Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are You Hooked? #3

GENRE: Literary

Mitch sits alone in his dressing room, but the bustle of the television station murmurs just outside his door. The interview is over. The one he has avoided for forty years. Until today.

His shoulders stoop as he gives a heavy sigh. On camera, he possesses the presence of a much younger man, the one his audiences have loved for decades. Off camera his joints creak, his muscles slack. He feels every minute of his eighty-two years. At least his lungs and ticker are healthy. Something needs to work in order to propel him out of retirement every few years.

He pulls a cigarette out of a tin box. He had his first taste of tobacco from that box long before his first taste of stardom. Both have lingered with him. One as a hateful, disloyal wife, the other as a faithful friend.

Someone knocks on the door, but before he moves, a woman bursts into his dressing room.

“Honestly, Dad. Are you smoking again?”

Mitch shrugs. “I never quit. For me to be smoking again, I’d have had to quit.”

She crosses her arms and looks pointedly at him. “You’re not funny.”

“That’s what your mother said. You’re just like her. Always so serious. You need to lighten a little. Laugh. What’s life without laughter?”

“I don’t know. What’s life without emphysema?”

He wags his finger and chuckles. “You have your mother’s looks and cynicism, but there’s still hope for you. At least you don’t look like your father. Now that’s an ugly bastard."


  1. Personally, third person present tense doesn't work for me. But that's a preference.

    But I think my biggest issue here is that I don't know what the story is about yet. And I'm not so connected with the characters that I really NEED to find out.

    There are a few places you could cut some words to maybe bring in more of what's going on.
    Words like just aren't needed. You could also usually cut "in order to". Maybe reword "possesses the presence of.." You don't really need "with him" after "have lingered."

    You say "a woman bursts into," but since he already knows her, it would work better to have her name. If you don't want us to know immediately, say "The door burst open."

    "I never quit" is made unnecessary by the sentence after it.

    Just a few ideas. If you can tighten up what's there, that lets us see what happens next, and it might help hook the reader more.

  2. I like the idea of the aging actor, so this has potential. The dialog isn't natural, though. Would his daughter need to be told he had never quit smoking?

  3. I would think about switching your first two or three sentences.

    “Mitch sits alone in his dressing room, but the bustle of the television station murmurs just outside his door. The interview is over. The one he has avoided for forty years. Until today.”

    Alternative: “The interview is over. The one he has avoided for forty years. Until today. Mitch sits alone in his dressing room, but the bustle of the television station murmurs just outside his door.“

    I think that gives it a more hooky opening, YMMV.

    There some good conflict between Mitch and his daughter, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I know that’s tough to do in 250 words.

    The interview is what caught my attention at first. I thought maybe it was an interview about his retirement but you state later that he comes out of retirement every few years so there wouldn’t be anything big about interviewing him about yet another short retirement. What was the interview about? Why had he dreaded it so long?

  4. I'm not convinced. ON a nitpicky note, I'm not sure that the 'murmur' quite goes with the 'bustle' in the first sentence. Stylistically, those last three sentences in paragraph one also don't feel like they quite fit with the rest. It's something in the rhythm of it that doesn't quite work for me. You can definitely shed some verbiage in the dialogue; trimming it down here and there will make it a little sharper, punchier. Something I do like is the bit about the hateful, disloyal wife/faithful friend--you're not necessarily sure which is which.

  5. I agree with Ted A. about the opening, it is punchier when you rearrange it as he suggested. However, I disagree with the other comments about the dialogue. He is an aging actor, and I almost get the feel that he is a comedian or at least one of those who started during the Vaudeville Days. His comment about smoking is like a one-liner that might have gotten a laugh in his day. But instead it falls on his daughter's deaf ears. Hence his comment about lightening up. His entire

    Unlike the others, I am hooked. Literary works are allowed to start slower and lure the reader in. I think you do this very well and I want to find out how this actor has avoided an interview for 40 years (is that even possible?) and how he finally got roped into it.

  6. I agree with Jen - this hooked me, and it reminded me of conversations I had with my own father, whom I was always after to quit smoking (and who never did). I think perhaps Mitch's lines about how much his daughter is like her mother could use a little tightening, but I love her reply ("...What's life without emphysema?"). It's just the sort of snarky thing a fed-up daughter would say to her old man, and it makes me want to read on just to find out more about these two.

    And of course, I want to know what sort of an interview one would want to avoid for 40 years before finally caving in and giving it.

  7. Present tense isn't my favorite, and this didn't grab me. He's an aging actor that comes out of retirement every few years. He just gave an interview he's been avoiding for forty years. That interview has potential to be interesting, but there wasn't another word about it. Why was he avoiding it for so long? Instead, he banters with his daughter? Or is she his daughter?

    For the literary genre, I suppose it's fine. Bantering creates more of a character-driven novel, and you're setting that up right from the beginning. I like characters with depth, but I prefer novels that are also plot-driven. I would focus on the question of the interview or some other problem.

  8. Parg one. You might cut the bustle of the TV. Bustle is movement and the TV isn't doing anything. If you want a descriptor there, use a word that relates to noise. But then, that noise murmurs, which is a low sound, so perhaps you're better off using no descriptor. Just let the TV murmur. You could also cut 'Until today.' 'The interview is over' implies that.

    Parg 3 - He's talking about his first taste of tobacco and stardom. One is a loyal friend, which I'm guessing is the tobacco. The other is a hateful wife. If acting was that bad, why would he do it all those years? I also get the sense that you're not using the wife as a comparison, and that he actually has/had a hateful disloyal wife, in which case, the sentence doesn't make sense.

    Parg 4 - the woman bursting into room should be -his daughter, Name, burst into the room. I wonder why she is bursting in, since she has nothing to say to him except that he shouldn't smoke. Bursting implies something important is going on, or that, at the least, she's in a hurry.

    The dialogue that follows doesn't tell us much in terms of story.

    It seems the interview is what is important here, the one he's been avoiding for 40 years. Perhaps that's a better place to start- by telling us what it's all about and why he's avoided it, and why he finally gave it. Perhaps the interview itself may be the place to start.

  9. I like the premise of an aging actor with only a nagging daughter--and cigarettes--to comfort him. I sort of expected the daughter to say something about the subject of the dreaded interview.

    The things that pulled me out of the story were personal nitpicks. (1) The setting: I've never seen a private green room at a TV station. And I've never gone back to it after the interview to hang out. So I need some detail that makes me believe this is possible. Is this a giant network show that might have more perks for stars? Does he have to go back to the dressing room because he's unable to travel on his own? (2) Reading the comparisons as parallels, he hates the tobacco but his stardom has been consistent. That doesn't seem to fit the story. And (3) Lingered. That's not an unpleasant word, but the sense of it doesn't fit with both the disloyal wife and the faithful friend.

    I'd read on to get a sense of the bigger revelation: the important film was lost/hidden would intrigue me.