It was the beginning of July when Ben caught up with me the first time. By then I’d already forgotten my agreement to read something he’d written. No doubt this was a good thing, as I’m sure I would have flinched when I saw him coming if I’d remembered.
Not that I’m unwilling to do critiques, mind you. I have no problem at all doing critiques for my critique partners. These are seasoned veterans of writing – people I know can take my comments without freaking out, and give as good as they take. It’s critiquing for the starry eyed that makes me uncomfortable. You don’t get much more starry eyed than Ben.
I was on an extended jaunt, which is probably how he caught up with me. I live over on Gorham Street, so when I do my dally walks I’m more likely to go to Tenny Park or maybe James Madison Park, but right before a marathon I’ll extend it into the Jenny/Speight/Willy Street neighborhood. I had just walked past his house and moved on to the more commercial Willy Street when he ran up.
“Ms. Audrey! Ms. Audrey, I’m ready now.”
“Oh. Hi, Ben. What are you ready for?” I slowed down for him, dropping to a pace that didn’t send me hurtling past most of the pedestrians on Willy Street.
“I’m ready for you to read what I wrote. Here. Here it is.” He shoved a notebook at me.
Yeah. In the middle of my power walk I’m supposed to stop and read a story written by hand in a notebook and give an honest, enthusiastic validation. Oh well. What the heck. I took the pages and read it.
There was no way I could give this thing the warm, glowing review he wanted. Seriously, the best part was the line “farted out a universe,” and that was one of those gems my university professors always made me take out because they are too strong for the story around them.
Just off the top of my head, I could say he needed to learn about GMC. None of the characters had clear goals, which went right along with little motive, and less conflict. I couldn’t even call this thing an outline.
His emotional arcs were non-existent. His diction inappropriate to the material. The story drifted into nothingness, no doubt due to the lack of GMC. With precious little dialogue or setting detail and the standard omniscient narrative that all new authors seemed to favor the story had no immediacy. Telling details, dialogue tags, use of active verbs, anchors; this story lacked it all.
And yet it did have some charm. His natural voice gave the story a fresh youthfulness. If he learned all the techniques he needed, would his voice survive? Should it?
What could I say that would actually help him? Or rather, where to begin.
“Ben, who did you write this for?”
“When you wrote this, did you really have me in mind? I write Romance novels. You know, lots of kissing and arguing and such. That’s what I like to read. I like Science Fiction and Fantasy too, but I generally avoid stories that have to do with mythology. I particularly avoid stories that use mythological figures taken out of context.”
I sighed. Even this was beyond him.
“I mean, I’m not real big on stories where Zeus doesn’t act like the real Zeus from Greek mythology.”
“He does too! He throws lightning bolts and stuff. And he has all those illegitimate children.”
“When and how did he meet Thor?”
“I don’t know.” Ben shrugged.
“My point is, this isn’t my kind of story. Shouldn’t you show it to someone who would enjoy it instead of to me?” I held the notebook out. Maybe he could show it to Gene and get the compliments he was looking for.
“No. It’s got to be you.” He shoved the notebook back at me. “No one else knows what they are talking about.”
I sighed. How could I possibly do this without hurting him?
“All right. I’ll tell you one thing. I think you need more dialogue. Figure out what the characters really want and have them talk to each other about it, then let me see it again.”
“Dialogue. Right.” Ben nodded so solemnly, as serious as a kid could get.
“There should be some action too, but don’t just have them throwing lightning bolts, right?”
“Right. Got it.” He nodded, still hopelessly serious.
“Good luck,” I said with a wave. He was so busy thinking he didn’t notice.
It took most of a mile for me to get my stride going again. That poor kid. Maybe I should have told him what he was really in for. Nah. With any luck he would lose interest before we ran into each other again. If not? Then I’d better teach him basic plot structure. Maybe the Hero’s Journey and some scene and sequel. It would be fun sharing some of what I’d learned.
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