Writers' Workshop #3 - Start from a Loaded Statement

Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2003 04:16 pm
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, suggested by cavfancier:

We recently did short stories (conflicts) started from a somewhat neutral statement. Now we're going to add a twist to that, and you'll be given a number of statements to use as your openers, but these will be loaded statements which beg a particular type of response (what we call in the law "leading questions").

Loaded statements include
"If you loved me, you would ..."
"You are sorry, aren't you?"
"You're new to the neighborhood, aren't you?"
"Well, isn't that very nice for you."
"Isn't it true that ..."
"Don't you think that ..."

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, and thank you again to cavfancier!
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Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2003 04:36 pm
"If you loved me, you would not be doing that." said Craig.

"Doing what?"


"Oh, yeah, sorry." said Marie, dropping her pencil onto the table. "I didn't even realize I was doing that."

"Well, that tapping annoys the hell out of me." said Craig. "Just like you to not realize." he muttered under his breath.

"What did you say?" demanded Marie.


"No, that wasn't nothing. It was something." she retorted.

"Okay, if you must know, I said you normally don't notice the tapping."

"No, you said something more like it was typical, and that I was insensitive to your oh so sensitive precious ears." spat Marie.

"Oh, come on!" said Craig. "I didn't say that!"

"Yes you did. Maybe not exactly that, but that's what you meant."

"Well, it bothers me. You don't even notice, and it bothers me to no end." Craig was slightly calmer.

"I'm sorry. Look, I'm sorry. See, the pencil is going back in the drawer." Marie got up and made a big demonstration of returning the pencil to its normal hiding place.

"That's better." said Craig, going back to his book.

"Whatcha reading?" asked Marie, hovering over his shoulder.

"Quantum mechanics."

"Everything you read is boring."

"Get your own book." said Craig, exasperated. "Can't you see I'm trying to study here?"

"Oh all right." Marie surrendered, and began rifling through magazines.

"Can't you do that any quieter?"

Marie rolled her eyes. "I'm doing this as fast as I can, so I don't disturb you any more, your Highness."

"Don't you have studying of your own to do?" asked Craig, putting the heavy text book down for a moment.

"I'm all done."

"Well, French is easy." Craig muttered.

"What was that?" Marie bristled.

Craig didn't hold back this time. "I said, French is easy. Physics is hard. You're taking an easy program, and you're bored with it. Well, I'm taking harder classes and it's a lot more work. So leave me alone!" He glared at her.

"Hey, no one asked you to be a martyr!" Marie shouted. "The minute we got to college, all you could do was moan about how hard Physics is, and how no one understands, and how it's such a trauma, and you're working so hard, and everything you do is so goddamned brilliant and important and everyone else is doing monkey work! You want hard? Try reading this passage!" she grabbed a volume of Balzac and dropped it in his lap, opening it to a random page. "Here!" she stabbed a finger at the text. "Read this, translate it, write a college-level paper on it and then defend it, in French, to your professor. I dare you." Her eyes narrowed to slits in defiance.

"Get out of my face." Craig snarled, tossing the Balzac tome to the floor. "I have work to do."

"I don't even know why I agreed to go to this stupid school with you." hissed Marie. "My mother was right. She said a High School romance would never work out in college, and I was stupid to follow you to your dream school and not try to go to my own. Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Marie started to cry a little, and clutched the side of the door frame to steady herself.

"Hey, take it easy, okay? I'm sorry. I'm just stressed. I've got a big lab presentation and I can't figure out the instructions. It's driving me nuts and I'm taking it out on you. Can you forgive me?" he smiled at her warily.

"Yeah, I guess." she said, allowing him to hug her.

All was quiet. He sat back down and returned to his text book. She went back to the magazines and selected one, a crossword puzzle book. She took the pencil back out of its drawer and sat down again. In a few minutes, it began again. Tap tap tap.
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Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2003 05:33 pm
YAY! I will come back...I'm only half-way through your post....and thinking of another Very Happy
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Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2003 05:35 pm
You've really got a way with dialogue, Jes. Very naturalistic, good flow.

You managed to give a good encapsulation of their entire relationship, how old they are, how they relate to each other, etc., etc. The part I like best is how you show the whole dance of antagonism, making up, underlying incompatibilities coming to the surface again in a really archetypical way, while keeping the personalities pretty distinct. (Archetypes are great for short-short stories.)

Nice idea. Thinking...
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Reply Wed 18 Jun, 2003 06:44 pm
I'm not a good critic. I felt cheated at the end. It was written well enough for me to be interested and become involved in the characters but there should have been some inner thoughts or something to end the show. The tapping just started the dance all over again and led me to believe that the same conversation would be reinacted. There was tension without release.

Saying this, I must admit that I am quite poor in writing in the narrative form.
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the prince
Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 02:12 am
bm - I will be back....
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the prince
Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 05:50 am
"Does my bum look big in this ?"

"No", I replied, not even looking up from the complex worksheet I was trying so hard to decipher on my laptop.

"You did not even look at me"

"I don't need to. You don't have a big bum. So there is no question of it looking big in whatever you wear".

"Look up from that bloody computer when you talk to me", he shouted.

Sighing, I pressed the save button and looked up at my lover of 5 years. "What ?"

"What do you mean what ? Why do you have to ignore me everytime I ask you something ?"

I could sense another argument coming on. I could always tell when he was getting angry. The blue in eyes turned a darker shade, almost black, his ears turned red and there was a grim line of determination in his jaw.

"I did not ignore you. You asked me a question and I answered it. Let me try again. No, your bum does not look big in this. It never has, nor it will if you keep hanging around that steriod blown clown at the gym"

"Ahh, are we being a bit jealous here ?"

"Jealous ? Moi ?", I laughed, "Of that clown ?"

"Typical response of a person who is jealous", he sneered.

"Look, I don't want an argument. I have to send this spreadsheet to the head office by monday morning, and I am not even half way through. So why don't you just take yourself out of that door, do whatever you want to and leave me alone to do my work in peace"

"Work, work, work. Can't you think of anything else ? It's Saturday night and all you want to do is work. Everyday you come home when I have gone to sleep and every morning you leave before I wake up. Do you even know that I exist ? Do you ever realize that I might be lonely ? Do you know that I have feelings ? Career, money, career, money can you ever think beyond that ?", he shouted, with the first signs of tears in his eyes "You are showing your true colors, you are turning into a ******* boring old man, with a trophy boyfriend in his BMW. Maybe if you spent more time with me, I would not be hanging out with the clown"

"Ahhh...so there is something going on between you, and now it is my fault eh ? Is he your date for tonight ?" The sacarsm in my voice was apparent.

"No, he is not, but I would have rung him up and asked him out, but he is taking his children to the theatre today. He is a married straight man you moron".

"Get lost", irritation finally getting the better of me.

"Yes, I will", he said, throwing his jacket on his shoulder and picking up the keys to his sports car, which was delivered to him today morning, gift wrapped with a big blue ribbon, for his birthday.

"But before I go, can I just ask you one thing ?", He said, pausing at the door.

"What ?"

"Does my bum look big in this ?"
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Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 07:13 am
Great, Jes. A little vignette in the life of a bored tapper. Cool

Gautam, Hilarious! A workaholic and his insecure mate. I wouldn't change anything.
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Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 07:43 am
All men's bums look big in sportscars - just kidding!

Good portrayal of one of those stupid, no-win arguments Gautam!
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Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 10:48 am
Ah, Gautam, the ageless question that everyone asks their mate when they want to start an argument!

I think both stories are similar - we both have couples who are way beyond the first blush of love and are so complacent with one another that they start an argument just to add a little spice to their lives. Tap tap tap do I look fat? I've got to study my spreadsheet is due tomorrow etc. These two couples know one another very well.

morganwood, I also have some trouble with my ending (frankly, I was looking for an ending and a way to tie it back to the tapping). I wanted the whole thing to come full circle, that the argument isn't resolved and the whole thing is just going to happen all over again and again and this wasn't the real blow-up between them.
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Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 04:42 pm
By BumbleBeeBoogie

"You're new to the neighborhood, aren't you?"

Startled, Mary turned toward the sound of the unfamiliar voice.

"I ain't seen you here before. Are you new to the neighborhood?" asked the flower vendor.

"Yes, just moved here. My husband and I both work in this area."

"Welcome to the neighborhood," smiled the old man as he handed her a daisy. "You're lucky both of you have jobs in these trying times. What work do you do?"

"I'm a hat model."

"That's not surprising, you're beautiful."

"Thank you, you're so nice."

Mary turned, waving goodbye. She Zigzagged her way down the crowded sidewalk, her hair trying to free itself from its coil in the wind. People rushing toward her dodged to defend themselves against the big red hat box she carried. It led the way, banging like a bell's clapper against her legs as she trailed behind it. A tan dress bag was flung over her shoulders. It flapped in the wind as if it were a flag on the deck of a ship at sea.

A blast of warm September wind pushed against Mary reminding her of the fierce storm that sank the Morro Castle cruise ship the day before. The rain had washed the summer's dust into the gutters, oozing mud in little rivulets toward the storm drains. The storm had torn the leaves from the maple trees lining the street, sweeping them along the sidewalk. They piled up against tree trunks, light poles, and garbage cans set out for collection in the morning.

Sid called to her from the corner where they met after work each night. They joined hands and continued their homeward journey. Several strollers were still out. Couples peered into dimly lighted shop windows, exclaiming over the new fall dresses and suits, pointing at marcasite jewelry, or wondering about the new vacuum cleaners. Like the other strollers, Mary and Sid often window-shopped at night after the shops were closed. But tonight, they just admired their reflection in the windows as their strong strides carried them down the sidewalk.

At the corner, they noticed the news vendor was preparing to close his newsstand. He was singing, accompanied by soft music coming from a radio on the counter, "Here I go, singin' low...bye, bye blackbird." The rhythmic tattoo of his fingers on the counter jiggled the small Chinese lanterns hanging from the newsstand's roof. Their yellow haze swung back and forth over the magazines and newspapers stacked on the shelves.

Sid dropped three cents in the vendor's cigar box. He picked up a Daily Worker, whose headlines warned about repression by Hitler in Germany and by Franco in Spain.

Mary picked up the New York Times. She read MORRO CASTLE BURNS OFF ASBURY PARK; 250 LISTED AS DEAD OR MISSING. Under it's September 9, 1934 dateline: Rescue lines pick up 157; craft nearby speed to SOS.

Mary shut out the conversation between the two men while she scanned the list of Morro Castle survivors. She didn't expect to find the name of anyone she knew who could afford a cruise to Cuba.

As they continued on their way home, a ventilator in the middle of the street emitted steam that enveloped them in the aroma of freshly baked bread from the nearby bakery.

"Ummm," Mary inhaled, "that bread smells so good, it makes me hungry."

Sid laughed, "You're always hungry."
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Reply Thu 19 Jun, 2003 11:22 pm
The Newbie.

"You're new to the neighborhood, aren't you?," she started, carefully observing the Newbie. She was aware of movement behind her, and casually turned her head to increase her peripheral field; one eye on the new guy, one checking her back. Just an inmate, taking a trip to the Deck bathroom. She surveyed the Deck for guards, made eye contact with Sgt. Orlean, and turned her attention back to the Newbie.

He hadn't spoken. She studied him, forming her next move, mentally flipping through her training booklet. The line between fear and safety gerrymandered and faded.

The chart on Mark Lightener: 28 year old, black, police officer. Treated for mental problems before. Suspect shizoaffective disorder. He was on leave from the department, and about six hours ago, he shot his wife, her friend and an officer in his home, as the wife was gathering her belongings. She had left him, and had possessed the good sense to ask for an officer to escort her to the residence, for all the good it had done her. This, Adele had deciphered from the admitting officer's notes.

Though murder is prerequisite for admittance on Ward Six, what concerned Adele was the on-call doc hadn't shown up yet, and this freshly-snapped young man had not been medicated. Talking with people who killed people, keeping them calm, was Adele's job. She'd been at it three weeks, now.

The State Mental Institution housed a range of mentally ill criminals; from the bad check writer, who heard faking a suicide would get him out of jail, to the woman who smothered the Devil, deceptively disguised as her sister's baby, to Mark Lightener, a murderer in for a psych evaluation. Wards Five and Six were forensics. Criminals. Six was for murderers.

Adele decided to remain standing, and kept a healthy distance. Another glance toward Orlean, who'd been watching, and now stood. The room swarmed with other inmates, and loud laughter riccocheted across the Deck, as was common. Mark Lightener sat amid them all, elbows on the table in front of him, his head held in his hands. She looked into his wet, brown eyes, barely visible between splayed fingers.

"Mark, my name is Adele. There are some things I want to tell you."

He didn't move. She wondered if he was even operating on her plane of existence. She knew she was expected to make contact, and she knew just as well that pressed contact in this moment may earn her a chair over the head. Adele resisted the urge to turn around to the Nurses' Cage to see who was watching her. Being new staff on the Ward Six came with it's indignities and tests. Every experience seemed to be a one or the other.

"Sssshhh." "Hey! Look!" A clamor of voices quieted the Deck, and an authoritative female narrative dominated the room. Adele turned to the voice; the local TV news reporter's words were clear, "Today, in Lexington, the Meadows subdivision was the sight of a fatal multiple shooting..."

Adele's eyes squeezed closed for a second; an ice-cold sickness slipped down her body. She started toward the TV, and as she passed Mark, his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. Orlean was at her side in that instant. "Remove your hand, Mr. Lightner," Orlean spoke quietly. But, Lightener was tranfixed on the newscast, seemingly unaware of the tight grip he held on Adele's wrist. The crushing details reverberated through the room, and Lightener's grip began to elicit real pain. Orlean moved to intercede, but Adele whispered to him, "It's OK," and spoke Lightener's name.

Orlean dismissed Adele, repeating his command to Lightner loudly. Allowing an inmate to hold her put the guard at risk, she remembered. She was, in effect, a hostage and Orlean was duty-bound to free her. The distraction she was causing made the guard vulnerable to attack from another inmate. This spun through her mind in a split second, and she centered all her energy into violent twist of her wrist, grabbed her fist with her free hand and jerked it upward, freeing herself.

Mark Lightner turned his face from the TV screen and looked at her, as if surprised.

One o'clock AM finally came. All the inmates were tucked away, and the staff and guards took over the place. Somebody would go for food; somebody brought a board game. Staff took turns watching for the Supervisor while most caught some z's. Adele never slept on the unit. She couldn't understand how anyone could be comfortable enough to sleep on any psychiatric ward, much less this one, so she adopted Permanent Housekeeping detail.

They were a close knit unit of people, she thought, as she dragged the mop across the bathroom floor. Some of them had been here twenty years. No one ever quit this shift, they'd told her. They knew each other's families. They did things together off the clock. They were a band of comrades. She was the replacement for someone they trusted. She was untried.

She stilled the mop, hearing footsteps and conversation approaching. "....How did he do tonight? I heard he grabbed the new girl. I got a twenty riding on her. I bet she wouldn't last a month. Women don't belong here, you know? I argued with Human Services over this push to hire more women. They're just more thing for you guys to worry about. Anyway, one scare and she'll be running like a rabbit."

She heard Orlean's voice as they walked by, "Cut me in on that, doc. Make it fifty. I'm bettin' on the Newbie."

Yuck. Already found boocoups boo-boos. A work in progress. Feel free to help.
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 06:58 am
BBB, I think I would have liked to have seen some more period details. There are some - the hat model (no one's a hat model these days), "Bye Bye Blackbird" and the Morro Castle, but if you don't know the Morro Castle, you as the reader are kind of stuck. Admittedly, I am stuck - take out the dateline on the newspaper and I see anything from 1900 to about 1950.

There are probably ways to remedy this, from someone saying "I think there may be trouble in Europe with that Hitler fellow." to a price for something which would indicate that the Great Depression is still going on. I don't see a need to beat anyone over the head with this, but I think some details would help to set the scene a bit more clearly. The newspaper is a good device but I think you can do without it if you bring in other elements. Plus, I think the Morro Castle is mentioned too frequently. What's Mary's connection with it? And wouldn't a 1934 newspaper not have this information until the following day? But you have Mary thinking about the storm from the night before. Just a little change, like saying she'd heard about it on the radio, or something like that; I think that would be clearer and would flow better.

Sofia, I like the vividness of the story. The reader is definitely plunged directly into the ward. Who does the first sentence refer to? Is it to the new nurse, or to the new inmate? That's unclear, and perhaps that's your intention? I'm also a bit unclear as to why the guard is betting on her to stay - is it because of her courage? Her keeping quiet? Maybe I read too much into such things, but I was a bit confused by that.
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the prince
Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 07:01 am
Hey !! I want some critique as well !!!

I am enjoying writing prose so much that I wanna get better in it - who knows, I might be the next Jeffery Archer (without the jail part)

Please ? Pretty Please ?
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 07:09 am
G, go back over the thread, you received some nice comments. Very Happy I should add, it sounds so much like conversations related to us from our friends R- and D- (the initial thing gets infectious) between themselves, there is a very real feel to the story. I liked it. R- would be the one on the computer, for sure, but the guy can party, especially when he and D- are disagreeing.
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the prince
Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 07:12 am
Yeah !! I know !! And I love them for that - heck I love them anyways !!

But what I am looking for is what is missing, how can it be better etc etc ....
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 07:14 am
Edited while you were posting Gautam....I'll be back...
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 07:23 am
Just a couple of nitpicky technical points, Gautam, one phrase should read "the blue in his eyes" rather than "the blue in eyes", and it should be "nor will it", not "nor it will", and it is "steroid" not "steriod" Wink, I know that's just a typo. I'm only getting Virgo on you because other than those small points, I think the story works fine as is.
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 09:01 am

How do you tell someone they're a hack?
What's the difference in an unpolished writer or cliche whore, and hack?

(My work led me to the question.)
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Reply Fri 20 Jun, 2003 09:33 am
I dunno. I like to give the people here the benefit of the doubt because I go under the assumption that we're all amateurs. So, we stumble, we make errors, we try again, we defend what we've written, we move on, etc. I think clichés can also be somewhat useful for new writers. For us, it may be more important to get our ideas across rather than to do so with finesse. The finesse, I suspect (hope) comes later. Not that I love clichés, because I don't, but I have more tolerance for them because we're all trying on this new hat so it makes sense we would put on a familiar-type hat before moving onto less familiar, uh, hats (bad metaphor, I know - hope that came across clearly).

So if someone writes "It was a dark and stormy night", well, I'm sure everyone knows it's a cliché, and maybe it would behoove us to tell that person something like, let's think of another way of saying that, like "The night was cloudy and moonless, and the rains came and came and obliterated all other sounds and thoughts." Both sentences get across the same idea, but the second is more descriptive (rain), probably more lyrical (obliterated all other sounds and thoughts) and doesn't add an adjective that isn't needed (dark - well, duh! all nights are dark - the idea is to get across that this night was darker than usual and therefore noteworthy).

I like originality, of course, but I think we can have some originality in some areas and not in others. I think that's very possible, wherein an interesting plot is populated with stock characters, or unique individuals lead rather humdrum lives.

I also think we're writing more or less what we know, so our characters and our situations are going to look a lot like our lives, past or present (my story for this challenge, for example, was a twist on a couple I knew in college, except he was Pre-Law and she was in OT; I still haven't gotten over the fact that at age 19 they both allegedly knew precisely what they'd be doing and who they'd be with - forever). And, these are exercises, so I'm trying to use stock scenes and characters so that we can practice and flex our muscles, sort of like practicing the piano by doing scales over and over again.

There are, of course, lots of other writings on this site, outside the exercises, and I agree, a lot of them seem (to me) to be trite and/or clichéed (the rejected lover, the sullen adolescent, the frustrated horror writer, etc.). But how do you tell someone that without crushing them?
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