Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#36 1000-Word

GENRE: Memoire

Here it was the end of the third summer of high school and Pierre would be going back without a dependable female social companion for the near future. He was bemoaning the prospects with his friend Vern when an idea hatched that had some possibilities.

Vern's girlfriend Julie had just returned from a self-reliance building camp that lasted half the summer. Pierre had listened to Vern read some of Julie's letters she sent while at camp. The parts Pierre was most interested in hearing were the realizations she and her friend Gelany were having about how fun outdoor wilderness activities could be and how much their lives were changed by the experience.

Pierre had noticed Gelany before. She was a no-nonsense down-to-earth person if not a little pensive and short tempered. He was somewhat interested to hear about the girls summer first hand as Vern had proposed the four of them get together soon to hear about their new and possibly great expectations.

The next Saturday the four of them met at Gelany's house. Both girls were quite excited to share all the events of the summer and had pictures to show and souvenirs to explain. From the photos Pierre gathered the format of the camp was an extended bivouac where groups of six girls went through a well planned and supervised wilderness experience. An initial impression that they were going to hear about a girl scout-like so'- mores and campfire song party was quickly put aside. They had seen rough hikes, semi-serious injuries and even interesting survival problems. Evidence in the pictures was the more beat-up and dirty they got the happier they looked.

After the visual presentation they went into another room to listen to some of the records Jules and Lany had gotten addicted to at the camp. Their favorite was by an anemic sounding singer from Minnesota who tried to play a harmonica between verses of various poems he chanted with maudlin subjects.

One thing that added a little taste to the atmosphere was a tray full of wilderness food the girls had prepared. Because the environs of Kankapot were not wild enough to provide the actual ingredients for the camp recipes, substitutions were made resulting in very interestingly tasty "treats". Pierre thought the taste was somewhere between fruit jerky and pemmican his grandmother used to make. When he looked at Vern it was clear by his facial expression that his thoughts were as far as you could get away from enjoyment or satisfaction.

The conclusion of the afternoon was the girls listing the possible new quests they were hoping to embark on as soon as they could get some money. Hiking the Appalachian Trail and rafting on the Colorado seemed like financial impossibilities to Pierre but Vern assented to every one of their suggestions.

After leaving Vern commented that now that the girls were back from the woods their heads should be following them in about a week. Pierre agreed with his observation and thought to himself maybe the next time they got together he hoped he would get a little more personal recognition than a polite audience member.

A few weeks later to his surprise Vern asked Pierre if he wanted to try out for the school play along with Jules and Lany. "Sure, why not." He said wondering how the three of them developed any interest in that kind of activity. Then he thought about what opportunities might happen that would allow him to cultivate a stronger friendship with Gelany. Even the possibility of working on the sets and scenery could be fun. He had been to the movie and there was the book of Through the Looking Glass at home, but he would have to go to the library to get the play to see what he might like to do in the theater production.

When he checked out the script copy at the library the desk assistant asked, "Which part are you going to try out for?"

"I'm not sure yet." He answered.

"You can try for up to three, "she said, "and you're a senior so you'll get priority."

"I didn't know that."

"It's all on the last page of the announcement. You should read it. Even if you don't get a part you can be on the stage crew." She sure knew a lot about it.

Bringing back the script he was again questioned by the same librarian, "What parts did you decide to try for?"

"Maybe the hatter, the Cheshire cat or the white rabbit, Are you trying out too?"

"I hope to get to be a prompter again. I was one last year" she said with a clear receptive smile. He thanked her for the help and walking away remembered her name was Bobbie.

On the day of the try outs all four of the novice actors were amazed at how many people were there to try for the parts. It was quite organized and they all finished their readings and were out on the sidewalk near the kiosk in three hours. They hadn't exchanged more than a dozen words when Lany's sister Elaine pulled up in a car and said, "If you want a ride home get in now or walk." As the girls piled in to the back seat Lany leaned out and said, "Bye Per." Finally he got recognized personally and directly.

This last label reminded him of a Latin conjugate, a kind of locative case putting you in a closer status of friendship. A logical conjecture but in fact not true.

On the way home Vern asked "Are you still hoping to get something going with 'Paula Bunyan'?" His sarcasm although creative was usually baiting an argument. He was expressing his own irritation that he seemed to not be able to go anywhere with Jules without Lany coming too. A mutual friend, Sean, had given Vern a rusty log splitting wedge the last time he was carping about the girl's close friendship


  1. This passage contains a whole lot of telling and not much showing at all. There's a lot of info dump, and no action.

    The paragraph about the Latin conjugate, I don't understand at all. Perhaps this is due to reader naivete, but I'm not even sure I know why it's there.

    The jumping from the boys complaining about girls to the girls coming back from wilderness camp to trying wilderness foods that taste like beef jerky and then all of a sudden they are trying out for the school play...all of this is very awkward. Also awkward...Pierre goes to the library, reads a book, decideds on a part to audition for, and returns the book all in one sentence.

    Is Bobbie important to the story later? If she is, you may want to make it more clear that she is a student. Upon first reading, I believed her to be an adult librarian.

    The name of the play they are auditioning for is not mentioned until you say that he had seen the movie and there was a copy of Through the Looking Glass at home.

    There is a story in here somewhere, perhaps with some rearrangement, you can bring the action to the forefront.

  2. I'm sorry, but this is so lacking in emotion, goal, motivation, and conflict. It reads like a preteen's report on a dull movie--in passive tense.

    Please consider severely rewriting this. Give me a reason to care about the lame life of Pierre. Help me picture this and give me dialogue, white space on the page, and insight.

    To put it simply: this is not interesting as written. Make it so. Good luck!

  3. For a "memoir" I was surprised you wrote in third person.

    Pick a character and write from their perspective.

    What is the core of the story? What is the problem? What is the emotion you are trying to convey?

    If you can answer some of these questions and infuse them in your writing, you will have a more compelling narrative. Good luck!

  4. To me, the narrative sounded more like the thoughts of a professor than a high school student. Pierre doesn't need to sound like a gangster, but a bit more like a teen would be good.

    If the beginning stuff about the wilderness outing is truly important, I'd think you could condense it into a few sentences of summary or at least make the discussion present and active by writing the dialog between the guys and girls - they can joke around and stuff that would give us insights into their individual characters.

    You've got some decent flashes of humor, but they're kind of buried right now - make them part of the dialog between the boys or active thoughts.

    BTW, I liked the name Gelany.

  5. This read as if you and I were sitting at a table and you were giving me a report, FBI style. It's more a list of events than a story.

    If this is a memoire and you are Pierre, think back to what you felt and thought and saw and smelled. Were you thinking, "Gee, I'm going back to school without a dependable female companion," or were thinking. "God! Why can't a find a girlfriend?"

    Even if you aren't Pierre, imagine that you are. Imagine what he would think and say and feel. Write this as if it were happening directly to you right this moment.

    Assuming Pierre is your main character, what is it that Pierre wants more than anything? What stands in his way? And what will he do to get what he wants, in spite of what stands in his way?

    Give him some motivation and feelings and bring this to life.

  6. Hi there

    I haven't read the other comments, so I apologize if I'm repeating items.

    There are several glaring grammatical errors. I found myself correcting them instead of being interested in the story.

    The opening sentence was confusing. "Going back" indicates, to me, that he's going to boarding school. "Without dependable female social companion" gave me the impression that he was quite the playboy. As I read, I figured out that Pierre wasn't that well versed in girls.

    What time period is this? Letters? Records? I don't get the feel for the era at all. Is the wilderness camp key later in the book because otherwise I'm not sure why it's relevant.

    There is no action in the story. I always get annoyed with someone says to me: "show don't tell," but that is truly the case in this submission.

    Why is the librarian trying out for the school play?

    Dialogue needs to be in separate paragraphs.

    I think Pierre has the potential to be an interesting character, but he’s not there yet. The Jules-Vern (any relation to the author?) relationship and the Gelany courtship (great name!) have the makings of a hot summer romance and love in the bleachers, but I don’t know where the story is going.

    Thank you for sharing. It’s a brave thing to do. Best of luck!

  7. Just a note: "memoir" is not spelled with an "e."

  8. This is written in an oddly passive voice that doesn't engage the reader at all. And there's not much here to make the reader care about any of the characters.

    I'd start with the school play tryouts, and weave in any back story later.

  9. I found the voice odd- didn't fit a junior in highschool. I realize this is a memoir so I assume the author is looking back, but it may need to be stated up front so we know who this voice is. The story in itself is interesting but there was too much telling up front, so I felt detached from the characters. The dialogue needs to come sooner. I agree with Sara that the play is a great place to start. And then work in some of the facts.

  10. The problem I see with this story is that there is but a string of events that seem unrelated. Even in a memoir you need a story that you can bring alive. So far, it's hardly more than descriptions of unrelated events. Maybe they will become related later but there isn't a hint of that.

    Also, telling the story the way you do creates a gap between the reader and the characters in the book. It could be much livelier if you would show the girls enthusiasm or the desperate hope of your main character and why did you skip the tryouts? If they are of no interest for the rest of the story you shouldn't write so much about them. If they are important you need to show them not brush past them in half a sentence.
    I believe that this can be a great story when you focus on what's important for your story and when you learn more about Show-don't-Tell.

  11. The first thing you need to do is decide where your story starts. What is the event that triggers the story? Even if it is a memoir, and therefore a true story, it is still a narrative that needs a distinct beginning. Decide what is the important event and start there.

    Next, you need to write in scenes, not sentences. If the visit to the library to get the script is important, don't just write a sentence about it. Tell us in more detail. Have actual dialogue back and forth between the characters. How does Pierre feel when Bobbie helps him? Is the library crowded with students, or is he the only one? Does he feel the welcome relief of airconditioning on his hot skin when he walks inside, or is he stripping off gloves and scarves after the cold outside? Why does he decide on the parts he does?

    Once you've decided on this details, rewrite using less adjectives. Look for strong verbs instead. Strunk and White's Elements of Style can help with grammatical problems.

    Good luck!

  12. Seems to me there's a lot of good notes in the comments so far...though of course, your mileage may vary.

    To me: This looks like a very early draft. I hope that isn't too disheartening, if it's not actually the case. Good news is, that means that there's a lot ways to make big improvements, real fast.

    Yanking everything out of the passive sentence structures will make a world of difference right away.

    And dialogue's not your weakness in these 1000 words. Don't be afraid of it.

    But really, I'd suggest a re-read through your favorite writing guide (Poetics, Writer's Journey, Strunk & White, whatev) with an eye toward how those age-old lessons might apply to specific elements of your piece. That always yields helpful ideas for me.