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theredpen
August 28th, 2004, 02:01 AM
Well, I like the punishment..oops, suggestions I got so much last time here's another. I'll give the beginning of this one becuase picking text out of the middle caused some confusion last time. I seem to be on a plant thing lately. Gardening used to be a major hobby of mine, may be taking the 'write what you know' a bit too far. this one is about a real estate agent who shows up to inspect a dilapidated house she has to sell, -located somewhere in a wet/cold suburb of a pacific northwest city. I have not spent as much time on this one and yet it seems to be better than some of the ones I have. I have the story mapped out but only about half written. As usual, it is too long for a short story and too short for a novel.
Dig in.

Stacey drove around the block three times before accepting that the ugly, dilapidated gray house with the dead poplar in the middle of the lawn was the one for sale. There was plenty of room in front to park the Volkswagen; even the neighbors seemed to want to avoid the place. She got out of the car and realized it was freezing out, slipped into her coat, put her cell phone in the pocket. Looking up and down the street, she summed up the neighborhood, decent, most of the houses were turn of the century or slightly older, two stories. None of them were particularly house proud, landscaping was limited to mowed lawns and here and there the ancient, tree-sized rhododendron. This particular house stood out as the dog of the block, or maybe several blocks. For one thing, it was most noticeably painted the most sad shade of cement gray, with water streaks running down the plain clapboard, the blank and sparse rectangular windows closed off by cracked roll down blinds. No porch, just a landing at the top of a few cement steps, painted barn red.
The dead poplar stood in a ten by ten foot square of knee high grasses, brown and dormant in winter. The narrow driveway, cracked and weed sprouted, was occupied by a broken down towing trailer, filled with a bleached pile of odds and ends of scrap wood, probably intended for kindling. She looked up at the roof of the two-story, not sure if one of the many pipes that protruded from the roof might be a chimney for a wood burning stove. As she did, she winced, her eyes taking in so many problems with the structure it was alarming, and deeply disappointing. Apparently the building inspectors had been and the place was bad but fixable, and the owner wished to put it on the market.
No one could sell this place.
Her client, an old lady who was the sister in law of the former owner, a now deceased old man who had lived alone here for over forty years, had looked over the house and understandably wanted to be rid of it. Stacey was not at all convinced that the prim little old lady had any idea how bad it was, whether she had visited in person or not.
Not wanting to enter the house at all, but certainly not right from the start, she decided to scout out the backyard first and the outside of the structure. There was a chainlink gate at the sideyard, and after a moment she found the correct key. High cement block walls surrounded the yard. She picked her way down the sideyard, clicking her tongue at the deep dripline directly below the eaves, and the green moss creeping up the base of the clapboard.
The backyard was rectangular and fairly orderly; the lawn had long since turned to moss, there was a narrow gate at the back of the wall that led to an alley, next to that, an ancient wooden shed that was probably actually a coachhouse or stable. A burn barrel sat rusting in the middle of the open space. But the most intriguing thing by far was the old greenhouse. It was neither large nor small, she judged it about twenty by ten, with a high roof, and looked like it was no younger than the house, not quite Victorian. It managed to comprise a certain elegance of line and angle, maybe it was the quality of the construction they put into things, even ugly things, back then.
She stepped closer. The glass looked to be covered with an encrustation of a generally whitish color. She supposed it was whitewash for shading, coated with a mixture of city grime, algae and bird stuff. The structure was probably redwood, and appeared solid, though heavily grayed with age. She peered through the glass, bobbing her head to catch a glimpse through the chips in the paint. Surprisingly, there seemed to be a heavy growth of plants inside, spots of color amid the green indicated flowers.
The door opened with squeak. The smell was not what she would have expected; instead of mold and sour soil; -there hung in the air the lightest whiff of complex perfume, which vanished as her nose sought after it. Underlying this, resided a pleasant cucumbery greenness. It made her want to take a deep breath, which she did.
All around were the strangest plants, covering three waist-high wooden benches that extended down the length of the interior. An unusual looking moss ran over the surfaces of everything except the glass and old-fashioned brick walkways. The plants themselves poked up out of this, spilling out of their pots, at least, she was pretty sure they were in pots judging from the lumps under the moss. A few had flowers, she drew nearer to one of them and guessed that it was likely some sort of orchid, the outside of the half-closed bloom was a creamy white, the inside, rich two-tone magenta that seemed to sparkle with glitter. She seemed to remember seeing a cactus flower once that was all covered in sparkles like that, while hiking in the southwest. These looked more like jungle plants, maybe originally from some cool cloud forest perhaps, for there was no heat in the greenhouse, it was currently chill enough to be uncomfortable, and the temperature must drop very low at night.
The plants were of every shape and description, though most were small, less than a foot high, and most grew on the benches, but some had spilled over the side, or climbed up the nearest redwood posts. A few seemed to have detached and had rooted somehow directly upon the wood and sprouted here and there from high up the walls and had continued on to hang overhead from the ceiling. She did not recognize anything. Although not a plant expert by any means, she knew an African violet from a poinsettia, and she knew enough to tell these were not the sort of things one found at the superstore “home greenery” department.
The old man, who had died a few months back at the age of ninety two, had been a professor at a university somewhere in the forties, and had moved west when he retired. His sister in law had not mentioned that he had an orchid hobby, probably because she had no idea. She didn’t seem like the kind of lady who would want to see the backyard while visiting anyone’s home, especially one like this. Maybe this was the treasure, if there was one to be found.
There was a tap on the glass, and she looked behind her in alarm. There came another tap, and another. She realized it had begun to rain. Not wanting to be caught in a downpour while trying to fit door keys, she left the greenhouse, crossed the short distance to the back door, and after a few minutes of jingling and soft oaths in the growing rain, opened it.

Dawnstorm
August 29th, 2004, 12:38 PM
Like it. I'm particularly curious about the plants. :)

===

You're writing in 3rd person limited (Stacey's point of view). Bearing this in mind, you can often take verbs that express cognition for granted and don't need to spell them out:


There came another tap, and another. She realized it had begun to rain.

You don't need to spell out that Stacey realised that had begun to rain, because the method of the abstract narrator taking Stacey's point of view has been established, by now:

"...another. It had begun to rain." or, simply: "...another. Rain!" (you can vary the punctuation, according to the reaction she has: Rain? Rain... Rain.) [also notice, that with the minimalism of "Rain", your narrator's gotten very close to the point of view character.]

Or:


She got out of the car and realized it was freezing out, slipped into her coat, put her cell phone in the pocket.

You could say "She got out of the car. It was freezing, so she slipped into..."

There's also an opportunity of characterisation, here. Instead of telling us she realised that it was freezing, you could show us how she realised it was freezing, and when. The cold air that rushed into the car, as soon as she opened the door? Was she so caught up in her job that goose pimples had time to arise before she ever noticed it was cold?


...even the neighbors seemed to want to avoid the place.

This one is interesting, stylistically. I'd say the "want" doesn't really add much. The "seeming" (like the "realising") is significant, though.

The question is, do you need to spell it out. Compare:

"...even the neighbours avoided the place."
"...even the neighbours seemed to avoid the place."
"...even the neighbours avoided the place, it seemed."

[If you leave out the "seemed" but keep the "want", you'd end up with this:
"...even the neighbours wanted to avoid the place."
Because of the emphasis on description in your style, this would lead me to expect that there are signs that the neighbours did not always succeed in avoiding the place. Specifically, that would mean that there are no cars parked in front of the place (but really everywhere else - and this makes me wonder about car-parking in suburbs; because I don't really know that much about it), but that there would be footprints, or dog ****, or signs of curious or daring children breaking into the house...]


It made her want to take a deep breath, which she did.

Did the aforementioned smell induce her to take a deep breath, like a reflex? Or was there a conscious decision to take a deep breath (which the sequence of wanting - doing suggests)?

If the former, "She took a deep breath," will do.
If the latter, you could add a modification: "Despite [doubts, misgivings etc.], she took a deep breath."

In summary, wherever you have words that refer to the currently active point-of-view-characters point of view (realise, seem, want...), there's usually an opportunity to either "get closer" to the character's PoV, or to expand on the process or state that the words refer to.)

===

You give a very good sense of setting, without overdoing the detail. I wish, I knew how to do that. :)

theredpen
August 29th, 2004, 05:42 PM
Thank you so much for your critique Dawnstorm. Now that I'm looking over the stories I have that I think are almost there, your advice and those on my last post lets me see a lot of things I could do to make my prose flow and be more direct. I know I need something superior to my best effort at this point in order to get published and it's so frustrating to keep working and reworking the same tired (I'm tired of them anyway) pieces.

Expendable
August 29th, 2004, 09:46 PM
It helps sometime to put a little distance between you and the work.

If you're anything like me, every free moment's been tied up in your story. You've dreamed about it too I bet. So the best thing to do is to put everything in a box, mark a date on the calendar and step away for a week.

Go see a movie.
Read a book.
Sit down with a spoon and some Ben & Jerry's.
Take a nice long hot bath.
Sleep in.

When the day comes up on the calendar, open the box and pull it out and then start editing with a fresh mind. Reworking your hard-won prose won't hurt nearly as much.