Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FLG: #4 500-words

TITLE: Aligned
GENRE: Literary

I almost married Christopher Bailey. I loved him: his inability to whistle yet refusal to stop trying, his propensity to hiccup when inebriated, and the relative ease he could rattle off every statistic about Cal Ripken, Jr. It should have been no surprise that he proposed at a baseball game, in front of thousands of people with the two of us imposters of ourselves on the big screen, but I never saw it coming.

It was the last Sunday in August with an unrelenting sun overhead. Chris and I held hands despite the sticky sweat coating our palms. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the shortstop's bat connected with the ball. Home run. I missed the play entirely, I was too busy pondering how baseball diamond was a misnomer since the baseline angles created a perfect square. “Great hit,” I mumbled to Chris. The next batter struck out, thundering music signaled the end of the inning. Chris flagged down the beer vendor. We toasted our plastic cups together, I was in the middle of my first sip when he grabbed my arm. Beer spilled onto my lap, drizzled down my leg and puddled into my flip-flop. “Look!” He pointed to the string of bright blue words scrolling across the giant television screen–

Amelia, will you marry me?

He was on his way down to one knee, never mind the peanut shells and beer. I could feel the crawling sensation of so many eyes on me. Us. There we were on the screen. My shoulders were redder than I thought, sunburned, but the rest of me was too pale. Who was that girl? His hands shook as he opened the box to reveal a diamond perched on a yellow gold band. I hated yellow gold. How could he not know that? He grabbed my still wet hand and I suppressed the urge to pull it out of his grasp. My head felt like a balloon, detached and threatening to float away. He wanted an answer, needed me to say something but when I opened my mouth it refused to cooperate. I had no idea what to say. Yes? A hard, sharp knot in my stomach told me different.

He leaned in, so close I could feel his warm breath on my ear. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” I whispered. When he sprang up from his knee and wrapped me in a hug I realized, he thought I meant yes to everything. He pushed the ring on my finger. People around us clapped. The mascot, a large oriole with vacant eyes, wandered over to dance. The diamond glittered in the late afternoon sunlight, staring at it made my whole body ache. Two weeks later in my hospital bed, this is the moment I would replay over and over in my mind. By then I couldn't stop calculating the various permutations of what if, obsessing over how every small choice and one “almost” had changed everything.


  1. I love this. The way you describe how someone might feel during a public marriage proposal seems so real. And at the end of the excerpt you leave me wanting more because now I'm curious how she got in the hospital. Good work!

  2. A square turned on its corner is a diamond.

    "wandered over to dance."- This phrase sounds off.

    Overall, this was fun with some good tension and humor. It would benefit from some tightening up, and you have some oddly placed commas.

    I like the hook at the end. It made me wonder what happened in those two weeks. I think you need to separate that last part into its own paragraph.

  3. This would definitely get my vote of the five - I love the level of detail, and the emotion is there without being overplayed. A very nice, authoritative voice too. Well done.

  4. The only thing I hated was that it ended. I want more and I don't even like literary fiction. If I had to pick something to change it would be the mascot wandering over to dance. That'd be hard in a stadium.

  5. I really like the thought behind the first paragraph. The almost married, the list of things she likes about him, and the surprise proposal. But I think this needs to be trimmed down to make it easier to get through. You have a lot of extra words fluffing it up. Maybe look at how you can reword things to get the same ideas across? "His determination to learn how to whistle?" Or "His ability to rattle off every statistic about Cal Ripken?" Maybe snip "impostors of ourselves?" I'm not really sure what that means, anyway...

    I like the discomfort of being in the spotlight here, and the part where she's looking at herself on the screen and doesn't recognize herself. And I'm curious about where this is going with her in the hospital a couple weeks later.

    This is probably a personal issue, more than a story issue, but I had trouble connecting to the main character. She's not paying attention to the game or anything, just sitting there, and I'm not sure why she hesitated about saying yes. Was it because she suddenly realized he didn't know her, what with the yellow gold?

    You've got an interesting premise and I think this will really speak to people who love literary novels, once you do a little tidying up of the prose. Good luck with it!

  6. This was a fun read. I liked a lot about this. I think this guy is sweet, but a little clueless. She is a much more deliberate character. I am wondering what happened between the proposal and the hospital. Hooked, yes. Both for the plot and the characters. Makes me curious.

  7. Something you should know about me--I almost always hate prologues; I want to jump right into a story. And this feels like a prologue to me. Is there a reason you need this prologue? What does it add to the story? Would this scene have more impact of the reader knew the characters first (I think so).

    That said, I think you have a lot of beautiful imagery (though I agree with Jodi, that you should pare down the language) and I like clueless Chris.

  8. The last sentence of the first paragraph told me we'd be starting after the proposal, but that was a lie. Other than that, I liked this in general, and it was an easy read.

    I do agree with Tamar, though. If the story starts two weeks later in a hospital bed, I'd rather start reading the book there.

  9. Like Jodi, I didn't really connect with Amelia, but I think the writing here is really nice. The attention to detail is impressive.

    I agree with Tamar that this felt like a prologue, which are 99.9% of the time unnecessary to me. I like the first line a lot, but I wanted to second line to be say why she didn't marry him and what she was doing now. I didn't know her well enough to take her word that "one almost had changed everything."

  10. Ooh, I really like this, though I agree with Jodi about trimming it down just a bit. And, like Tamar, I dislike prologues, too, but there was something about this that I think set the scene and the setting and the tone and the character for me in a way that made me immediately like her, a lot.

    Once you have the book squeaky perfect, shoot a query my way!

  11. I absolutely, wholeheartedly, LOVE this. Yup. Enough said.

  12. Wonderful first paragraph! But it made me think I was going to like Amelia more than I actually did. The rest of the piece drags a bit for me, and I agree with Tamar that it feels more like a prologue.
    The writing is nice, though. Lots of potential here.

  13. I love this, too! You really captured the emotions of an uncomfortable situation and the questions surrounding "what if". I'm eager to read on. Wonderful job and best of luck!

  14. I agree that this feels like a prologue to me (or something) ... basically I'm not convinced you are starting your story in the right place. But since I don't do literary fiction - maybe I am wrong! :-)

  15. I like how we have to go into the whole proposal knowing she's not going to marry him. It ups this reader's anxiety level, not knowing exactly how it will fall out. And in this case, the misunderstood yes is horrible and wonderful at once. The boy isn't shamed in front of a ballpark of fans, but we know the sorting out later will be heartbreaking.

  16. I've often wondered about those big public proposals, and this explores it so well. I love the dual view of the scene -- inside Amelia's head, and the scene she's watching unfold on the screen.

    I love the shift from ballpark to bed. It's great context for her life.

    OT: I have tried four times so far to get the characters right for word verification.

  17. This is amazing. I connected immediately with Amelia. The descriptions totally drew me in, showed me how Amelia would do things she didn't care about to make her boyfriend happy, but in return, he didn't pay enough attention to her to know that she preferred white gold over yellow. My husband picked up on that on about our first date; he paid attention to ME, not what he thought females liked in general.

    Like the public proposal- how many women really want that? And at a baseball game, which Amelia clearly only attended to be with him? We get so many clues about their relationship in just a few paragraphs. She loves him, yet...

    I love this beginning, even though I know some don't like prologues. I don't know if I would be as interested if we started at the hospital. This way, I'm already emotionally invested in Amelia and want to know how she got out of a lifetime of warm beer and baseball statistics. Obviously something big/tragic happened and I want to know what, but it's because I have already "friended" Amelia and want the story!

    Dearest Authoress~ How about a new exercise? Post this entire MS so we can read it! I mean, critique it. Once I find out what happens with Amelia, that is!

  18. I liked Jodi's comments as well, since I also felt it was a little overwritten AND by the end I didn't particularly like Amelia. My wife sometimes says that she speaks "sports as a second language," meaning ALMOST getting the terms right and ALMOST achieving fluency. But she's better than that, and part of the reason is that she WANTS to learn. My feeling about Amelia is that she didn't want to learn, and that she wasn't as interested in or invested in his interests as she'd need to be if she were really in love with him. I didn't like her as much as I wanted to as a result.

    That being said, I VERY MUCH liked the description of discomfort at the public proposal. When I was in minor league baseball and we arranged these proposals, we spent quite a bit of time confirming with the (usually) man that he was going to get the answer he wanted :)

  19. I'm wondering if the first paragraph can stay, even if edited, down, but instead of a flashback to the proposal, move on to the current premesis and why she's thinking back the proposal. The flashback can always be worked in later.

    I just read a writing craft book that suggested to not fall into flashback mode in the first pages until the reader gets to know the character more, which echoes a lot of the comments. I like the writing though, I think it's a matter of how to construct your story best.

  20. This was a fun read. I liked a lot about this. I think this guy is sweet, but a little clueless. She is a much more deliberate character. I am wondering what happened between the proposal and the hospital. Hooked, yes. Both for the plot and the characters. Makes me curious.