Shallow byOprise

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Shallow byOprise

Post  OpRise on Mon Feb 06, 2012 12:47 am

[I started this about 6 months ago, but couldn't find an ending. I re-wrote the second half. Still not super satisfied with it, but it's better than it was. The point of this one was to write something with dialogue because I've never really done that.]

**

Shallow

The sun sets low and long in West Texas. Miles of flat plains in all directions make the earth seem bigger. Mom and I sat out on the screened in porch, waiting for Grady. Mom sat with her feet up on a wicker chest, her thin lips lightly pressed and drawn, flipping through Home and Garden. I fidgeted. Wondered why I hadn't just sent Grady a ticket.

"Your brother will be here shortly." She didn't glance up. It was not a statement of fact, but an instruction: sit still. I exhaled louder than necessary and reached over for Dad's old tobacco can. There was still tobacco in it, after all these months. And papers. I rolled a cigarrette and lit it, thinking about what my retort would be if she said anything. She didn't.

The smoke smelled good. Nostalgic. It tasted stale, but it was the kind of evening, a soft humidity in the first whispers of a cooling breeze, that the smoke was substantial, filling, satisfying.

A black beat up Trans Am pulled up and Grady got out of the passenger side. I didn't get a good look at the driver before the car jerked forward and roared off. Grady seemed older, taller. It'd been about five years since I'd seen him. He swaggered up the sidewalk, clearly going for a manly look.

"Hey, bro." He opened the front porch door and didn't break his stride as he headed into the house and turned on something fast and loud. I glanced at Mom and she didn't look up. The corners of my mouth notched upward. She seemed to be flipping those pages of Home and Garden with a hell of a lot more gusto. In one dramatic, graceful movement I stubbed the cigarette, swiveled out of the chair, and widely swung the front porch screen door open on my way inside.

Grady was in his room laid out on the twin bed with the door partially open. I gave a half-assed knock and slipped in. Made a beeline for the sound system and turned it down. "You all packed?"

"Nah. I'll pack tomorrow."

"We have to leave at 6."

"I'll pack tomorrow."

Oh god. Is this what the next few years were going to be like? I sat down on the bed. "OK." I had to set the mood right on this deal. Don't nag. He's practically an adult. "I hated living here too. I'm stoked you're coming to New York."

He grunted. "Did she tell you why she kicked me out?"

​"She said you've been in hanging out with the wrong crowd." I said this last with a slight wink as if to say I know she's a moron. Just behind my smirk I wondered what kind of trouble he'd find in the city.

"I told her was an atheist. She said I was no longer her son. Hasn't talked to me since."

I rested my head against the palms of my hands, eyes closed.

"You know Mom," he mumbled.

I looked over at my brother's crinkled forehead and sharp gaze, putting all his concentration on untangling the threads of a friendship bracelet. Made well. Black and yellow threads. "Where'd you get that?"

"Some girl."

Don't force it. I went out into the the living room and peeked outside. Porch was empty. I looked over and Mom's door was closed. I sighed and made us a couple sandwiches for dinner.

My bed that night was the couch since Mom had converted my room into a sewing mecca when I left for college. Grady nudged me awake the next morning, bags packed and lined up by the couch. I stretched and grabbed my phone. It was 3 am. Too early. I threw on some clothes anyway and brushed my teeth at the kitchen sink.

The old fridge was covered with Bush magnets and crosses. Family values. The wallpaper was the same as from when I was a kid. It seemed faded. Little orange flowers on a blue background. It was spick and span though, even near the stove. Mom kept a clean house. I could just imagine her washing down that wallpaper, scrubbing it where there were grease stains. I decided to make breakfast. I clanked as many pots as I could find, loudly making a lavish feast of bacon, ham, eggs and toast. But Mom never came out. We ate a little and tossed the rest. I left the dishes.

"Come on, let's go. I need to introduce you to your half of our 650 square foot castle in the city."

He didn't smile, but he didn't look at me like a total square either. The drive was quiet and dark, and we arrived at the airport as the eastern skyline began to get light, a fishy pinkness welling up into a washed out blue. We got checked in and through security and settled in to wait at Gate 1. Of 2.

Grady fiddled with his phone. I stared out on the horizon, wondering for the second time if I'd ever see this part of the world again.

The sun was already up and burning. The long, high windows invited in its warmth. I closed my eyes and let it envelop me. Remember the feel of it. Yep. The ​sun rises quick and hot in West Texas.
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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  KindOfBlue06 on Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:03 am

I really liked this! The dialouge is believable and so are the characters. What got me more than the dialouge however, was the silence of the Mother. Even though she hardley spoke, her character is revealed by her actions -a great technique to use in further writtings. I liked the setting too. The fact that you said the land goes on in all directions or something to that affect leads me to believe that you can take your story and character anywhere(in any direction.)

As for the ending...perhaps an ending with the narrator looking back on what transpired in New York, would suit the story well.

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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  OpRise on Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:33 am

I appreciate your thoughts.. thanks!
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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  TheBikloptiKon on Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:52 am

Really great work! The protagonist's nostalgia contrasts nicely with Grady's indifference to the place he grew up. Will Grady come to miss the place he left all those years ago? Will the big city be kind to this inexperienced "too cool for school" type kid? Seems like Ma's withdrawing from the world... Can I say the word intriguing without sounding like a doofus? Just did, I s'pose, doofus or no. Great dialog, both external and internal. Keep it up, 'twas an excellent read Very Happy
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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  WannieTheSane on Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:52 pm

Wow! This was actually amazing. Awesome characterisation and even though you said you wanted to practise dialogue I almost didn't notice the dialogue, which is a good thing because it just seemed so natural.

I loved this line at the beginning:

It was not a statement of fact, but an instruction: sit still.

Haha, I could just picture a mom using a statement as an instruction.

Honestly I am really impressed by this. You gave the exact right amount of detail (like the wallpaper being scrubbed of bacon grease) but also didn't bother with the background much. This is something I have a hard time with because I think you need to tell people what everything looks like, but I didn't even realise you hadn't described much until I just started talking about your descriptions now.

So, yeah, wow! I look forward to reading more from you!
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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  OpRise on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:50 am

Thank y'all so much for reading and commenting!

Wannie, I struggle with that too.. I tend to either give no detail and it all be internal or I get lost in the details and forget the story. I'm glad this one had some balance. I'm trying to work on showing not telling as well. Call me on it if you see something that doesn't work. Smile
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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  WordsandSilence on Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:01 pm

Hi OpRise,


I like the story a lot. Some specifics:

1. Good opening: Short sentence; broad, sweeping observation…before homing in on details of the scene.

2. I, too, with WannieTheSane, appreciated the well-phrased insight “It was not a statement of fact, but an instruction: sit still.”

3. Good use of short sentences, and sentence fragments, like: “Nostalgic.” And “And papers.”

4. Like KindofBlue, I find it a good use of “presence by mostly-absence/silence” in the case of the mother character.

5. I like the passage, “The sun was already up and burning. The long, high windows invited in its warmth.” (Non-cliched descriptions.)

6. I like the originality, and nature descriptions, of, “The drive was quiet and dark, and we arrived at the airport as the eastern skyline began to get light, a fishy pinkness welling up into a washed out blue.”

7. I like this paragraph a lot—its use of short sentence and long sentence, lyrical description of nature, and finishing with a good series (without the expected connecting “and.”): “The smoke smelled good. Nostalgic. It tasted stale, but it was the kind of evening, a soft humidity in the first whispers of a cooling breeze, that the smoke was substantial, filling, satisfying.”

8. I like the symmetry of opening and closing the story with comments on the sun in the landscape.




Possible edits:

1. The second and third sentences both begin with “Mom.” You might consider combining the sentences, or in other ways using a pronoun, or at least putting one of the “Mom”s somewhere other than the sentence’s first word.

2. In paragraph 10, you may want to capitalize “god.” “God” is usually capitalized (the plural “gods” is usually not). On a similar note, you may want to consider capitalizing “mecca.”

3. You may want to consider something like “I winked, as if to say…” instead of, "I said this last with a slight wink as if to say,” because some literally oriented readers might find their brain getting stuck on the image of speaking with an eye… Also, the unintended echo of "said" and "say" is probably best avoided. (As a bonus, just saying "I winked, as if to say" makes it more concise.)

4. In the sentence, “He swaggered up the sidewalk, clearly going for a manly look,” you may want to consider just dropping the second half of the sentence, or “showing” us one more detail (in addition to swaggering, which is a good start) of how he was trying to be manly, without coming out directly and “telling” us that he was trying to be manly.

5. You may want to consider distinguishing the speech patterns of brother from the narrator. The narrator in this story often drops beginnings of sentences, like “Wondered why I hadn't just sent Grady a ticket,” and “Made a beeline for the sound system and turned it down.” So, in paragraph 13 or so, when brother says, “Hasn't talked to me since,” you might want to consider him saying that differently—perhaps with the “She” at the beginning of the sentence…and perhaps less formally than using the word “hasn’t,” if he’s young and swaggering.

6. "I told her was an atheist” presumably needs a second “I.”

7. The piece ends on, what to my sensibilities is, an almost beautiful note. If it were my story, I would take out the “Yep” in the ending…unless I were absolutely going for wryness and irreverence at the expense of the emotionally evocative and lyrical. I think the story has plenty of light-hearted irreverence in the characters and narration already, and would be balanced and positively rooted in heartfelt aesthetics if both the beginning and ending were allowed to speak directly and sincerely on their observations of the landscape.

Of course, and as always, my suggestions for “possible edits” are humbly offered with the understanding that you, the writer, get to decide how you want to do things.


Again, overall I think it’s a very good story, and I liked it very much. Good use of dialogue; good balance of abstract and concrete; good psychological insights sprinkled in. Good sentence variation; lyrical nuggets…and more.


I’m looking forward to more of your writing.

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Re: Shallow byOprise

Post  OpRise on Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:09 pm

WordsandSilence,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this Awesome feedback! sunny I Very Much appreciate it, and your constructive edits are just the kind of thing I was hoping to receive to improve my writing - for this story, but most importantly going forward. You rock!

Have a wonderful week, and I look forward to reading your writing. ^^

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