Thursday, June 10, 2010

Read and comment please :)

Hi. So I'm supposed to be writing this piece for an anthology that is being put together for the writing class I've been going to the past couple of months. And I procrastinated and was busy and the deadline is tomorrow so I have two pieces that I would love for you to read and critique, if at all possible. After you read them I can give you my opinion but I don't want to bias you before so. I'm mostly decided on which I'm going to use but I need YOUR help.

Piece 1

Allow me to tell you a story. Once there was a group of kindred spirits on a road trip, out to discover adventure and excitement. They found themselves in Portland, Oregon after crossing a somewhat frightening bridge and working their way through the equally frightening city traffic. They went to a brewery/restaurant, were given an electronic device that would tell them when it was their turn to eat, and sat down on the bench after being told it would be a forty-five minute wait.

Outside of the Brewery/Restaurant Where Hope Dies, there was a boy. He had a sign that indicated that he was travelling, broke and hungry. Anything helps.

An hour passed and a brave spokesperson of the road-trippers ventured forth to ascertain a more realistic time frame. They told her five to ten minutes.

Twenty minutes passed.

The foursome went up together the next time, perhaps hoping to intimidate the restaurant host with the crazed, hungry look in their eyes. Apparently, the electronic device was broken. If you rely on technology, you will end up near tears and more than peckish.

Maybe it was because they were naturally generous people or maybe it was because they had recently encountered brief hunger themselves but regardless, upon leaving the restaurant, they gave the boy outside some money. He thanked them and they discovered he was from Vermont, approximately two thousand, nine hundred and fifteen miles away. He smiled and said he was loving every minute of his travels.

They parted.

They didn’t know that they would meet again, quite spontaneously, seven days later, approximately one hundred and seventy four miles north of their original rendezvous, in Seattle, Washington. They didn’t know that they would find themselves in the Seattle Convention Center, each on an escalator that was escalating in opposite directions. The road-trippers couldn’t get over the shock of the serendipity and stared until they were too far down on their escalator and he was too far up on his.

They didn’t stop to think of how odd it was to see the same random boy in two different cities within a week. If they had stopped to think about it, would they have thought it odd, or completely normal? For who, really, if not travellers, are the most likely to run into each other?

Piece 2

I like you. But liking you is like driving on the highway in the rain. The windshield wipers are scraping back and forth so fast that if I were them, I would start planning mutiny. Even with their intense labour, I can hardly see in front of me but then I notice a sign telling me I’ll get there eventually and I feel an urge to press harder on the gas. I want to go faster.

But I don’t, because that is too freaking dangerous, not to mention terrifying. The speed limit is posted and the visibility conditions are bad. To be frank, I only just got my learners’ permit and my mom is in the passenger seat gripping the handle on the door while trying to appear calm, probably for my sake. The fa├žade isn’t working but I try not to let her know that I can physically feel the tension radiating off of her. Why does she get to be the nervous one?

I cautiously inch along, because speed tickets are not underrated. So yes, it’s still going to be a couple of kilometres before I actually talk to you but my road skills are improving by the second. And I’m cautiously certain that when I see the correct exit sign I’ll be able to confidently steer into the off ramp and everything will be fine. Though honestly, the road manual can only tell you so much.

I'm leaning towards piece 2. I don't exactly know why but piece 1 feels raw and I don't feel like fixing it whereas piece 2 actually says something to me.

Please, please, please, advise. Tell me if you agree with me on piece 2. Tell me what you like. Tell me what you hate. Tell me what you think I should change. ----v (comments)


Rena said...

Piece 1: I want to know more about Mystery Vermont Guy, his backstory/point of view etc.. but at the same time not knowing about him creates intrigue. It's less ending-y (?) than the second--to suggest the continuation of travel? Even if that wasn't intentional I like it. I like that bit of rawness as an informal reader, although it may not be what you want to submit for an assignment. The first sentence is a little too forward, it breaks the fourth wall or whatever it's called once and then moves to the third person; I think the beginning works fine without it.

Piece 2: Definitely requires more interpretation. Like Piece 1 it suggests travel, but it's more like a journey, with a destination/goal/purpose alluded to. It has depth. The sense of longing is clear, it could either be seen as a.) How love is complicated and nerve-racking and undefined etc, or b.) As simple physical distance and how driving is hard but rewarding. It's still open-ended and subtle, which is good, "THE END." or "EVERYONE DIES." is never a decent ending, especially to a short story. It has more of an air of finality than Piece 1 (even though I liked that about it... see above).

As a stand-alone I agree that you should pick piece 2.

Vita said...

HI ALEX. Can I issue a disclaimer and say that I am (obviously) not a professional and you are free to disregard my comments if you don't agree with them? (I say this now so that I don't feel obligated to write, "but that's just my opinion, so you don't have to listen to me" after every sentence.) Also, I'm not yelling at you; that's just how I write whilst I'm editing.

Okay. Cool.

Personally, I think the first story would work better if it were in the present tense. You'd have to switch it up a bit, but the subject of the story (traveling) seems to go hand-in-hand with the "now," I-don't-know-what-to-expect feeling of the present tense.

1st piece:

1st paragraph: Change the beginning of the first story – I don’t like the part that goes from “allow me…” to “…city traffic.” You don’t need exposition for this; the story is “in the moment” and the writing should reflect that.

Is it a brewery or a restaurant? The slash is unnecessary.

5th paragraph: Nix “apparently.”

There’s an awkward change from 3rd to 1st person in the “if you rely… more than peckish” sentence.

There’s a time lapse between the 5th & 6th paragraphs – what happened? Did they get their food? Did they leave out of frustration?

6th paragraph – in the first sentence, “but regardless” is redundant. Get rid of one of them.

“He thanked them… miles away:” the “they discovered he was from Vermont” is too passive; it makes the story less exciting. Make him whisper, yell, exclaim, cry, let slip, something!

However, I LOVE the “approximately two thousand, nine hundred and fifteen miles away.” The contrast between “approximately” and an almost exact location is awesome.

8th paragraph: again, LOVE the number of miles. I ADORE the image given in the last sentence: “the road-trippers… up on his.”

9th paragraph: “stop to think” in the 1st sentence and “had stopped to think” in the 2nd sentence is repetitive.

Love, love, love the last sentence. 

Piece 2:

1st paragraph: In “the windshield wipers… planning mutiny,” the change from 3rd to 1st person is cumbersome. Can you rephrase it so it’s all from the same perspective?

Change “even with their” to “despite.”

End the sentence after “I can hard see in front of me.” Period. Capital “Then I notice a sign…”

Make “eventually” more specific – you’ll be there in 2 miles? Five hours?

2nd paragraph: Get rid of “freaking.” Informality conflicts with your voice in the rest of the piece.

Change “posted” to something more vivid – it’s clear, it’s visible, it’s… what?

“To be frank” has no place here. You’re not being brutally honest; you’re just stating facts (slight difference…).

3rd paragraph: I am confused by “because speed tickets are not underrated.” What does that mean?

Can you make a closing remark that ties together “you” and driving? I don’t quite see the connection. You say (1st P) that “liking you is like driving on the highway in the rain” – how so? We know what driving on the highway in the rain is like, but what does that say about your relationship? Does the relationship take effort? Is it treacherous? Say so!

Pick the one you like more & feel more comfortable with - apparently that's the second one. PERSONALLY, I think I would prefer the 1st one if changes were made to it. HOWEVER, as they are, I'd go with the second one.

Really though, both of these are good. They could probably be edited some more, but I do like your writing style a whole lot. Good work :)

Vita said...

Actually I just reread the 2nd one like 3 times (promise I don't stalk you) and the more I read it the more I like it. So mostly ignore what I said about needing to tie "you" + driving together at the end (I still think you need to make the connection a little clearer, but not too much - don't make it as blunt as I previously indicated [and rereading what I wrote, I didn't want you to make it that blunt in the first place... sorry if that wasn't clear]). KAY BYE

Alex said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Don't take this the wrong way (I hate it when people say that, but it applies) but you both completely exceeded my expectations.

I am feeling immensely grateful for the mastermind that is Maureen Johnson for giving me the both of you. (giving sounds creepy but you know what I mean, right?)

You are exactly what I need. And I did not find ANY of this harsh. I think the sign of a good critique-r is that, rather than wanting to cry after you get their advice, you go "Aaaaahhhh. You're completely correct." My writerly sisters are wonderful for feelings and interpretations but the whole sentence analysis thing is something I need help on. So thank you and if you ever need any similar (or different, I'm not particular) help, I will do my utmost to assist (I'm pretty sure I misused the word utmost but that's what I need you people to help me out on).

I'm thinking you should get Smeyer to pay you millions of dollars to fix up her crap. The world would be a better place if that woman would realize that having a thesaurus does not make you a better writer (though it certainly helps, in some cases).