Friday, January 7, 2011

Red Writing Hood: A Fresh Face

For my New Year's resolution, I have been waking up early to write each morning. It's been such a gift. My partners in crime, Ashlei from Shades of Green and Blue and Erin from The Mother Load have been checking in with me as we embark on this challenge together.

Simply put, 2011 is the year I take my writing to the next level. The Red Writing Hood Friday Challenge is the first step in this process.

I ask you to please share your thoughtful critique so I can grow as a writer. For this piece, for example, help me see ways that I can enhance my character's "nonverbals" and body language. I feel that body language adds much to the character, but I fear that I often fall back on the same old descriptors.

The challenge this week is "to write a short piece - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatevs - in which each sentence starts with a the next letter of the alphabet. Starting with "A." So, yes, your finished product will consist of 26 sentences." (I cheated on the sentence part. A LOT. Um, sorry.)

(PS--This is revisiting Walter from my "Like a Songbird" post. You can catch up here.

A Fresh Face

"Angela," she said, her hand on her swelling belly.
"Blech," he grimaced. "My mother's name?"
"Could you at least consider it?" She shook her head back and forth. "I mean, it's a lovely name."
"Don't think I can," he replied. He cleared his throat. " I mean, why on earth did you think I would give our daughter her name?"
"Exactly! That's my point!" she said. She snapped her hands together for emphasis. "The name does not belong to her! There are good Angelas and bad ones."
"For Christ's sake, then," he said, cracking a smile, "Why don't we name her Cruella or Adolpha?"
"Great idea!" she smiled back. "I'm sure she'll be invited to all the parties that way."
"Help me understand," he said, setting his glasses on the coffee table. "Why are you stirring the pot?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied. She leaned back into her chair. "I just mentioned a name I liked,"
"Just mentioned a name I liked," he laughed softly. "That's pretty passive-aggressive"
"Knowing that you have issues with women, and knowing that you will have a daughter in seven weeks, I think I've been very patient with you." She shifted in her armchair, and placed a hand protectively on her belly.
"Lydia," he said, "I had a few bad girlfriends, and you know the issues with my mother. But I love women."
"Maybe you need to exorcise a few demons," she said. "That's all I'm saying."
"No!" he said. He stood up and paced back and forth. "That's not what you're saying at all."
"Oh, then, Mr. Insightful, what am I saying?" Her eyes were flinty and unrelenting.
"Please just drop it." he twisted his wedding band and studied the hardwood.
"Quit doing that!" she said, sighing deeply. "God! You're avoiding the issue again."
"Really?" he said, meeting her eyes, "I don't want to name our baby after my terrible mother. I really need to argue about this?"
"Some people would respect that you're making an effort to mend some fences, Walter." She blinked, and reached for his hand.
"The 'people' you are mentioning?" he said, untangling himself from her grasp, "Who would they be?"
"Underwood," she answered. "The man who could help us--her-- have an easier life. At least we'll start with him."
"Very nice to consider the holder of Mother's estate. The keeper of the cash." He chuckled slowly, then  stared at the floor once again. He breathed in and out, as he had been taught. 
"What is wrong with you?" she exploded. She exhaled loudly, then hissed, "Do you suggest we allow our daughter to live in rags among the great unwashed because you can't suck it up and get what you're entitled to?" 
"Xenophobic much? The great unwashed, really? Between the two of us, we pull in a decent sum. She will be just fine." He placed his hand on her pregnant belly, felt his daughter's fluttery kick.
"You know that she deserves the world," she said. She paused, as if considering her options, then placed her hand on top of his. "Why make it harder?"
"Zoe," he replied, as if speaking to himself.  "Zoe's a nice name. It means, 'life.' It means the future. It means a fresh face and no strings attached. Let's start there." They sat together in silence---Walter, Lydia, and the life they created.


Erin said...

kick-ass, Nancy!!! And this was a tough prompt. I think you did really well w/ the body language/mannerisms, etc. But what the hell do I know? I love discussions of baby names. Hell, I love babies. I also love Zoe as a name---perfect for "z!"


Ratz said...

You have perfected it. I cannot believe that you have made it seem so easy, this prompt. The sentences with N O... they are so casual... wow! you are amazing

Ash said...

So you bent the rules a little? The end result is awesome. LOVE Walter. Go Walter!

I do call BS on Uriah being a name though. Isn't that the body part for urine?

Cristina said...

holy crap, your dialogue is amazing.... and I don't think you had any trouble with body language.

the only thing is that there were sentences in between the sentences you were using for the prompt... I know I'm nit picking.. ignore me... OH WAIT, i just looked it over again and saw what you did..... you used the prompt to go from one person to the other in the dialogue... OMG you are BRILLIANT!

I bow in complete admiration of your skills!

Nichole said...

I am speechless.
Wait. Not completely.
Holy Smokes! This is just amazing.
I completely forgot we were using the alphabet as inspiration. I would have never noticed it if I had known to look for it.

Wow...truly spectacular!

Carrie said...

Poor Walter. Still being dominated by his mother. I feel sorry for his wife too. She's stuck with Angela's crap by proxy.

Your dialogue is really great. I can see Walter and Lydia sitting together discussing the name and I can feel Lydia's frustration and anger.

Sluiter Nation said...

Wow! Your dialogue is fantastic! I considered doing dialogue, but I thought it would be too hard. You make it look so easy...although I am glad I didn't do it! Your awesome post would have made mine look very sad! :)

clearness said...

Tell me more...what are they going to name the baby? Woohhh maybe it's REALLY a boy!

(Florida) Girl said...

This was such an incredibly hard challenge. I ended up taking a silly way out. Yours was a much better effort than mine.

I think there is plenty of body language here. In terms of improvement, only because you are asking for it, I would say restructure some of the segments that began with "he said" and "she said" for a little more variety. Exp "he said, untangling himself from her grasp." Could just as easily be "He untangled himself from her grasp."

Well done. PS I hope my last email was not an overwhelming amount of info.

mama-face said...

ha. Great job. Your understanding of the subtle way a couple disagrees without arguing is very good. And I couldn't begin to give advice on enhancing anything writing wise since I've never even heard the term 'descriptors'. I don't even use ' ' correctly.

I'm a reader, not a writer.

you rock.

Yuliya said...

Oooh dialogue, I love it. Once I get better at this maybe I will have 'thoughtful critique' for now you just get admiration.

varunner said...

I think you had a lot of body language in there, that seemed really fitting and enhancing to the dialogue. And I totally ended up resenting him. So I think you did your job ;-)

Snuggle Wasteland said...

I actually tried to do this one for about 10 minutes and gave up. Too hard for my addled brain. You did a great job, Nancy! As another commenter said, you don't even notice the alphabet.

PS My Jackson was almost a Zoe. :)

foodnerdjen said...

Your dialogue is incredibly strong, so strong that I gleaned most of whatI needed to about their emotional states without feeling cheated. I think that your non-verbals in relation to action are strong and there, the twisting of the ring, untangling from her grasp, etc. And only because you asked, the non verbals that I did miss a little were the internal emotional state of the characters in a given moment. An example; ...she exploded. She exhaled loudly, then hissed...hissing can be angry, it can be soft and low to get someone's attention etc.

Overall, a very fleshed out story!

MiMi said...

This is SOOOOO good friend!!! Love.

The Drama Mama said...

YAY!!! More Walter!!! I'm loving this peek into Walter's world. The problem I am having in offering constructive critique on your request is that your dialogue does SUCH a great job of showing their emotions, that the non-verbals are smooth enough to flow in, discreet, just the way they should be.

I do agree that you could use the he said, she replied less and let your non-verbals do the breaks between their words.

And, I really like Walter. It's his wife that I don't like so much. You did a great job of showcasing her character through the dialogue. Really.

I can't wait to read more.

Not Just Another Jennifer said...

Great job! I haven't read your other Walter stories, but I'll have to check them out. This is my first week linking up, too! So fun to see how everyone interpreted it.

Nikita said...

I thought prose would be difficult with the given challenge, but you've seemed to manage that with such ease! Bravo!!! :) Great work@

Cheryl said...

Well, you DID cheat..

I think you did pretty well with the non-verbals (altho "back and forth" when talking about pacing is a redundancy, no?).

You definitely sensed tension with the ring twisting and shifting in the chair and protecting the belly.

There was a lot going on, a lot said and unsaid, and I think that was really well done.

Was this helpful? said...

I love Walter!

I hope to see lots more Walter in 2011!

Paul said...

First off, I love Nancy and I'm glad you're doing this. It takes balls. Which I presume you don't have, but have to deal with on a regular basis given the gender ratio in your home ;-)

The objectives of the exercise are pleasingly vague. I'm assuming that while you broke the 26 sentence limit, you felt guilty doing so and thus restrained yourself from *really* writing more stylistically.

As such, it reads very woodenly. Every single one of the 26 lines follows the exact same format: dialog snippet + non-verbal descriptor (with the exception of L, M & U, which have no non-verbal descriptors). The only variation is one or two places where you provide slightly more narrative insight or explication ("as he had been taught", "They sat together...."). Sometimes your non-verbal descriptors are bracketed by dialog snippets, but they always begin with dialog first and then the descriptor.

So it becomes very wooden and repetitive to read. Your words are fine, but your way of putting them together is redundant. Mix it up. Nothing that says you couldn't start one of the alphabet letters with the non-verbal descriptor portion rather than an actual piece of dialog. "Pausing briefly - did he notice the hesitation? - she placed her hand on top of his. 'You know that she deserves the world. Why make it harder?'"

You could also vary the way you describe the non-verbal action. Move away from the he/she did this/that structure. "Suddenly aware of motion, Walter glanced down to see his right hand fingers spinning the slender band of gold around his wedding finger, sliding it nearly off, revealing the paler skin tone beneath, then slowly sliding the ring back into place." Yes, that's atrocious, but it varies the order of the words, which makes the reading flow better.

I love the gradual way your terse exposition evolves. Innocent at first, but then we see motives. Lydia has worries about money. Is this why she married Walter? Is she disappointed at the estrangement he has with his mother? Is this something that has developed after their time together or was it there beforehand? What lengths is she willing to go to in order to ensure her daughter (and herself?) has the life *they* are entitled to? Lots of room for development here, and I end up wanting to know more about these two - how they came together, what keeps them together, and what (if anything) might tear them apart?

Keep writing.

Nancy C said...

FYI---this is friend Paul, not husand Paul. Still a great guy.

Paul said...

Of course I'm great - I'm bearded.

tsonodablog said...

Wow, I love this whole 'Red Writing Hood' concept. Makes you think, thus stretching your writing. Nancy, I thought your offering was amazing. Any criticism I might have? Not a one.


Erin said...

You so killed this! That is amazing, I could so see that whole senario as if it was happening in my own living room!

Excellent writing!

Jenny said...

What a cool challenge. I'm really impressed.

Kristy said...

Good job! I am impressed too. I shied away from this challenge this week!

Joanna Jenkins said...

High Five Nancy! You did a great job with this one.
Happy New year, jj

*LLUVIA* said...


Veronica said...

Wow! I too forgot about the whole alphabet prompt. I think your non verbals were fine with the exception of what others have said about "he said, she said".

You definitely nailed it!

By Word of Mouth Musings said...

Hi Nancy, was scrolling thro your blog, and have to say I didn't cotton on to the meme til I reached xenophobic THEN I remembered!