Tag Archives: group writing critique

The Uncooperative Character in Chapter Three

My name is Tracy “Smith.” I am twenty-six years old. I’ll be twenty-seven in April. I have been driving for several days, with no particular destination in mind, maybe someplace warm. After what went down in NYC I knew I had to clear out of town, but I had nowhere to go, no one I felt I could safely turn to. So I have adopted a new mantra. Let the dice roll. I threw my stuff into the car and started driving. I let the dice roll. They rolled south.

I kept driving south until there was no more south left. The road ended in Miami. I parked the car in front of the first bar I saw, the Flying Horse, and not knowing what else to do with myself proceeded to get drunk with the last of my funds, which meant I wasn’t able to get very drunk at all. The entire time I had the feeling I was being watched, but then I’d had the same feeling for weeks now, so I decided to ignore it and watched a game playing on a television above the bar for a while. The red team was winning.

Welcome to the diary of Tracy “Smith,” a guy on the run, who manages to simultaneously run away from and toward trouble. This excerpt from Wes Pierce’s gritty novel in progress prompted a thoughtful discussion of what to do when the character you create dares to defy the author’s plans for him. Here’s what we had to say about chapter three. It has a title, but we are sworn to secrecy on that detail:

Hey, Wes,

As I already told you, I opened the first pages of chapter three to take a glance and was so immediately drawn in that I read the entire excerpt right there and then. My first thought was: brilliant. Tracy’s first-person narrative voice is stellar in the way it hooks us in and keeps us entertained. We meet him while he’s driving, which isn’t such an original situation, and yet the way he tells it is original and pulls us right in, including perhaps my favorite bit where he decides to roll the dice, and the dice roll in a particular direction that seems to set the course of his unfolding fate.

Tracy is a complex and fascinating guy, and in him I can see hints of Huck Finn, Addie Pray, and Camus’s Meursault. At times, he seems to have the take-it-as-it-comes approach to life that we sometimes ascribe to Huck, although both Tracy and young Huck have an underlying agenda even as they take advantage of immediate opportunities to advance their goals. Then at times we get a more youthfully innocent point of view underscored by street smarts we might associate with Addie Pray, as when Tracy follows Claudia outside but then takes matters into his own hands after she abruptly departs. And finally, we occasionally see the apparent indifference of a modern-day Meursault in some of his choices and reactions, although Tracy ultimately seems to wear his heart on his sleeve both in response to Claudia’s femme fatale behavior and Emil’s (ultimately faux) fatherly demeanor. I didn’t want this excerpt to end, and I’m delighted to know that the chapter continues and we’ll get to follow Tracy around a while longer.

Tracy willingly goes off with two men who are strangers to him, and there’s a delightful sense of danger and sexual undercurrent to their initial encounter, where we see Emil and his companion drunkenly fawning over Tracy, at least until his new friends all of a sudden sober up in the cab. Continue reading

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“A Work in Progress” – The Writer Responds

Hello from the Dogpatch. In a previous post, members of the pack commented on “A Work in Progress.” Here’s my response to that feedback. To see an excerpt and the original comments, you can scroll down or go to: https://dogpatchwriterscollective.com/2013/04/11/dogfight-a-work-in-progress-by-wes-pierce/

I have wrestled with story length throughout the entire gestation period of ‘work in progress’: too little content for a novella, too much for a short story. Yet the main thrust of your comments seems to be that you want to know more about these characters; want to see further development in the relationship between my feckless narrator and the fearsome convict, Shoehorn. And so, as always, it comes down again to that ceaseless battle for any writer of having to decide what to include and what to discard. James Joyce said (I’m paraphrasing here) it’s not what you leave in that makes a story great, but what you leave out.

And wasn’t it Donald Rumsfeld who said, ‘Revision is the soul of art’? Continue reading

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Dogfight: “A Work in Progress” by Wes Pierce

White Raven (source: photobucket)

Hello from the Dogpatch, and welcome to the dogfight! Here’s a selection from a short story by Wes Pierce, followed by critical comments. Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts these excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and we’d love to know what you think about the excerpt or what we had to say about it. 
This story isn’t titled yet. Wes called it “A Work in Progress.” To give you some context, a feckless ranger is assigned to lead a busload of work-release inmates to build fire breaks during the Great Western Fires: 

This was when Shoehorn took over. Never in my life had I seen a man handle an instrument the way Shoehorn did an ax, nor take such joy in physical mastery over an object. He would set his initial cut on a downward slope, one clear ringing thwak! burying the head of the ax right up to the handle. With a booted foot he pushed to dislodge the ax-head from the tree; then another thwak! at an upward angle, lower down from the first and right up to the handle again. Finally a third and a fourth stroke to the topmost angle — then a fifth and sixth, maybe a seventh, to the bottommost — and out plopped a hunk of tree the size and shape of a large slice of watermelon. He would do the same to the other side of the trunk, lower down: seldom more than two or three dozen strokes total and the heart of the tree lay exposed and vulnerable. You almost could have pushed the tree down with a good shove of your boot.

Shoehorn was taking down trees twice as fast as any of the rest of us. He was like a machine. Looking again at those arms of his — it seemed now to me that they ended in massive knuckled appendages, hard and shiny from usage, like hooves — made me think of the hydraulic machinery in those old black-and-white movies based in newspaper offices, with their shots of the giant presses churning out the next day’s breaking news in those swirling montages.

 And so while the rest of us dug trenches or paired off and went to work with the whipsaws, Shoehorn struck out on his own, taking down the smaller and medium-sized trees in a more or less straight line several hundred feet ahead of us. Since there wasn’t always enough equipment to go around now, there were times when each of us got to rest; which was fine, I guess. But I didn’t feel much like sitting back and watching, for it always had been my unhappy lot in life to sit by and look on, with envy or disbelief, at those guys who knew how to accomplish things with their hands. On a branch above me a squirrel watched too, a small pine cone paused ruminatively before its mouth, while all around us men busily went about their business. Just about my whole life it seemed I had been unwilling poster child for the inadequacies of a Liberal Arts education. I could only stand aside as other guys fixed their own cars, or impressed the girls in our dorm by rewiring a broken washing machine so those luscious young honeys could wash their delicately-soiled underthings, while I watched my t-shirts and jeans and white cotton briefs roll and tumble impotently in a dryer nearby.  Continue reading

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Group Writing Critique: “Holiday Parade” by Lisa Lynne Lewis

 Welcome to the dogfight! Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and your comments are welcomed! For this round we requested a story from Southern California–based writer Lisa Lynne Lewis (see her bio below). We very much enjoyed reading “Holiday Parade” and give our thanks to Lisa for being part of this forum. This was a particularly interesting endeavor for us, as we all had a slightly different takeaway from the story, which made for a thoughtful as well as enjoyable discussion. You can find more of Lisa’s work at Literary Mama.

Santa

From “Holiday Parade”

  Emily held her pink-mittened hands over her ears. “Why do they have to do that? It’s so loud!”
            Debra looked at her daughter, hands still over her ears, her light-brown hair spilling over the fake fur hood of her silver parka. She’d seemed pretty unconcerned about the lockdown when Debra had picked her up after school on Monday. “It was gross when they made the boys pee in the trashcan,” she confided in Debra. “Mitchell and Ben really had to go, but the teacher wouldn’t let them out to go to the boy’s bathroom.”           
“That is kind of gross,” Debra agreed.
“But it was in the corner and she put the flip chart in front of it so we couldn’t see,” Emily added. “So it was OK.”
Comments from the Dogpatch:

Thanks for the story, Lisa! Here are my thoughts: This piece is about being safe in the world and the folly of thinking we can be “safe” anywhere. This delusion is and should be owned solely by children. Being a parent, I identify with this theme as my son gets older and loses his innocence. And I see this in action when parents move out of the city to the “safe” suburbs or small town rural areas. It’s a timely topic, given the recent massacre on the East Coast. Continue reading

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