Writer In Motion: Week 3

WIM Week 3: CP round

Part 2: Brainstorming

When I filtered my feedback to look at ideas and lines that could use attention in my self-edited draft. I had two critiques that raised two separate issues: plausibility for the realistic parts of the piece, and more emotional impact.

Regarding the second issue, I’ll just have to do my best. Emotional impact is hard, particularly in a short piece where you don’t have room to use a lot of techniques. Plus, Kenny is an accountant. Emotional spilling probably isn’t his style. Thoughts will have to do.

For the first, it’s time to brainstorm.

Some questions raised included the details of Kenny’s firing, how he finds out, how he gets back into the building, and how he gets both in, and out, with his gas can, and then with the lady without being questioned. Additionally, the idea that Batlady is just allowed to be a secretary seemed implausible because of records. These are all places where I could either work to resolve them in a realistic way, or I could seek the fantastic. Because I’m going for magical realism, I wanted to start with the fantastic. Additionally, I put a request into a special adviser of mine to work on the realism, should I want to incorporate more melding of the realism and the fantasy.

I’m starting with the concept of firing. What if firing means actual fire? What if Kenny, being a loner, chooses to forgo the pleasure of dying with the other fire-ees, preferring to burn himself up and his workplace with it? What if Batlady really did work there, and being pinned on the wall as a “motivational” poster was her punishment, or a way to contain her? Has Kenny known that employees who fought the company in the past ended up on the walls? Is this why he has such an attachment to his “lady” who seems to be in solidarity with him when it comes to having a deep hatred of what the corporation represents?

What about when they leave? Why don’t the security guards stop them? Why don’t they recognize that Kenny is leaving with someone else from the building, someone they didn’t see go in with him? What is the most fantastic way I could resolve that? My mind is running to another word for firing, “being let go”. Can I use that idea and twist it in some way, showing the security guards that at least these two people have truly escaped the corporation, giving them hope for their future? I already have a section where it is hinted at that Batlady weaves cloaks for those who would change their fate, and Kenny has changed his life, but still uses his skills to support them. Is he using those skills to help others, too? What kind of magical skill does he have that I can add to help with some of the suspension of disbelief for not only the reader, but Kenny?

Kenny radiates no surprise when he helps Batlady out of the picture. That’s intentional. I felt absolutely no surprise from him as I wrote it. I can’t put fake surprise there. It has to be his genuine feeling for what is happening when he rescues the woman in the picture. So, what about the emotional impact of that moment? Will adding those brainstorming ideas give me more scope for triggering deep emotions concerning Kenny’s actual dead-end job, his chance at a new life with this leap of faith, of daring to step outside his reality and find new hope?

How many more words will this add to my piece? How much I can do and not compromise the story or add new content that needs explanation?

After a brainstorming session with myself, I let this simmer for about 24 hours, letting the thoughts pile up. Very little of this could be useful. Some of it may be. I won’t know until it’s time to redraft.

Writer In Motion: Week 3

WIM Third Week Post: CP Round

Part 1: Processing Feedback

 

This weekend, Waiting to Jump went to three critique partners. I thought I would start this week’s post with how I process feedback—general (this week’s round) and targeted (next week’s round).

To be honest, I always open these documents feeling something akin to despair, even when there’s no reason to be. Not only do I expect to be confronted with things that people don’t like, the document itself is now visually overwhelming. But once I get over the nausea, I settle down and take out a yellow legal pad. I give each critique partner a third of a page with their name as a header. If I was doing it with a novel, each chapter gets a page with the critique partner’s name on it. Then I’ll settle down with a cup of tea and read the comments for each document as dispassionately as possible.

It used to bother me that readers would have such different ideas of my “problems” and how to fix them. Particularly galling were comments where one reader loved something, and another found it cut-worthy. I’d stamp around and wonder why people couldn’t be objective. Confronting feedback from multiple critique partners is bound to result in a number of opinions on your story: all of them valid, all of them different, and all of them subjective, and each with different ideas of how your story could be improved. So, what do you change?

Exactly what you want to change.

Here’s how I process CP feedback.

First, I find where all three CPs agree that something isn’t working. I write each comment on that particular part of the story down under each CP’s name. Even if I disagree, this particular part of the story needs attention.

Barring agreement on a developmental issue, I look at lines that got comments. If one line gets three different comments, it means that something about that line is drawing attention to itself.  It’s sticking out. It might be sticking out too much! Good prose should be seamless. It should not distract. If my prose is stabbing people in the eyeballs, I may be spending too much time trying to make my words beautiful instead of making my story beautiful.

Secondly, I find where two CP’s agree that something isn’t working. Same if there is a line that has been commented twice. I will look at these carefully. If I agree that there’s an issue there, it’s on my list to be checked.

All remaining comments will be filtered through the lens of my vision. I looked hard at this critique round for one item on my revision list. Was my story surreal enough, in keeping with what I wanted for the piece from the beginning?

 

Here is how Waiting to Jump fared in the critique round:

0 agreement of comments in developmental issues.

Five lines with consistent comments.

–1st sentence

–copied on by mistake

—nailed him by numbers

–he’d have to jump

–trapped behind the glass

–knew who Batlady was

No feedback was uniform on these lines. However, they seemed to catch the eye, and so I’ll look at them and see what I can do to make them better.

Where my story didn’t fare as well? Suspension of disbelief when it came to the pseudo-realistic details of the story: Kenny’s job, his firing, his ability to get back in the building with his weapon of self-destruction, and how he gets out again. This is a problem, because I wrote this story with a surreal idea in mind. The first draft in particular had the feel of a very skewed reality throughout.

The question I must ask now is how to achieve surrealism from beginning to end without having any question arise of “how can this happen?” One thing I want to resolve in this next draft is creating something utterly fantastic from line one to last. I’ll have to dig a little deeper to create the piece I have in mind.

Another item that came up is a need for a touch more emotional reaction by Kenny in the piece. This is an area where I expected to have trouble, but given that there are exactly two areas that need attention on this front, I’m hoping to incorporate some of the surreal into the emotional impact of the story, too.

After sorting critique feedback, a chat with a trusted CP, and a special adviser on the accounting aspect of Kenny’s life, I’m ready to tackle the second part of CP feedback. Brainstorming.

 

Writer In Motion: Week 2

WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft

Part 6

 

Here is my final self-edited version.

 

Waiting to Jump

By R. Lee Fryar

 

Kenny was waiting for Batlady to jump. If she did, he would, too. It would never happen.

She was an out-of-date picture on the wall. He was an accountant for Regen Corp., soiled with as much dirt as upper management, toiling in their shit division. He’d expected to work there for the rest of his career. Today, his career was over.

He hung over the keyboard, reading his death sentence for the second time.

Kenneth Oden. Fired.

His morning coffee chilled in his stomach. He’d been copied on by mistake, but there was no mistake about his name in the spreadsheet. Two seconds too long—a quick log-in attempt confirmed his suspicions. Access denied. He was locked out. He’d have to jump.

Surreptitiously, he glanced around the open office at his fellow shit-shovelers, but they were all buried in their own piles. They ignored him. On the walls, the framed inspirational posters he’d mocked for years mocked him back. To the west, a mountaineer frozen on the side of Everest reminded him he didn’t have the guts to do it. To the east, a grim-faced peloton of bikers threatened to run him over if he tried. And to the north, Batlady posed on her perch in the sky, torch aloft, face cold and desperate in the wind, as indecisive as he. He fingered an empty thumb drive. He should have filled the damned thing when the Feds talked to him the week before. He didn’t have a choice now—no more than his lady on the edge. They’d nailed her feet to her fate, like they’d nailed him by numbers to a crime he couldn’t escape.

 

Kenny returned by the dingy light of the streetlamps to make his leap. He told the security guard the cardboard box was for documents he needed to work a long weekend at home. They let him in. The news he’d been canned hadn’t made it down to the grunts yet. But in the box, he carried his death—a tightly sealed plastic gas can. He was an accountant, not an anarchist. Homemade bombs weren’t in his arsenal.

Heart thudding in his ears, he ascended to the ninth floor. Images of his childhood raced through his mind—cold days on the farm helping his father with the sheep, warm days digging the garden with his mother. Numbers had earned him a better life. Now they’d killed him.

Batlady cut her eyes at him as he walked in. She looked so lifelike, he suspected whoever shot the picture of the petite woman in the batwing cape had actually imprisoned her soul. He sat at his desk, not bothering with his computer. He’d come for one thing, and one thing alone. He opened the gas can. The fumes escaped with a desperate gasp, but he couldn’t escape his mistakes. He’d burn the building, and his life with it.

He raised his unlit match like a torch. “Well, lady? It’s time.”

She jumped. Her cape became her tattered wings, her feet flamed, trailing blood like streamers. She was screaming. He couldn’t hear it. The glass stopped the noise. But her ceramic face broke with fear, her poise shattered forever by the kind of desperation that drives a woman or man off the ledge of their life.

Kenny couldn’t bear that look. He raced across the room, tore the picture off the wall, and smashed the glass on the nearest desk.

“Grab on, I’ll catch you!” He thrust his arms into the picture.

She hurtled past him in an eternity of clouds and blue, flailing, shrieking his name. Wind whipped his hair back. He thought he’d lost her. Then a weight on the end of his wrists jerked him forward. The shriek became a terrified whimper.

“Don’t let go,” she gasped. “Please. Don’t let go of me.”

“Can you climb?”

“If you help me.”

Pulling upward, he dragged her to the edge of the frame. She cried when her bleeding feet raked over the broken shards of her life.

 

They left the building together. Kenny carried the gas can in one hand. His lady held the other, leaning against him for support, limping. His shoes were too big for her, but she walked bravely, a faint smile painted on her ageless face. In the folds of her cloak she carried the thumb drive with all his files. She’d been trapped behind the glass for a long time. There was little about him, and Regan Corp., that she didn’t know. She’d been watching him for years.

At the trial, no one knew who the mysterious Batlady was. Kenny didn’t tell. In the eyes of the law, she was a secretary, and he was just an accountant who brought down a corrupt corporation.

Now, they live together on a farm in Oregon. Kenny farms organic vegetables and raises hair sheep. The numbers game that once imprisoned him supports his dream. Batlady cards wool, spins her own thread, and weaves batwing capes for those who would change their look, and possibly their lives.

Kenny calls her Lady Fate. She laughs, and says he can call her whatever he wants since he saved her. He knows the truth. She saved him.

 

Notes:

Total time on this project so far: 6.8 hours over the whole time period

Final Word Count at this point: 875 words

My first draft went up almost five days after I penned it, and the redrafting and revising took place over the weekend. I took Sunday off to draft Flipping and relax by the river, and did the bulk of my revisions to the piece on Tuesday. This revision has been done since Tuesday evening.

Breakdown:

10 minutes initial draft

135 minutes redrafting

240 minutes revising (This was probably closer to 120, but I was in the middle of BBQ at the time, and not keeping an eye on the clock.)

Writer In Motion: Week 2

WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck draft

Part 5

 

Now it’s time to revise. This revision will take me a day or two. One day if I was only working on this story, but I’m not. I’m drafting my ghost story for NaNoWriMo and again, priorities. For the record, steps 1 and 2 took me about a half-hour, and steps 2-4 took me around 4 hours because I was in the middle of making BBQ ribs and didn’t devote myself as much as I might!

What I will look at:

  • Global—Are all the scenes I need in the story? Does each scene have all the components of a scene: Person, action, place, time, manner, cause? If not, why? Are all the visual components as bright as possible?
  • Paragraph Level—Do I need to cut some paragraphs to fit my story structurally? Are the paragraphs short and intense?
  • Sentence Level—Does each sentence have a flow? Have I used two action verbs in a sentence where one would be better? How’s my adjective use? Do I have too many prepositional phrases weighting down a perfectly good sentence? How does it read aloud? Have I retained the surrealism without compromising clarity?
  • Word Level—Are my nouns vibrant? Verbs good? What about… GASP, filter words? I’m leaving them in, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. What about filler words? Those I’ll cut. Once I’ve run my self-editing checklist and made everything as vibrant as I can, I’ll hand this off to CPS.

Why don’t I care about filter words in this round of revision? Filter words are instances where the character expressed something internal in terms of sensory words. He felt. She thought. He knew. She saw. All those are good examples of a filter word. They filter the direct thought of the character through something that puts the reader at a distance from that character. It’s a good idea to deal with these words in your prose. Yes, they are distancing. Yes, deep POV culls filter words like swatting flies at a picnic. Yes, I will deal with them. Later. Not now. Why?

Because those filter words are my own personal reminder to leave the emotions in! Note, I haven’t said a thing about working on things like conflict, suspense, tension, and emotional impact. That’s coming up after round 1 of CPs. I struggle with emotional impact. Filter words help me revise for that.

This is a combination of things: but mostly it boils down to an inability to react emotionally to reading. I can count on one hand the number of books and movies that have made me react in an emotional way, and I don’t even need to use all my fingers. I can feel emotion when I write, but when I start revising, I’ll cut almost half of the emotional impact sections where I sobbed while writing. They don’t impact me when I’m reading, even if they are excellent. Therefore, I won’t cut filters until I am almost at the last draft, or I won’t remember that those moments actually made me feel something when I wrote them. I leave those filter words in place until I’m ready to work on emotional impact.

Writer In Motion: Week 2

WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft

Part 4

Ugly Duck 3 was written in 30 minutes. The only thing that happened of interest on this draft is that one of my alpha readers grabbed Draft 2, Rewrite 2 (because she knows me), and ran off with it to read. She came back saying it gave her chill bumps.

I’m not in the chill bumps stage with this one. I like it. But chills don’t come unless it’s something really special. Not sure this story is in that class. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.

 

Waiting to Jump

By R. Lee Fryar

 

Kenny was waiting for Batlady to jump. When she did, he would jump, too.

He’d been an accountant for Regen Corp for decades now, soiled with as much dirt as the upper management, although he still toiled in the shit division, and would for the rest of his career. Only his career was over.

He hung over the keyboard, reading the accidental email for the second time. Kenneth Oden. Fired. He’d been copied on by mistake, but there could be no mistake about his name in the spreadsheet of employees to be “let go”. Two seconds too long—a quick log-in confirmed his suspicions. He’d been locked out of his files. Surreptitiously, he glanced around the office at his fellow shit-shovelers, but they were all buried in their own piles, ignoring him. On the walls, the inspirational posters he’d mocked for years mocked him back. On the west wall, the mountaineer frozen on the side of Everest reminded him he couldn’t do it. On the east wall, the grim-faced peloton of bikers bore down on him, threatening to run him over if he did. And on the north wall, Batlady posed on her perch, torch aloft, face cold and desperate in the wind, as indecisive as he felt at the moment, fingering a thumb drive in one hand and wishing with all his heart he’d filled the damned thing when the Feds talked to him the week before. The blinking password blank mocked him. Access denied. This was the price for his loyalty. He didn’t have a choice now—no more than his lady on the edge. He wondered if they’d nailed her feet there, the way they’d nailed him by his numbers to a crime he couldn’t escape. He’d have to jump.

He came back by the dingy light of the streetlamps to make his leap. In one hand he carried a box for the documents he needed to work the long weekend at home. That’s what he told the security guard who let him in. The news that he’d been canned hadn’t been passed down to the grunts yet. In the box, he carried his chosen weapon, a tightly sealed plastic container of gasoline. He was an accountant, not an anarchist. Homemade bombs weren’t in his arsenal. As he ascended the elevator, heart pounding loudly in his ears, his thoughts went back to his childhood—days on a farm, playing with the kittens in the barn, helping his father with the sheep, digging the garden with his mother, and always, always wishing that his skill with numbers would earn him a better life. He’d give a lot to have that wish back.

In the dark of the office, he glanced at Batlady cutting her eyes at him as he walked it. It was a trick of the light, but out of all the posters in the building that he’d mocked, this was the one he never laughed at. Sometimes he suspected that whoever shot that picture of the woman in the batwing cape had actually imprisoned her soul with her. He sat down at his desk, not even bothering with his computer. He’d come for one thing, and one thing alone. He opened the gas can and breathed in the fumes with a desperate gasp. He was reminded of the stink of the diesel fuel in his father’s tractor, puffing smoke clouds across a blue horizon.

“Well, lady?” he said, speaking into the darkness. “It’s time.” He raised his unlit match like a torch.

She jumped.

Her cape flew out like tattered wings, her feet flamed behind her, trailing blood like streamers. She screamed. He couldn’t hear it. The glass stopped the noise. But her ceramic face was broken by fear, her poise shattered by the kind of desperation that drives a woman or man off the ledge of their life.

He didn’t think. In seconds he’d raced across the room, torn the picture of the wall, and smashed the glass on the nearest desk. She hurtled past him in an eternity of blue, flailing wildly. Wind whipped his face as he held out his hands.

“Grab on, I’ll catch you!” He thrust his arms in.

He thought he’d lost her. But a weight on the end of his wrists jerked him forward, and he braced himself as her full weight swung from his shoulders.

The shriek became a terrified whimper. “Don’t let go,” she cried. “Don’t let go.”

“I won’t. Can you climb?”

“If you hold me.”

He held her. Pulling upward, he dragged her to the edge of the frame, and she pulled herself out, crying as her bleeding feet raked over the broken shards of her life.

 

The left the building together. In one hand, Kenny carried the box with his gas can, tightly stoppered. Batlady held his other hand, leaning against him for support as she limped at his side. He’d given her his shoes. They were too big for her, but her feet were so mutilated, he wondered that she could walk at all. But she went bravely with him, a faint smile on her ageless face, soft hair pillowed on his shoulder. In the folds of her cloak she carried the thumb drive with all his files. She had been trapped a long time. There was little about the corporation she didn’t know.

At the trial, no one knew who the mysterious Batlady was. Kenny didn’t tell the federal agent he’d found her trapped under glass. She was a secretary in the eyes of the law, and he was the accountant who’s whistleblowing brought down a corrupt corporation and earned him the name of whistleblower.

They live in Oregon together now. Kenny farms organic vegetables and raises hair sheep. The numbers that imprisoned him now support his dream. And Batlady cards the wool from the sheep Kenny raises, spins her own thread, and makes batwing capes to sell to those that would change their look, and possibly their lives. Kenny calls her Lady Fate. She laughs at him, and says he can call her whatever he wants. He saved her.

But he knows the truth. She saved him.

 

Notes:

Total word count 1026! Okay. That alone tells me I’ve got my final Ugly Duck. If I was trying to revise that 1,296-word monster, I’d be deeply unhappy. But 26 words? Not a problem.

Another thing I’m happy with—Kenny has a little backstory in this draft, but not upfront where it would burden things.

Is it perfect? Hardly! Look at that mess! However, this is the final Ugly Duck for this piece. Whatever changes I make will be determined by this draft and the visuals in it.

And now, I can revise.

 

Writer In Motion: Week 2

WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft

Part 3

Ugly Duck 2 was written in 45 minutes, about 24 hours after Ugly Duck 1. The reason it took me a day between drafts? I was finishing up with revisions on the fourth draft of Tree Gods. Priorities!

 

Waiting to Jump

By R. Lee Fryar

 

Kenny was waiting on Batlady to jump. When she did, he’d jump too.

He leaned back in his desk chair, staring across the open office to the wall where she hung, poised on top of the world, torch held high, balancing on her toes in her picture frame. She had the grace and poise of a ballerina, but the cut of her mouth, the grim determination in her eyes, and the strain evident in her calves and arms told a different story. It was story Kenny knew all too well. It was his own.

He glanced down at the open email on his computer. That look on Batlady’s face reflected back at him. He’d been copied on by accident—something that would surely be noticed and properly punished—but he’d never felt more like jumping today. After all he’d done for this company, after every crime he’d committed, every fraud he’d covered up, every book he’d cooked, they were letting him go. Only letting him go wasn’t like getting a pink slip and a letter of recommendation. People that were let go just disappeared.

He closed out the email and opened his desk, rooting frantically through paperclips, pens, and files for a thumb drive. There was a small chance that the man who sent that email hadn’t seen his name on the list, that he could still access his confidential files. No. Locked out. He gripped the last precious evidence he had and pocketed it, looking around surreptitiously at his fellow accountants. No one looked at him. They never looked at him. The only people that ever looked at him were in pictures on the wall.

The office was full of these motivational posters. From where he sat, he could see three. On the west wall, a climber hung off the side of Everest, daring others to die with him. To the east, a peloton of grim-faced bikers bore down on him if he dared to think about taking a coffee break. And on the north wall, Batlady staged her lone protest, staring out into the abyss like she’d jump one day, whenever she pulled her feet loose from the nails holding her to her post. There were nails through her feet, although he couldn’t see the blood. But he could see the tears in her eyes that were not the reflection of the narrow swatch of sunlight coming through the south wall. He’d cry himself if he wasn’t afraid someone would see.

Shaking, he stood and walked down the hall to get himself a cup of poisonous coffee. Whether he was ready to jump or not, it would be tonight. He’d come back after work on a pretense of getting his stuff, and burn the building down. He’d go with it. He’d not give his employers the satisfaction of killing him.

 

When Kenny returned that night, he carried a large box with him for his things. He explained to the security guard that he’d left some important documents in his desk that he needed to work at home. The guy believed him. Made Kenny feel bad. He hated the people he worked for, not the people he worked with. Most of them probably didn’t know what went on. They just got their checks and lived their lives. But the smoke alarms would go off when the office burned. He’d be killing no one but himself and the lies he’d been a part of for so long that they’d driven nails through his soul like the nails through Batlady’s feet.

In the box, he carried a plastic gas can, tightly sealed. He only had one chance at this, little as it was. He was an accountant after all, not a domestic terrorist. The office was dark when he unlocked it and walked in. On the wall, Batlady stared out into her doom, the way he stared into his. He’d have to soak all the recycle bins in the office, and the trashcans too, after he filled them with paper from the copier.

He took the gas can out of his box and set it on his desk, opening the cap. The fumes wafted out like the stench of death from a rotting corpse. That’s all this was, really. Cremating himself along with the ruin of his life. He reached into his pocket and took out a matchbook, tore out a match, and held it up like Batlady’s torch.

She jumped.

He didn’t have time to ponder how or why, or what he would do. Maybe something in him had always known. In seconds he dropped his unlit match, sprang across the office, smashed both fists through the glass and grabbed for the falling woman.

“Reach for me!” he called.

She did. And caught him by his arm as she fell through. He cried out as her weight swung from his shoulder like a pendulum.

Her faint voice sounded weaker than the wind. “Don’t drop me. Don’t let go.”

“I won’t,” he panted. “Can you climb?”

Some of the weight slackened. “If you hold me.” Cold hands gripped his arms, and slowly, she hauled herself up and over the picture frame. But she fell with a cry when he set her on the ground. Her feet were militated. She’d torn the nails free when she jumped.

“Why’d you do it?” he asked, helping her into his chair.

She pulled her batwings around herself. “You jumped,” she said, teeth chattering. “I was waiting for you.”

 

He took her with him when he left. She hobbled next to him, wounded feet in his oversized shoes, leaning on his arm. He carried his box with the gas can in it. No need to blow himself or the building up. In his pocket he carried everything he needed to blow the corporation up. For a poster girl, she knew a lot about the office, and in minutes, he had everything he needed on his thumb drive.

At the trial, no one convicted knew who Batlady was. Some secretary perhaps, fired long ago. Only Kenny knew the truth, and they all knew him. His testimony convicted them all.

Kenny lives on a farm in Oregon now. He’s an old man, but he still grows his organic vegetables and helps his wife with her hair sheep. She spins her own thread and weaves on the loom that was always her business, long before she wove a new story out of the ruins of his life. She says it’s because he saved her. Kenny just laughs and says it’s the other way around. She saved him.

 

Notes:

A theme has emerged. Two people both waited to act because they were waiting on the other to make the first move. Batlady is something like the personification of fate. She can’t act until Kenny reaches the place in his life where he wants to do something, but he’s waited too late to do the right thing. Just in time, he does the right thing, and changes his own fate. Theme statement—Nothing moves until pushed.

The title, Waiting to Jump, is exactly what I wanted.

This version came out at 1104 words, and 21 paragraphs. I think some dialogue will be staying, and I’ll need to break down those paragraphs into the words I want for each act of the story. At this point, Act 1 and Act 2 are pretty even, with the resolution and final image making the Act 3, which is all told for the purpose of this story. I deem it unnecessary to show the court scene or anything on the farm, because they don’t change Kenny’s life, but are the result of his choice to save someone else rather than give up on his own. Act I needs to be shortened. There’s too much backstory here, and it will weigh down the pacing if I’m not careful.

Overall, I like this, but it’s too slow, and there is too much melodrama in adding in the idea of Kenny being actually killed if he reveals information.

Writer In Motion: Week 2

WIM Week 2: The Ugly Duck Draft

Part 2

 

Without further ado, here is Ugly Duck 1. I wrote this in 1 hr., right after my first draft went up. With redrafts, I don’t take time off between them if I can help it. I want to stay immersed. I’m not trying to revise. I’m trying to envision the same scene in my mind and see things I didn’t see the first time. Most of the time, this takes me from one to three redrafts. This is where I’m really glad that

1) I word fast

2) I love this part of the process.

 

Waiting to Jump

R. Fryar

 

Kenny was waiting on Batlady to jump. When she did, he’d make his move.

He leaned back in his desk chair, eyeing the framed poster with equal parts longing and dislike. She wasn’t his type, even if anything like those posters had ever been his type. His boss, the CEO, Evil Overlord, Master of all Masters, loved the things. Motivational posters hung all over the office. From Kenny’s rat-hole in accounting, he could see three of the damned things: Everest waiting to avalanche him on the west wall, a peloton of angry Tour de France riders bearing down on him from the east, and then there was her. Batlady. She stood on the top of the world, torch in hand, reaching for the clouds like he was supposed to do in his day-to-day work. Her face was in solidarity with his. They both hated what they were doing.

He hated his job. He hated his boss. He hated what his boss did—bribing congressmen, taking money under the table, and all the while their product was killing millions. Sometimes he wondered why he worked at all, and then his belly would rumble. Oh, yeah. He had to eat. He had to keep a roof, such as it was, over his head. Because he needed the health benefits.

She hated her job, too, holding that damned flare on top of her perch out over the skies. He knew she did. Her eyes hurt him every day. Her feet had to be killing her, stuck in that ballet pose day after day. She was probably frozen to death with waiting. Either that, or some evil person had nailed her feet to the ledge. He didn’t see the blood. But then, no one saw his heart bleeding out day after day either.

One day, she’d jump. He shoved his chair and went to get a cup of poisoned coffee. One day, she’d jump, and he’d burn the building down. But when it happened, he wasn’t ready.

 

The day Kenny jumped started out with a pink slip. For a full thirty minutes he stood, one hand on his stapler, the other holding the slip, unsure of whether to hurl it to the sky and dance, tear it into confetti and scream, or just…jump. Batlady stared off into the distance as he looked at her for inspiration. Ironically, that was the only time he’d ever felt inspired by those dumb things. A knot of anticipation coiled in his midsection. He’d burn the building down. That’s what he’d do. He didn’t care about anything anymore. He had no one who cared that he didn’t care. Utterly alone, he turned in his keys, put all his belongings in a paper box, and carried them out of the office for the last time. Only he knew about the key he didn’t turn in, and the codes that his boss had given him in case he needed to enter the building at odd hours to cook the books.

Getting in might be dangerous. The codes might change. But with the CEO off in the Caimans, he would have one night before the codes were changed and he was locked out forever. One night to make something out of his sad, endless existence of a life. When he came back at midnight, he carried a can of gasoline and a lighter.

The office was very quiet. It was a simple matter for him to slip in with the canister hidden in a box. The security guards greeted him as if nothing had happened. Nobody knew about the firing but him. Once he got into the office, he sat down at his desk as if nothing was wrong, and tried to access his files. Locked out. No huge surprise there. The computer generally knew more than security. He saturated the trashcan under his desk with gasoline. The fumes smelled like vindication. He visited every desk in the accounting department, anointing all the waste receptacles and recycling bins until the whole room smelled saturated. He was almost high on the fumes when he got back to his own desk.

He stared up at Batlady. And held up his match in a parody of her torch.

She jumped.

For a full five seconds, he didn’t know what to do. The match trembled in his fingers, unlit. She was screaming, although he couldn’t hear her. He could see her mouth open in terror, the frozen face steaming like a comet, her yoga pants on fire, and he bloody feet trailing streamers of red through the clouds as she hurtled to her doom.

Maybe it was his need to save something when he couldn’t save himself. Maybe it was the intimacy he had with this person who had been trapped the way he felt trapped, pinned to life by the needs of his body, not his soul. Probably it was the gasoline fumes. But he jumped up, flung himself across the room, and slammed both hands through the glass and into the poster frame.

Her scream was real now. He could hear her. The wind was whipping past his face as he reached into the air, calling for her. “Batlady! Grab on. I’ll catch you!”

One wild, desperate look, gray eyes under the shaggy mane, and she saw him. She reached out. Their hands touched, and then he had his fingers tight around her wrists. Her momentum wrenched him forward. He’d fall with her. Get sucked right into that world and fall to his doom with her. But the wall brought him to a sudden stop, and he braced his feet against it, pulling with all his might.

The weight on his aching arms lessened. He could see her fingers now, nails digging into his skin as she held on. “Don’t let me go,” she said, in the kind of calm voice that sounded like she was trying very hard not to scream. “Don’t let go.”

“I won’t. Can you climb?”

“If you lift me, I could,” she said.

He lifted. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

 

They left the poster hanging on the wall when they left the building. Kenny carried the gas can out with him, too. He didn’t need it. For a poster girl, she sure knew an awful lot about the codes that the CEO used. She smiled at him as he led her out of the office, hobbling at his side. He gave her his shoes; her feet were so bloody. In the folds of her cloak, she’d hidden all the information he would need to burn down the corporation, not the building. He wondered if security would ask them any questions, but with the lady at his side, they walked out without any questions asked at all. He asked her why. She only smiled, and leaned against him.

At the trial, no one knew who the dark-haired witness was who testified about the illegal activities in the offices overnight. It was assumed she was the CEO’s secretary. Everyone, on the other hand, knew Kenny, so he got the credit for being the whistleblower that single-handedly brought down a corrupt corporation.

They live together now, unmarried, but inseparable, on a farm in Oregon. Kenny is white-haired now, and he complains about his joints from time to time, but his heart is the heart of a twenty-year old man, and his Batlady is the passion of his life. She spins and weaves the threads of his fate from the hair-sheep on their farm, and clothes him in the warmth of her love for saving her life. Which he says is the only lie she has ever told. It was the other way around, he says. She saved his.

 

NOTES

For this particular story, Ugly Duck one came in at 1,296 words, 21 paragraphs, and I added some dialogue.

My main concern is telling a whole story in under 1000 words. I have 3 acts composed of 3 scenes. That means I have to be very concise, move quickly from one place to the next carefully, and I need to make sure the focus is where I want it—squarely on the climax in scene 2.

Sounds a lot like planning, doesn’t it? It’s my way of setting a mental reminder to myself that there’s a particular structure for this story. This is flash fiction. It’s not a short story. I have to remember that to complete this particular project in the way I envision it.

Changes:

Kenny settles in as an accountant in my mind. I begin to realize that he’s a dirty whistleblower, and feeling guilty about his part in criminal activity.

I decide that rather than hear a rumor, he actually has been fired.

I realize that Batlady needs more of a role in the story—something to show that she’s holding out for a moment, just like Kenny has been.

I correct…exactly none of it. No revisions other than a few misspellings. I’m not there yet.

The only thing I schedule is another time to redraft the next day.