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Writers' Workshop #2 - Conflict from a set opening line

 
 
jespah
 
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 08:16 am
I am not a writing teacher, and this is not school. The idea here is that we can all teach each other to be better writers. Constructive criticism (e. g. always welcomed. Destructive criticism (e. g. you stink!) is never welcomed. Vague criticisms and/or praise (e. g. that was amazing!) is lovely but it's a lot more helpful if there are some specifics.

Everyone is welcome to write, and everyone is welcome to critique. Anyone wishing to suggest a workshop topic should send me a Private Message. Workshop topics will be opened pretty much whenever I have the time. Feel free to remind me if it's been a while between Workshop topics.

Thank You!

Now for the current challenge:

When I first learned to write (and I'm not done learning, I assure you), I was taught that stories should be composed of Characters, Conflict, Crisis (also called Climax) and Change. That is, you need to try to nurture and express all of these aspects of storytelling.

A story without good characters may be interesting but ultimately you won't care what happens.

A story with no conflict is dull.

A story with no crisis/climax fizzles out.

A story with no change seems pointless.

You get the idea, I'm sure.

What we're going to work on today is conflict. I will offer a conflict-provoking opening line. Your task is to build a short story around it. Basically, I'm providing you with an opening. Don't concern yourself too much with the other elements (crisis, etc.); the idea here is to write a fragment to highlight a conflict.

The opening line is: "That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!"

I'll post a sample below. Feel free to critique or add samples on this thread. If you're critiquing someone, please use the quote function and quote the first line or so of their piece so that we can keep everything straight. Pieces should be less than about 500 words long. Thanks!
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 08:38 am
"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!"

I was taken aback. Jeff's words stung more than I would have thought. "What did you say?" I asked.

"You heard me." He seethed. "I'm going." He began rummaging through drawers and throwing clothes all over the place.

"Stop, stop, look, we'll work this out." I stammered.

"Oh, really?" he chided. "How am I supposed to forget what you did?" More clothes flew and he was onto the closet. He pulled out a backpack and began stuffing everything into it: boxer shorts, dress socks, ties. A belt that had been wound too tightly recoiled and hit him in the eye. "Ow!" He immediately dropped what he was doing.

"Let me see." I said, putting a hand on his arm, which he quickly yanked away.

"No." He kept his face covered with his hands. I don't know if it was the pain of his injury or of my infidelity that made him start crying. He crumpled on the bed, covered in his clothes and toiletries, and began sobbing.

"Jeff. Jeff." I brushed his things to the floor and sat down next to him. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry. About everything. About how stupid I've been. About, I don't know, about the weather and the stock market and the Red Sox and everything."

He looked up at me and when he uncovered his face I could see he was bleeding from the bridge of his nose and was getting a black eye, but the eye itself wasn't damaged. He blinked several times. "My eye isn't bleeding, is it?" He was a lot calmer but his voice shook a little, as if he dreaded my answer.

"No, it's not bleeding." I said. "But you're developing quite a shiner. People will think I was beating up on you."

He shook his head and smiled wanly. "A black eye is nothing, compared to what's really been going on."

"I guess you're right and I guess I deserve that." I sighed. This wasn't going to be fixed easily. "Let me get you some ice."

"No, that's okay." He resumed packing, but more slowly and carefully this time. "I can take of myself."
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 10:03 am
Writers Workshop #2: The Dirt Gardener, by BumbleBeeBoogie
THE DIRT GARDENER
By BumbleBeeBoogie

"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!" Annalee had silently murmured this vow many times over the years.

Annalee hated being beaten by Norman during his drunken rages, but her isolation was worse. Her consolation was her flower garden, despite it being destroyed every winter when flood waters closed the road to their cottage.

In mid-October, Annalee carried a shovel down the rutted dirt road to the mail box where a sign was stuck in the ground to warn people of flash flood danger in the wintertime.

She dug the sign out of the ground and turned the dirt, creating a large three-feet deep basin into which she mixed the super-absorbent polymer granules with the dirt. She put the sign back in the ground, smoothed the dirt, and trudged back to the cottage to wait.

December's rain flooded the road. The water-saturated polymer gel granules swelled a thousand times their normal size, lifting the warning sign five feet above the surrounding ground.

On Christmas Eve, a drunken Norman drove down the road looking at the sign still visible above the flood waters as his car disappeared from sight.

One sunny day early in May, the postman stopped at the mailbox. He saw Annalee working in a flower bed of flourishing pink petunias.

"Them flowers sure are purty, even in that bad soil. Better than any I've seen in the valley. You have a real green thumb, Annalee. Too bad Norman ain't here to enjoy them."

"I know," said Annalee, patting the liberating soil.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 10:43 am
workshop #2: Step on a Crack; Break your Mother's Back!
STEP ON A CRACK---BREAK YOUR MOTHER'S BACK!
By BumbleBeeBoogie

"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!" Jason gulped for air to calm his nerves. "Ever since father died, you've been sucking the oxygen out of my lungs until I feel like I'm suffocating from your domination of my life, my every thought, my very existence."

Jason's widowed mother smiled sweetly at her only child, ignoring his diatribe, knowing her threat to disinherit him would keep him bound to her.

Jason stormed out of the room. He had to break his mother's spirit. It was useless to fight her head-on. After trying for three years, he still hadn't gained control over her affairs and her money. Jason's lies to his mother's friends and other family members about her senility had fallen on deaf ears. His mother's genteel demeanor disguised her intelligence. She was not persuaded that she needed a guardian and her friends and family members agreed with her. But they weren't so sure about Jason.

Jason had a few quirky superstitions in addition to his obsessive-compulsive behavior. When walking with Jason, you tried to ignore his habit of never stepping on the sidewalk cracks. But what was most embarrassing was his erie low murmuring under his breath as he carefully avoided the sidewalk cracks leading to the entrance of his deceased father's famous San Francisco law firm, where he was a partner.

One October morning on his way to his office, Jason, as usual, carefully avoided stepping on the sidewalk cracks in front of his father's edifice. He suddenly stopped, shook his fists at the sky and shouted, "Step on a crack---break your mother's back." He was so shocked to hear himself shouting what he usually murmured, he forgot to watch where he was stepping and his right foot landed on a crack. Jason froze, afraid to move, his legs trembling in terror of what he had done.

Suddenly, an earthquake ripped the ground under his feet. A female Gargoyle broke loose from the building's roof facade and fell, barely missing the other pedestrians on the sidewalk. The falling gargoyle struck Jason on his head knocking him to the ground. The sidewalk cracked where his twisted body lay.

When the paramedics arrived, they realized the injured man's neck was broken.

"What bad luck," the attendant said to Jason. "That Gargoyle hit you like it had taken aim at you through a bombsight."

"Steponacrack," moaned Jason, "breakyourmothersback."

"What's he trying to say?" the ambulance driver asked.

"I'm not sure," the attendant replied, "it sounded like step on a crack and something about breaking your mother's back. I don't see the connection, but people hurt as bad as him usually don't make any sense."
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 10:57 am
"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you anymore!"

Johnny started to pack, dumping his clothes in a bag, in total disorder. His mother watched motionless, exhausted, already incapable of shedding more tears.

"You don't love me anymore, mom! You're never there when I need you! You hand me to that naughty woman Stella, instead!"

"I've told you so many times, Johnny, I need to work extra time" -said the woman, almost in a whisper, as if she was ashamed-. "We need the money to keep Stella".

"Who cares about that bitch! Send her off, mom, and I'll stay" -the boy's surly face suddenly seemed begging.

"I can't, Johnny; you know I can't. She's our friend".

"I'm leaving then! You don't love me anymore!" -the boy shouted- "You care more about Stella".

The woman helped her son tie the bag, walked with him to the other bedroom, untied the bag, and put the clothes in the shelves.

The boy sat on the bed, with his hands clutching a pillow.

"Now, get out!" -he shouted.

His mother left the room without a noise. She knew that in a few days, her mentally crippled son would land in a depression and ask to move back to her room. She called the nurse, who was waiting near the kitchen.

"Stella, he'll be OK in a while. I'm late for work. Take good care of him" -she saint with a faint, tired smile.
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 11:36 am
Awesome!

BBB - THE DIRT GARDENER - oy, creepy, very murderous. I think I like that it has very little dialogue. You just watch as Annalee takes charge of things and suddenly Norman is literally buried and gone. And it's also a study in patience. The murder is planned carefully and the payoff takes months, but that's how gardeners work, you plant a seed and it may grow next year.

BBB - STEP ON A CRACK---BREAK YOUR MOTHER'S BACK! - I think there was a little too much exposition in this one (and I'm well aware that I don't give you a lot of space in which to explain things, so mea culpa. There are also odd details, like what the law firm does. I'd've used the space in doing the exposition, but in what I think might look like a more natural manner. E. g. instead of "Jason's wealthy widowed mother was a world-class controlling woman who dominated her only child's life by threatening to disinherit him." replacing that with something like "Jason said, 'Mother, you're doing it again. I have to live my own life. You try and try to manipulate me, and it's all about the money with you. It's as if all you want to do is order my life like you balance your checkbook.'" Do you see what I'm getting at? I think we'll do exposition at a later date. I've always found it to be a potential pitfall.

In Austin Powers, the writers make fun of exposition, naming a character who does a lot of explaining, "Basil Exposition". I often think of that when I need to get a point across on paper and feel I'm doing a lot of explanatory writing.

I have to say I love the symbolism - the female gargoyle is obviously a stand-in for Jason's darling mother. And it is a kind of deus ex machina ending, where the earth literally tries to swallow up the anti-hero. With these classical elements, is that perhaps why you selected Jason (as in the Argonauts) as your anti-hero's name?

fbaezer - the only thing I'd say is that the son might not necessarily use such complex sentence structures. He's interesting - is he mentally disabled from birth, is he newly disabled, is he mentally ill? That's kind of unclear. I like that he's clutching a pillow, to me that doesn't give away anything about his age, so he could be 4 or 14 or 40. I like how the moving is only from one room to another, and isn't anything more drastic.
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 12:08 pm
Thanks, Jespah, for the comments.

Funny, I just re-read my story and found a telling typo. "She saint with a faint, tired smile", instead of "She said with a faint, tired smile".

I don't know if "crippled" was the correct adjective. I only wanted to point out he couldn't live "outside" and did not understand what his mother was going through. I wanted the age to be unimportant, but was not thinking of a young child (I used the word "boy" as something different from a young child; but I know you can say: "a three year old boy"). In my mind, Johnny could be 14 or 40, but not 4.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more! This wasn't the deal, this wasn't in the contract. A relationship is built on trust, and trust you I did to the core of my being. At least at first. We made a promise to take care of each other. We promised mutual support, respect, and protection from those who said it wouldn't work out.

Things changed. You changed. I could always handle the neglect...I suppose it's in my nature. I didn't mind when you disappeared for hours, or days, I always knew in my heart that you would return, eventually.

Then it came. I suppose it was my love for you that allowed me to justify that I must have done something wrong when you hit me the first time. The second time I began to wonder what I was doing here, trying to forge a life with you. The third time, you broke bones, and I couldn't take it anymore. I'm fed up. I'm leaving. All my loyalty has been abused, and it's enough."

The battered canine made it as far as the front yard before it collapsed.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Jespah
Jespah, that you so much for your comments. They were very helpful and right on target.

I made a change to the first paragraph of The Dirt Gardner to tie it in better to the first sentence.

I liked your suggestions for "Step on a Crack, Break Your Mother's Back." I changed several paragraphs in the story based on your recommendations. I think it works much better now. Thanks for your interest in my amateur writing attempts.

BumbleBeeBoogie
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BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Cav
Cav, I liked the O'Henry touch at the end of your story.

BumbleBeeBoogie
0 Replies
 
IzzyCrosswell
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
I'LL E-MAIL YOU
By Izzy Crosswell

"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!" Emily shouted as she stuffed her clothes back into the bag she had unpacked nearly a month ago.

"You're not living with me anymore? I never even invited you to stay!" the college student yelled at the teenager.

Emily stopped what she was doing and got very close to the girl's face. "You said I could come here if I was ever having a problem with mom! That's just like you Erika, making promises and never keeping them; saying you'll do something, but never pulling through. I'm fed up with it!"

"I meant you could stay here for a week or two, not a month!" Erika screamed.

"Then why didn't you just kick me out?"

"Hello! You're only my sister. How could I tell you to just leave?"

"It's simple, really. You just say, 'Emily, I hate you. Get out.'"

Erika moaned. "Emily," she said. "I do not hate you, come on."

"You just said I'm not welcome here."

"That's only because I can't stand you."

"But you just said you didn't hate me!"

"I don't! There's a difference between hating and standing, okay?"

Emily zipped up her bag, shook her head, and slammed the door in her sister's face. "I'll e-mail you!" she shouted through the door.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!"

These thoughts ran through her head like a chainsaw, staring at the filth in the place, the hairy, snoring body, thinking about the lack of connection.

She knew working nights was hard for him. Working days wasn't all that easy for her either. Maybe once, a little help around the house would be appreciated. They hardly saw each other, and in the wee hours of the morning, when he came home, it was a couple of drinks and a night on the couch, so as not to disturb her.

The filth, the crumbling marriage, the home neglected, love negelected (especially "marital duties"), it was becoming too much to bear.

"Those dishes are breeding, I swear...." she thought, and went to turn on the tap.

There were rumblings from the couch, then a bear-like yawn and the sounds of scratching. "Hiya babe, sorry...can I help dry?"

A thin smile passed her lips. "Maybe another day," she thought.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
BBB, I loved the first story, it read like a really cool episode of 'Thriller', a show I have come to love. I am glad they are showing it again now, as I was too young (not even a glint in the milkman's eye actually) to catch it the first time around. The second story could use some editing. The "Gas Light" reference in particular will probably be confusing for readers who have not seen the movie, and if there is any symbolism there, it will be lost on the uninformed reader. I like the concept, but I think it needs expansion. You may just need more space to develop it. I think more back story would be helpful, so perhaps a longer story, or a novella with that funky ending?
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Cav
Cav, thanks for your kind words.

I rewote portions of the "Step on a Crack---Break Your Mother's Back" story based on your excellent suggestions. Do you think it works better now?

I enjoyed your story and was reminded that, most of the time, love can and does overcome all.

---BumbleBeeBoogie
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Izzy
Izzy, I enjoyed your story with it's excellent and crisp dialogue. I wouldn't change a word except in the second paragraph, which seems a little contrived.

---BumbleBeeBoogie
0 Replies
 
the prince
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
The contributions here left me awestuck !!! I had written a prose (my first prose ever) when I first saw this challenge, but I was not sure whether it was good enuff to be posted here. But anyways, here goes...



"That's it! I've had it! I'm not living with you any more!"

I picked up my glass full of whisky and took another large gulp. The man in front of me seems to wilt under my glare, full of alcohol induced hate.

I loved this man once, but as years passed, my love started to turn into contempt. His eyes, which I could admire for hours, lost their radiance. His smile, which once melted my knees, looked more like a grimace now. His razor sharp jaw bones were hidden by layers of fat, making him look like a bulldog. Years of smoking has turned his smooth as velvet voice to a grating whisper.

"Everytime I see you, I feel like throwing up", I continued my booze fuelled abuse. I did realize that I was quite drunk at the moment, but somehow I could not break the endless cycle of bottle, glass, lips. It gave me the courage to acknowledge the fact that I detested everything about him now.

I broke down suddenly, and my body heaved up and down with the intensity of my sobs. But my rage did not flow out with my tears. When I looked at him, I saw that he had been crying too. He still loved me, despite all my faults. His eyes were begging me to give him another chance. But I was in no mood to relent.

Draining my almost full glass in one gulp, I shouted at him once again, "Get out of my life", and threw my heavy crystal tumbler with full force at him.

The mirror shattered into a thousand pieces.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Thanks BBB. I think the story works a lot better now, but again, another pop-culture reference in describing Jason's appearance/demeanour. I think just describing Jason would make the story stronger. I know exactly what you are thinking with the reference, but working on simple imagery instead of references would bring the character to life. Mother is well-crafted now, I think.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Gautam, you are a true romantic, and a drama queen! I like the shattered mirror reference at the end, as if you were breaking your own reflection, a part of yourself that you saw in him, the part that you detest in yourself. It caps the piece nicely, leaving the possibility that perhaps it was yourself you were really angry at, not him.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
I'm enjoying reading this series so much that my own little version is langushing. I have the outline, but as always it seems there are problems that haven't quite jelled yet.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2003 06:00 pm
Gautam, I am stunned. The last line of your piece really took me by surprise. I LOVE IT!

I haven't read the rest of the creations here, but I certainly shall.
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