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True Story: His Weakness

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posted on Oct, 4 2005 @ 10:59 PM
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Characterization exercise - True story. Rather than inventing characters for this exercise, I wanted to practice encompassing two real life personalities with writing. Names have been changed to protect egos. Also, I censored some language here and there.

His Weakness

“So let me get this straight. The guy offered you a hundred dollars to go to dinner with him?” In the darkness, he could see her soft face glow with the orange light of her cigarette every few moments.
“Yes.”
“And you’re considering it?”
“I could use the money…”
“Baby, when you tell me things like this, it makes me crazy. Why are you giving this guy the time of day? You are too classy for that.”

Alex didn’t really believe that Kristina was too classy for the stranger’s proposal. If she were really too classy for it, Alex thought, this conversation would have never begun. Alex used to think that Kristina was as proper and as classy as a princess. In time, he realized that she had nowhere near the decorum of a princess, but that didn’t stop him from regarding her as if she were one. She gradually came to consider this a weakness of his, perhaps due to her periodically polarized self-esteem, Alex thought.

“I can’t even imagine how a casual conversation could lead to such a proposition. Why are you even talking to this creep? How did you meet this guy?”

Kristina purposely ignored his questions. She was experienced at dodging explanations that would upset Alex – she knew he only repeated questions when he really wanted an answer, but most of the time, she thought, he didn’t really want to hear her answers. She was right. Alex didn’t want to hear how she met this guy. It couldn’t be good.

Kristina and Alex were lovers. It had always bothered Alex that Kristina was historically prone to give her time and (as he came to realize) her body to people he considered to be losers. Alex knew that Kristina wasn’t the right girl for him, for reasons such as this, but he was truly in love with her, somehow, and he wanted to stay with her.

From time to time, she treated him well and gave him the respect and passion that he needed, but it never lasted long. More often, she would give him the bare minimum that he required to stay with her. She had the ability to verbally craft situations to be acceptable to Alex somehow, but he could never figure out how. Kristina was right. She really was his weakness.

“I dunno, he just wanted to go to dinner and that’s it. A hundred bucks.” She afforded Alex what he considered a weak and unapologetic response. It was exactly what he expected. He was imbued with a feeling of utter revulsion listening to Kristina reassure herself that all the man wanted was her dinner company. He wondered how she could be so cheap. Perhaps she was just truly naïve, he thought, but was it due to her innocence or her ignorance? Alex’s thoughts led to Kristina’s mother. He knew her. She seemed like a proper lady – how could she raise her daughters to not know how wrong, indecent, and outright reprehensible it is to accept a man’s exchange of currency for company? Kristina wasn’t rich, but she was far from poor.

Alex’s intensity grew. He imagined the two at dinner, the stranger offering another proposition that led her into a hotel room somewhere. Alex refused to think about such a follow up. Deep down, he knew that if he continued that line of thinking, he would inevitably conclude that she indeed had a price. He saw the red flags. He didn’t want to think of Kristina that way. “Kristina, there is a word to describe girls who accept strange men’s offers of money in exchange for companionship. Do you know what that word is?”

Kristina was from a large family. She was a twin. Alex thought that because of this situation, Kristina strived for validation through attention. To Alex, this explained why she would give her phone number out to strange males in bars and night clubs during “girls’ nights out” that were occurring more and more frequently. Alex didn’t want to consider the alternate explanation – that she didn’t respect him. Alex, too, however, used attention as an indicator of his self worth. Whereas Kristina sought validation through sheer mass attention, Alex found validation in more personal and focused attention. To him, it was the quality of attention that made him feel good. To her, it was the quantity. They were both the same.

“The word is, ‘Whore!’”
For most of the conversation, she had been looking straight ahead at her steering wheel or out of the front windshield at the side of a building. She had trouble facing Alex when she knew she was speaking about something that he thought she should feel ashamed about. Now she turned to face him. Alex could see the beginnings of a smile on her face.

“If you want money, here, I’ll give you money!” Alex didn’t have a job at the moment, but he did have some cash. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a couple of folded and crumpled twenty dollar bills and pitched them into her lap. He didn’t intend for her to keep them. At the time, he vaguely wanted to show her that he could take care of her financially while simultaneously making her feel ashamed for acting like a damn whore. She took the money and slipped it back into his loose pocket.

“Fine, I won’t go if you don’t want me to.”
“I don’t want you to,” he assured seriously. Alex was visibly unsettled.
“Okay, fine.” She was satisfied that the conversation was over and she became playful. “Who needs him when I’ve got my sugar daddy right here!”

For a moment, Alex considered the situation. Had he been subjected to one of her tests? He knew that sometimes she would say things just to cause him grief, or to see how he would respond. The thought was fleeting, as she had already unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned over to embrace him. She slid her hand up the outside of his right thigh as they kissed. He slowly put his palm to her soft jaw as his fingers slid through her hair and his thumb came to rest on her warm cheek. For the moment, Alex was pacified. For him, all of the problems of the couple’s relationship and the world in general were solved while her lips engaged his. He knew it wouldn’t be long before she presented him with their next problem, but he also knew it wouldn’t come tonight.

She started her car and drove back to her sister’s house. The couple once again laughed and flirted for several minutes, until the two reached their destination and got out of the car. As Kristina proceeded into the house, Alex stayed outside. Lighting a cigarette, he sighed. “Delicious poison.” The poetry of his quiet remark surprised him. She was his weakness – he knew that now. He flicked his cigarette across the parking lot and walked up to the door. Opening it, he heard her voice from inside –
“Hey baby!”

-------------------------------------------

Fin.

So, there you have it. Two star cross'd lovers, eh? The couple was young, and the guy allowed the girl to control him to some extent. He thought that this satiated her, when in reality, it just fueled her appetite for power. The relationship came to a sad (and drawn out) end, but both individuals will likely love each other forever.

How do you feel about the characters? Do you "know" them to any extent? You have been given very little background information on them, especially Alex, but you get a real glimpse into Alex's thought processes. Kristina's thoughts are less clear - how do you feel about her?

Thanks for reading,
Zip


[edit on 10/4/2005 by Zipdot]




posted on Oct, 5 2005 @ 02:36 AM
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Hi Zipdot

Welcome to the writing workshop and thanks for being one of the first brave souls to submit your work. All niceties aside, now I'll begin with the business of critiquing your submission.


I'll start with the positive aspects of it:

First of all, your writing style is nice. Inviting, friendly, it draws one in... a 'natural' story-telling style that works well without any artifice. You can get away with murder using that style
But all the more to watch for things like clutter, anachronisms and wordiness.

• Your subject matter is intriguing and affords plenty of room to go in different directions
• Immediate conflict is also present (I will discuss tension a little later)
• Characters are distinct and you’ve done a good job (w/out too much detail) of informing us of who they are, especially with Alex

Things to Improve upon:

• Practical matters regarding 2-person dialogue (explained below)
• More expository matter can be converted to dialogue - I would like to 'see' more than what you are explaining to me. I don't want to be told they are lovers - show me.
• More details. Not necessarily of the characters themselves but of the world around them – what does the car look like? Is Alex’s face happy or unhappy? Are his hands clenched – one subtle line can go a long way in letting us ‘read’ the situation
• The scene could use a lot more tension – 'What’s at stake' is another way of looking at it
• We get into the head of Alex in the story, why not Kristina? Are you really convinced 3rd person is the way to tell it?

Suggestions:

Regarding 3rd person narrative, it usually enables you to be able to get into the head of both characters. One of the crucial things about telling a story is HOW to tell it. What is the best manner. Explore ALL options.

If you want one person’s view over that of another – as in your story – Perhaps you can consider writing it in first person. I’ve changed a few of your sentences into 1st so you can see what this looks like and have included first yours, then the changes. Note: I haven’t changed your lines at all other than ‘we’ and ‘Alex’ to I.


(3rd person)
Kristina purposely ignored his questions. She was experienced at dodging explanations that would upset Alex – she knew he only repeated questions when he really wanted an answer, but most of the time, she thought, he didn’t really want to hear her answers. She was right. Alex didn’t want to hear how she met this guy. It couldn’t be good.

Kristina and Alex were lovers. It had always bothered Alex that Kristina was historically prone to give her time and (as he came to realize) her body to people he considered to be losers. Alex knew that Kristina wasn’t the right girl for him, for reasons such as this, but he was truly in love with her, somehow, and he wanted to stay with her.


(1st person)
Kristina purposely ignored my questions. She was experienced at dodging explanations. She knew I only repeated questions when I really wanted an answer, but most of the time, she knew I didn’t really want to hear her answers. She was right. I didn’t want to hear how she met this guy. It couldn’t be good.

We were lovers. It had always bothered me that Kristina was historically prone to give her time and (as I came to realize) her body to people I considered to be losers. I knew that Kristina wasn’t the right girl for me, for reasons such as this, but I was truly in love with her, somehow, and I wanted to stay with her.

You may still have to go in there and change things around, as 1st person is a cleaner way of telling a direct story and you may now start to notice many things you can take out. 1st person in this case, also helps with your sense of immediacy and brings us closer to the main protagonist (Alex) who I am getting the sense of more clearly. I am a big fan of 3rd person myself, but there are times when 1st person is much better and you should feel comfortable using various points of view.

Practical things to keep an eye on during editing

In a two person dialogue it isn’t always necessary to add too many ‘thoughts’ not as in concepts but as in 'xxx', he thought. 'xxx,' she thought. Also perhaps some of the Alex and Kristinas can be changed to he, she, him, her. The changes will improve the flow.



Alex didn’t really believe that Kristina was too classy for the stranger’s proposal. If she were really too classy for it, Alex thought, this conversation would have never begun.Alex used to think that Kristina was as proper and as classy as a princess. In time, he realized that she had nowhere near the decorum of a princess, but that didn’t stop him from regarding her as if she were one. She gradually came to consider this a weakness of his, perhaps due to her periodically polarized self-esteem, Alex thought.


Alex didn’t really believe that she was too classy for the stranger’s proposal. If she were really too classy for it, this conversation would have never begun. He used to think that she was as proper and as classy as a princess. In time, he realized that Kristina had nowhere near the decorum of a princess, but that didn’t stop him from regarding her as if she were one. She gradually came to consider this a weakness of Alex, perhaps due to her periodically polarized self-esteem.


How to increase the tension in the scene (a few suggestions)

Let us see what is going on. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the proverbial line your hear writers always going on about.

What are their bodies like in the car? Are they sitting closely? Is she responding in an aloof manner? Not just what she says to Alex, but what does she do when she is ‘testing’ him, how is she acting? Right now we don’t know if she is being sincere or if the narrator wants us to believe she is.
What is the timeline of the relationship? Just starting out? In the middle? Toward the end? You may want to give us some indication either verbally or by action.

We need to feel closer to these two characters. You are almost there with Alex, with Kristina it is still nebulous territory. Without empathizing with them first, we will not be able to feel the necessary amount of tension. We need to feel the loss, fear and desperation in Alex. How much does he love her? If it isn’t love and just possessiveness and anger, we need to feel that too. Otherwise, we are just contemplating the logistics of a negotiating price.

Well those are my comments. I’ve tried to stick just to characterisation examples. Overall I think you have a way with words and can describe a scene. You aren’t overwriting (which is great) just be careful and cut out the useless stuff that might weigh things down – some people see it as ‘weeding’ or ‘uncluttering’. Play around with different voices. And work on tension, which will improve your piece. Another trick for tension is to make them speak quicker, less ‘he said, she said.’

Or do the opposite, make them quieter. Don’t be afraid to let the readers know what the characters are losing out on – make it gloomy/scary/difficult to deal with. That way, when they speak it carries more weight. Don’t make it too cheery, too insignificant.

I’d love to read your response to this. Do you agree, do you disagree and why. Good luck and I would like to see this again once you go back and rewrite; just to see what you decided to change and if this makes a difference. Hopefully, others will also comment on your story as well. Let me know if this was helpful in any way. Did you have any problems in any areas when writing? Anything you want to improve on?

Good job!



posted on Oct, 5 2005 @ 08:19 AM
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Originally posted by nikelbee
Hi Zipdot

Welcome to the writing workshop and thanks for being one of the first brave souls to submit your work. All niceties aside, now I'll begin with the business of critiquing your submission.



Thanks! Glad to be here.



Originally posted by nikelbee
First of all, your writing style is nice. Inviting, friendly, it draws one in... a 'natural' story-telling style that works well without any artifice. You can get away with murder using that style
But all the more to watch for things like clutter, anachronisms and wordiness.


Thanks. Check - I had to curb a couple of anachronisms before I posted it. The story was written and posted in about an hour, so I expected some issues.


Originally posted by nikelbee
Things to Improve upon:

• Practical matters regarding 2-person dialogue (explained below)
• More expository matter can be converted to dialogue - I would like to 'see' more than what you are explaining to me. I don't want to be told they are lovers - show me.


Ah-hah! I have a bad habit of writing explanations. Good call.


Originally posted by nikelbee
• More details. Not necessarily of the characters themselves but of the world around them – what does the car look like? Is Alex’s face happy or unhappy? Are his hands clenched – one subtle line can go a long way in letting us ‘read’ the situation


Indeed. I should remember that. It can be empowering for a reader to be given the opportunity to decypher subtle cues and hints.


Originally posted by nikelbee
• The scene could use a lot more tension – 'What’s at stake' is another way of looking at it


Aye.


Originally posted by nikelbee
• We get into the head of Alex in the story, why not Kristina? Are you really convinced 3rd person is the way to tell it?


No. Not anymore. I really don't know why I selected third person for this - I purposely left Kristina's thoughts out of the narrative. I wanted to show her through Alex's eyes, and first person would have been ideal for this. Dunno what I was thinking.


Originally posted by nikelbee
In a two person dialogue it isn’t always necessary to add too many ‘thoughts’ not as in concepts but as in 'xxx', he thought. 'xxx,' she thought. Also perhaps some of the Alex and Kristinas can be changed to he, she, him, her. The changes will improve the flow.


Yeah, I think if this were written in first person perspective, these two things wouldn't have been an issue. I was certainly aware of the overwhelming number of "Alex's" in the narrative while I was writing, but I couldn't take a hint.



Originally posted by nikelbee
How to increase the tension in the scene (a few suggestions)

Let us see what is going on. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the proverbial line your hear writers always going on about.

What are their bodies like in the car? Are they sitting closely? Is she responding in an aloof manner? Not just what she says to Alex, but what does she do when she is ‘testing’ him, how is she acting?


Check - 90% of communication is nonverbal! This is definitely an area that I need to develop.


Originally posted by nikelbee
What is the timeline of the relationship? Just starting out? In the middle? Toward the end? You may want to give us some indication either verbally or by action.

We need to feel closer to these two characters. You are almost there with Alex, with Kristina it is still nebulous territory. Without empathizing with them first, we will not be able to feel the necessary amount of tension. We need to feel the loss, fear and desperation in Alex. How much does he love her? If it isn’t love and just possessiveness and anger, we need to feel that too. Otherwise, we are just contemplating the logistics of a negotiating price.


Well said, and point taken.


Originally posted by nikelbee
Well those are my comments. I’ve tried to stick just to characterisation examples. Overall I think you have a way with words and can describe a scene. You aren’t overwriting (which is great) just be careful and cut out the useless stuff that might weigh things down – some people see it as ‘weeding’ or ‘uncluttering’. Play around with different voices. And work on tension, which will improve your piece. Another trick for tension is to make them speak quicker, less ‘he said, she said.’


Right, I hate that. I tend to follow dialogue with other types of indications of who is speaking - for instance,
“So let me get this straight. [...]” In the darkness, he could see her soft face glow with the orange light of her cigarette every few moments.


Originally posted by nikelbee
Let me know if this was helpful in any way. Did you have any problems in any areas when writing? Anything you want to improve on?


Yes. I am not used to characterizing or writing stories. Most of my writing concerns subjects rather than situations. I'm here to develop areas of my writing outside of my usual essay, letter, and poetry writing. There are so many ways to drop the ball and screw up a good narration - I fear coming across as strained or elementary, mainly. Thanks for the help - I'll rewrite this soon.

Zip



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