WRITER’S WORKSHOP I, Week 3, Curveball Challenge

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Something to think about:

Our talented writers have some amazing stories brewing in the Go Dog Go Café; but, the water is just getting hot, and we aren’t finished yet! Congratulations to everyone who has traveled this far in our first Writer’s Workshop journey. This week’s quote comes from a wonderful book for writers by Douglas Glover, Attack of the Copula Spiders, and is taken from his essay, “How to Write a Short Story:”

On Story Openings

When you open a story, think back to first principles—expectation (form) and interest and the subsidiary problem of establishing complexity and amplitude in the narrative voice. What do these first principles then require in an opening? They require: 1) an identifiable point of view; 2) probably at least two characters; 3) a conflicted situation involving two characters; 4) a mode of presentation (languages, sentences, paragraphs) that is strong and interesting besides.

I don’t know about you; but when I first read this, my brain went into overdrive trying to figure out how to pack all of that into an opening, especially an opening sentence. Seriously? I thought the opening was about being clever and catchy, hooking the reader with some delicious tidbit. Yes, and no. Glover goes on:

There is a kind of sentence structure which can often give you all this at once. I call it the but-construction, that is a sentence (or paragraph) that turns on the word “but” or some cognate, or an implied “but,” antithesis, irony, or contrasting parallel. To put it another way, a but-construction occurs when one proposition is followed by another that is a contrast, contrary, antithesis, or somehow runs counter to expectation. The two propositions pivot on a “but” or implied “but.” The effect is the creation of conflict at the level of a sentence (or paragraph); it creates interest, drama, and action at the level of propositions.

To see this idea in action, go back and read my opening sentence for this challenge. By starting down one path (amazing stories) then flipping the narrative (just getting hot), I create some tension at the grammatical level of the sentence. The conflict creates a reason to “tune in” and keep reading.

Take my opening sentence in my response prompt (Version 2, edited):

Dr. Spinosee lifted the surgical gown up Mildred’s right thigh and lowered the lamp over her leg, warming her shin.

That works as a description, but it doesn’t create any real tension for the reader. I have two problems: 1) it is all told from the doctor’s perspective, and my story is really about Mildred; 2) I haven’t created any conflict between the two characters. I do later in the story; but, remember, tension creates a reason to keep reading.

Revised opening sentence:

Dr. Spinosee lifted the surgical gown up Mildred’s right thigh and lowered the lamp over her leg, warming her shin; Mildred shivered.

Why is Mildred shivering? Is she cold? Is she upset? Is she afraid? “Trembled” might work too. Or “shuddered.” Or maybe “quivered.” The word is less important than the drama created in the sentence. With a simple twist at the end of the sentence, I have given my readers a grammatical hook—a mystery to ponder.

Writer’s Workshop I, Curveball Challenge

Now it’s your turn. Create an opening sentence for your response that utilizes some form of but-construction. You don’t need the word “but,” but you do need to create tension. Have fun and be sure to share your work in the comment section so I can link to it next week. Even if you aren’t participating this cycle, please feel free to comment and provide feedback and encouragement to these wonderful writers.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

The revised stories (aka “great reads”), each featuring at least a 10% cut in words:

Christine’s The Shopping Trip

Sarah’s Measure Twice, Cut Once

Ian’s Nathan

Manja’s clip cloppity clop

Angela’s Measure Twice, Cut Once

Stephen’s “Cut Me, Mick, Cut Me!”

RedCat’s The Seamstress

Jane Tim’s:

Version Two

With this version, I have made the punctuation consistent (I usually use very little punctuation in my poems), eliminated some repeated words (for example, ‘men’ in the first stanza), written some ideas to be more clear (I think the idea of XXVI beside XXVI is clearer), and created some regularity in the stanzas (now in the pattern 5,3,5,3,5,3,5,3 etc.).

measure twice, cut once

slogan of careful men
who raised these covered bridges
posts and beams
shaped and joined
and finished

carpenters and labourers
cut every rafter
to fit, position precise

laid on the ground
marked XXVI
and so on
reassembled
over the river

laid as prescribed
side by side, XXVI beside XXVI
chords, struts, braces and posts

Howe truss braces
and counter braces
making ‘m’s and ‘w’s
and diamonds, timbers
and metal tension bars

built with a camber
to take the downward weight
of the bridge as it settles

bridge done, and a herd
of cattle
driven through
to test sturdiness
vibration

then, careless
someone fails
to read a sign

Footnote:

The French Village Covered Bridge (Hammond River Covered Bridge #2) was built in 1912 and removed in 2017 after a13-tonne excavator dropped through the decking of the bridge in October 2016. The excavator, loaded with 3.7 tonnes of wood, exceeded the 12 tonne maximum posted for the bridge.

The first stanza from her first draft:

the slogan of careful men
the men who raised these bridges.
beams and posts
shaped and joined
and finished.

Became:

slogan of careful men
who raised these covered bridges
posts and beams
shaped and joined
and finished

My thoughts: The first stanza of the first draft focused on “men” as the character. In the revision, the bridges feel like an equal character to the men. By not repeating “men” and giving bridges the added description of “covered,” Jane has given the first stanza a drama or dance between two characters: men and bridges. The last three lines could be read as either a description of the bridges or of the work of the men. Either way, her trimming has given the piece complexity while making it more readable than the original.

29 thoughts on “WRITER’S WORKSHOP I, Week 3, Curveball Challenge

  1. Pingback: Measure twice, cut once III | Fmme writes poems

  2. Curveball – Nathan v. 3

    In stark contrast to the evening’s events, countless stars hung peacefully in the black night. Thin linen curtains danced gently in the spring air as it rushed through demolished windows. Lyn shivered, sitting among shattered glass strewn upon the wide pine floor. The quorum of police had left. The evening’s frantic pace had slowed. Lyn replayed the events hoping for understanding.

    The violent crack of the front door as it split from force. Elvis wildly barking as he charged from the kitchen. Chaotic screams filling the house, some were her own. Two, possibly three men, charging their way into her home. Out of nowhere, Nathan appeared. His sizable frame corralling the uninvited. Arms and legs intertwined. Smacking of fists meeting skin cut the night like lightning. Elvis tearing at pant legs as he defended, side by side with Nathan. Then, almost as quickly as it began, they retreated. Fleeing into the night, sending rocks hurtling through the porch windows.

    Nathan’s presence wrapped Lyn with comfort as she trembled with a cup of chamomile between both hands. At arm’s length, Nathan was crouched stroking the neck of the graying labrador leaning into him. Faithfully he protected her and her home. Courageously, he turned back the invasion. Breathing gently now, Elvis’s years and achy hips did nothing to slow his loyalty and rage a few hours earlier. Lyn’s thoughts drifted to last winter… without Nathan, what would have happened.

    Last October, following years of consideration Lyn decided to rent the 3rd floor room. There were dozens of interested would-be tenants. It would have been easy to choose the young corporate professional, reliable for the rent and wouldn’t be around much. Or the hard working graduate student, whose affluent parents offered to pay a year’s rent up front. It would have been easy to choose from the bevy of other desirables. Nathan was a non obvious choice. Immediately, Lyn had felt a deep calm eminante from him. Elvis, always discerning, felt the same. After quick inspection, he sat and gently wagged. Nathan spoke openly of his tortured past. A journey filled with struggle and piled with rash decisions. He had paid his dues, learned and earned another chance. Now on a healthier path and dedicated to keep moving forward. Despite friends and family advising her to choose any number of other options, after thoughtful deliberation, Nathan moved in just after Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Can’t wait to read it! I think the comment from Joey is interesting, and it is worth noting that, no matter what we alter in our writing, we won’t please everyone. I think it also depends on what we are trying to accomplish with our work. Who is your reader for the piece? Your audience? Are you hoping to have the piece published or not? The comment was certainly worthy, and I am glad you shared it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Tanya. I think this is the biggest dilemma that prevents me from writing a book: do I write it so that it will sell (and be published around the world etc.), or do I write it so that I’m happy with it as I’ve been writing on my blog, with no trick questions at the end of posts or cunning introductions or whatever brings crowds in. I’ve always preferred quality to quantity, so my problem is solved. I prefer to write as I do and please a couple of handfuls of people on my blog. I think that I wish to be published too, but only if it doesn’t imply a drastic change of my style.

        Liked by 1 person

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