adults always said it when it *was* going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future. Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.

    "So if you'll just come over here, William, just sit right here in the chair. The doctor will be in to see you in a moment."

    The braces gone. William tried to imagine those things missing from his teeth. I'll smile and people will see my teeth. No more food gunk stuck when I eat.

    And Linda won't hate me anymore. I'll see her at school and show her that the braces are gone. That I look more normal. That won't be so bad then. She'll forget that I had my braces a whole year longer than she had hers. We'll be--

    Not boyfriend and girlfriend, probably. No, Linda was too popular. Friends. She won't hate me.

    But William knew, even as he thought it, that it was hopeless. There was something in
    Linda's eyes, especially when she was in her moods, and whenever William saw that look, that glint, he knew that the one thing Linda would *not* do was become his girlfriend or even his friend.



  2. #2
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    It reads as a bit forced, in that the characters are speaking and acting for the reader's benefit, not as humans interacting. Think of the problems from a reader's viewpoint:

    • We don't know where we are or whose skin we're wearing, only that his name is William. That woman playing with his hair has an implied meaning to a reader if he's nineteen and she's eighteen. But that changes if she's thirty and he's righteen. And the subtext changes again if he's fourteen. Remember, fully half our conversation takes place in nonverbal ways. How we speak is every bit as important as what we say because that carries the emotional part of the message. That's why it's critical to place the reader on the scene in a way that gives them context, so they can fill in that missing emotional tone in the voice the page can't reproduce. A few points:

    • If he's a boy he's probably be called Bill. That makes the conversation sound less formal.

    • She's speaking her words like a wind-up toy, with no warmth, recognition of him as a person, or the smoothness of language one expects. He's been coming there for some time, so she probably knows him, and will engage him in conversation, not talk at him. Why not begin the scene where it begins for him, as he comes in, with something like.
    Bill Foster opened the car's door. But before he stepped out he stopped.

    "I'm guessing that it will take an hour to get the braces off. So Come back at three?"

    "Three it is," his mother said, grinning as she said, "Be brave my son, be brave."

    Shaking his head he left the car without responding and headed toward the dental office. He stopped with his hand on the door, took a deep breath, then pushed through.

    "Hi, Bill," the receptionist said as he took off his jacket and hung it on the rack. "Today's the big day, right? No more tin grin?"

    He mimed ripping the braces from his mouth as he came to the desk, "Right. No more tin grin...at last!"

    "So who's the lucky girl?"

    "Girl?" I—"

    "The one you've been hoping will find you more interesting without that wire-work in your mouth." She spread her hands as she said, "I had braces, too—at seventeen, just like you—so I know how unattractive they can make you feel."

    "Well...maybe one that I would—"

    "Maybe two or three." She laughed, then turned to look at something not visible through the window to the reception desk before saying, "They'll be another few minutes before Doctor Kane will be ready for you, so sit."

    He started toward one of the chairs in the empty waiting room but stopped as a thought occurred, and turned back to the receptionist, saying, "Susan? Can you tell me if...well does it hurt?" He braced for her response, mentally betting on, "You'll feel a little pressure," which means, "It hurts like hell." Or, "You'll feel a pinch," which really means "Brace yourself, baby, here it comes.'

    She cocked her head at him for a moment, a smile playing around her mouth, before she said. "Well, people have all kinds of reactions, Bill." She hesitated for a moment, obviously enjoying the moment. Then she pointed a finger at him and said, "But the one I think you'll really focus on is relief."
    Your story? No. Nor are they your characters. It's just a quick example of another approach, one that places us in the protagonist's viewpoint, in the moment he calls now. We don't just learn what was said and done, we learn what has meaning to him, and why, so we better understand him, and his actions. Instead of having a narrator who's invisible, and whose voice we can't hear tell us about the story we live it.

    No one explained anything. No one had thoughts meant to tell the reader something, they just interact as two people will. But look at what we learn, in passing:

    He's seventeen. His braces are coming off. His mom isn't worried but he's tense. He has a sense of humor. It's cool enough out to need a jacket. It's a small dental office, not a factory style clinic with a half dozen dentists. It's two o'clock. And, Bill is hoping to be more attractive to a certain girl.

    Do we want to know what problems he had because of the braces? No. That's history. In fact, we don't need to know anything at all about the actual procedure, unless it moves the plot in some way.

    So why is this all news to you? Why was tyour approach to presenting the story so much more factual and matter-of-fact? It's not a matter ot talent or potential as a writer getting in the way, it's that you. like everyone, thinks we learned to write in school. We do, to an extent. but unless we all professional knowledge to the general skills we all learn in school, all we own are the book report and essay writing skills we were given there. And they're nonfiction skills. For any profession we need to add knowledge and practice to what we learned. And fiction for the printed word is a profession, as much as is journalism and screenwriting.

    So adding a few of the tricks-of-the-traqde to your schooldays writing skills can do wonders. For that the local library system's fiction writing section can be a great help. There are lots of resources online, too.

    Sorry my news wasn't better. It was a shock to me, too.

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.

    Jay Greenstein


    Our goal isn't to make the reader know the character is frightened, it's to terrify the reader.

  3. #3
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    Holy cow.

    I've been hanging around writing sites longer than I care to admit, and I have to say that Jay's critique is the most pretentious, self-centered, and inflated analysis I've ever encountered. But nothing I've ever seen, anywhere, anytime, matches the hubris of this remark: "Sorry my news wasn't better. It was a shock to me, too."

    Shock?... Here's a shock for you, Jay. Ever hear of the term "economy of expression"? Well, let's count the words. The set-up to Robin's piece (the first three graphs) takes 128 words. Your version, in which the same two characters advance the story the same few beats, takes 341.

    Yeah, that's a shock to me, too. But you hang in there, ol' buddy, and you keep on writing.

  4. #4
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    Robin:

    Your piece has a sweet and engaging voice, but I believe you can do better. Your mechanics are sound, but you switch POV from 1st to 3rd and back. Also, to me the dialog comes across a bit stilted (e.g., the nurse calling him "William" when we know it's him she's speaking to). My major concern, though, is there's no story question raised, other than what Linda's reaction is going to be. Full disclosure: I'm probably not your target reader—YA and MG and such don't cohabit with Elmore Leonard—but that's not enough to keep me reading.

    Hope this helps.

  5. #5
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    Jayce,

    Little is more infuriating than quasi female nepotism, for the sake of gender. Sticking up for the little girl like a brooding hen, really? Some of Jay's comments were misplaced, as was most of your vitriol. Who died and made you queen of anything, Nefertiti? Yes Wickett, I know: calm down.
    Last edited by Author Pendragin; 05-17-2015 at 07:46 PM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Author Pendragin View Post
    Little is more infuriating than quasi female nepotism, for the sake of gender.
    wtf?

  7. #7
    Rogue Mutt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Author Pendragin View Post
    Jayce,

    Little is more infuriating than quasi female nepotism, for the sake of gender. Sticking up for the little girl like a brooding hen, really? Some of Jay's comments were misplaced, as was most of your vitriol. Who died and made you queen of anything, Nefertiti? Yes Wickett, I know: calm down.
    Wow, holy misogyny Batman.

  8. #8
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    Oh please, Rogue. It was aimed at her comment, not her gender. Ergo, it's not misogyny: the pre-canned, demeaning, throwaway term of every sympathy seeking female that means absolutely nothing in context, except they're not getting their way and took psychological warfare as the path of least resistance. Can we stop playing the gender card? You might want to check your nose for brown stuff.
    Last edited by Author Pendragin; 05-17-2015 at 08:15 PM.

  9. #9
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    Your response essentially boils down to cronyism, Jayce. Plain and simple. My keyboard didn't stutter; I know you can read.

  10. #10
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    I'm a boy.

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