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Old 13th Feb 2009, 23:26   #1
fanshawe
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Default Story sketch 2

Here is the second story I wrote for my creative writing group. I wrote it stone cold sober in two hours earlier today. The reaction from the group was more negative than for my first story. I'm very interested in any feedback on offer.

* * *

Why do they build warehouses with such small windows? The glass squares regimented at the cusp of the ceiling shot beams of natural light that disappeared before they hit the floor. Discos of dust danced in a widening procession that broke into loose nothingness well short of the grinding conveyors. Forklifts squirreled elusively from station to station in the dusk of the ground level.
A man with big hands and a gibbous moon of hair walked slowly towards one of the workstations. He walked deliberately, letting the click of his boots ring out like a cymbal. His skin was the colour of leather-effect brown jackets. If he did not come from Native American stock, he did nothing to escape the suggestion. Sometimes he would just stand in the main loading route with his eyes closed, as if listening to the soil beneath the cold concrete at his feet. The drivers knew not to disturb him, but to abandon their vehicles and snatch a conversation with whoever was working nearby. To top off the impression, he was the only man in the building to wear a Timberland fleece the whole year round, a conveniently visible connection to the American landscape. His name was Joe, but the workers called him Crazy Horse.
“Mustafa, come over to the computer so I can talk to you.”
He turned and began to walk back to his office; a chair, a table and a computer jammed between two workstations. Mustafa was small and suffered from his nerves. He walked twice as quickly as the other workers, and Joe walked twice as slowly, so that he was forced to skip from side to side behind the boss to avoid overtaking him. Joe’s pace slowed halfway to the table, and Mustafa stopped completely to give him a headstart. Joe turned suddenly.
“Are you coming or not, boy?”
Mustafa skipped guiltily on, his legs placed as far apart as possible to match his progress to Joe’s. When Joe reached his chair, Mustafa had to stop dead to avoid walking into him. Joe turned to see Mustafa’s legs splayed like those of a crab learning to rollerskate.
“Stop fooling and stand up straight. This here is serious business.”
Joe sat and looked coldly at Mustafa. It was a look that, if he had not known better, Mustafa would have said was full of hate.
“Now, you’re a good worker Mus. That’s why I’m a give you a warning instead of tossing you out in the street like I oughtta.”
He pulled a handful of yellow slips from the draw under the table that allowed him to call it a desk.
“Mis-fucking-ship. Mis-cuntyflip-ship. Mis-shippidyshit-ship,” he read from the slips, pulling each one from the pile dramatically. “What in God’s name were you thinking?”
Mustafa stared back at him in silence. Joe went on.
“Mis-ery-ship. Mis-Piggy-ship. Do you find that funny?”
Mustafa opened his mouth, but for once Joe was quicker than him.
“Mis-pleasejesusno-ship. Mis-godhavemercy!-ship. Mis-halle-fucking-lujah-ship.” He tucked the slips back into the draw and folded his arms. His eyes locked onto Mustafa’s and refused to blink.
“I believe in God. What do you wanna say to me about my Lord?”
Mustafa’s eyes filled and he began to stammer. His jaw convulsed epileptically and his arms hung uselessly at his side. In the absence of speech, he tried to lean forward and flecks of spit spattered Joe’s pristine Timberland fleece. Joe eyed his clothing in wonder and pushed his chair back two steps from the dissolution in front of him.
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Mustafa! I’m not really religious.” He began to chuckle, but stopped abruptly. “But what if I was? We have religious people working here Mus, and if they were to see these messages you’ve been writing on the mis-ship slips – well, I couldn’t be held responsible.”
He moved his chair to the computer and pointed at an open spreadsheet. Mustafa gaped noiselessy at the monitor and began to drool.
“I’ve been looking at your stats. You’re a good worker Mus. These numbers are the only reason you’re still here. My advice to you is to stop with the blasphemy and carry on producing these numbers. Otherwise you’re out. Now get out of my fucking sight.”
Mustafa ran back to his workstation, his legs only moving from below the knee, and grabbed a pile of DVD’s from a box. He began to scan them one by one, ostentatiously checking for damage in case Joe was still watching him. His skin prickled at the back of his neck and his eyes were still watering. The corners of his mouth felt the full force of gravity and he struggled to keep a neutral expression. It was not until the third blue box of scanned DVD’s had been conveyed away that his heart began to slow. He took another DVD, scanned it, and the monitor beeped.
-MISSHIP- popped up in yellow against the blue linux background.
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Old 15th Feb 2009, 19:51   #2
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Default Re: Story sketch 2

Well, like your last one this is more of a vignette than a story, but I'm not really sure what you are aiming for here. Erm, forgive any poor terminology use on my part in the following comments, I'm not very tight on that sort of thing...

In the first paragraph you start with an open question, which might be better suited to a character-internal narrative rather than what is otherwise just a omniscient third person; there is no-one asking "why the pointless windows?", so you could just start with something like "the pointlessly small windows admitted natural light which didn't reach the warehouse floor", etc. Alternatively, it is Joe thinking this at us - in which case you should be explicit about it (and see below). The descriptions are perhaps a little flowery for describing a warehouse too - functional language for a functional structure would seem a good match to me, unless the purpose of the story is to recast a dreary environment as one filled with subtle magic... based on what follows, probably not the plan!

You spend a lot of time describing "Crazy Horse" Joe and comparatively little on Mustafa, but the impression I get is that this is more Mustafa's story than Joe's, which leaves things a bit unbalanced. Looking at the piece as a whole, you start by focusing our attention on one character but drop him and shift to another in a somewhat unsatisfying way. Mustafa doesn't speak at all, not even in his own defence, and this leaves him as little more than a cypher (a drooling cypher, which is a bit weird...) so presumably we are supposed to empathise with him due to his frustrated response to his situation.

However... speaking for myself, it's not totally clear what he does other than "a highly repetitive chore", so a little more clarity could be useful; but more of a problem, his small acts of rebellion don't make any real sense to me - the "mis-ery-ship" and "mis-piggy-ship" comments show some degree of wit on his part, but the others are just potty mouthed and don't make a valid connection to the key phrase; nor is it clear how these comments are represented on the slips and who they would be received by - is this some sort of cry for help (to distant customers) or an effort to get fired from a job he hates (by offending those around him)? I've no idea. The closing reveal doesn't really work either, since Joe has already coined the "mis-ship" phrase for us and we understand by this point that this is emblematic of Mustafa's repetitive torment... something is lacking.

I think what you need is (and get a load of THIS) a combination of both more and less clarity. You need your described world and the people in it to be more accessible to the reader, but you need to deny us total clarity on precisely what Mustafa has done to get into trouble, until that final beat. If Joe can deliver his dressing down in such a way as to set up the format of Mustafa's rebellions without revealing all, then there is still a hook for the reader's interest; we can follow Mustafa back to his workstation and want to endure the boredom with him, to earn the reward of his next, possibly final transgression.

Attached to this though, is the issue of Why. I would say you make another problem for yourself in tying Mustafa's tongue so totally. He needs to be able to admit his error or deny responsibility - but which he would do depends entirely on why he's really doing what he does to the slips, which comes back to the question of who is going to read them (or who he would want to read them, if not Joe).

Think about this, for example: if Mustafa was trying to get fired - and from a crappy job - why does he need to get fired when he could just quit? If you can think of a good answer to that, then you may find that a story about his situation becomes far more vibrant, without demanding all the ornate vocabulary to pick up the slack.

(I hope you find some of this useful, Fanshawe, and don't let anything I've said discourage you - I tend towards tough criticism, but it is only ever intended as tough love!)
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Old 15th Feb 2009, 22:03   #3
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Default Re: Story sketch 2

I love tough love, Noumenon, thank you!

Some of what you write occured to me when I read the story back yesterday. Because I wrote quickly and without a plan, the first paragraph was a sort of visualisation exercise. It doesn't fit at all with what follows and is sort of rubbish.

It all came out piece by piece, which is why it doesn't fit perfectly. Joe occurred to me first, and so I spent a little time describing him. Mustafa came next, and as you noticed, emerges as the centre of sympathy. My intention is to extend the story to explore him more fully.

I also think it's confusing that a character called Mustafa makes frustrated references to Christian symbols - very counter-intuitive.

The closure doesn't work as a revelation, you're right, but I needed to finish the story to a deadline and that seemed an easy way to do it. Your solution, cutting Joe's reference to mis-ship slips, would work well.

I don't think Mustafa wants to lose the job. Rather, he is scared to lose it, but is driven to write stupid messages on pieces of paper out of sheer boredom. Hopefully it'll make more sense if I extend it.

The next story I post will be one that has been planned and redrafted, rather than quickly bunged up for quick tips on how to improve it. Otherwise I'll have to begin considering co-authoring credits, which you'd perhaps be happier without!

Last question though: you refer to "ornate vocabulary" - is it pretentiously ornate all the way through? I tried to write in a more direct mode after the first paragraph.
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Old 16th Feb 2009, 8:08   #4
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Default Re: Story sketch 2

No no - as you say, just the opening description of the warehouse, and possibly some of Joe - a gibbous moon of hair... well, if I ever resort to a comb over, I hope it gets such generous reviews (assuming I have "gibbous moon" right).
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