Gloves Off: Round XXXI
The beginning or the end?
Today we’ll dive into a short scene from a novel, The Truant, by Syzygy.
To read the scene as originally published, please click here.
On 138W 42nd St, was a cinema called The Truant. Vincent stuffed his glove into his front jean pocket and pulled out seven quarters, two dimes, three nickels, and seven pennies. Under the spinning lights, dirty papers, popcorn buckets, soda cups and cigarette butts decorating the entrance, he paid admission, and tried not to track anything with him inside.
My Comments: Does he get a ticket? It would make a good through-line object. Consider not defining The Truant for a beat; instead, try something like The Truant hung over the sidewalk between a lunchtime beanery and ‘Wholesale Wigs to the Trade Only.’ Neon tubes snake-vined up the front, blinking out The Truant in twitches of blue, then red…
Allow us to recognize it’s a theater as Vincent pays and gets his ticket. The mystery makes a better hook. And careful about your verbs. Instead of paid and tried look for more specific, physical verbs. For instance: he slid the coins through a slot in the window and he shuffled and shook his feet clean before pushing through the glass door.
He was wearing his best suit and tie in the theater by accident. Behind the doors, the screening room looked like an alley. Everyone else was dressed in the type of clothing you would see hanging on tenement clotheslines. The men and women laughed like cats, chickens, and naughty children. The imitation velvet seats were torn, colored brown but that might not have been the original color because the tone like all else was wildly uneven. He fidgeted with his watch, then tried blending in with the smoke in the room, sitting in the back, and lighting his own quiet cigarette. He breathed in the smoke hard, hoping to muddle another smell that had newly touched his nose and threatened to enter. A smell that he tried to avoid realizing might be piss. The darkened room fell into deeper darkness, then, a flash of gritty white numbers on the screen counted backwards. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. Butt.
My Comments: Describe his best suit, because that will describe Vincent, and how does he try to protect this suit in such a dive. Does he slip off the jacket and fold it over his arm? Is the floor sticky—a theater thing? As always, try to avoid thought verbs. Thus tried to avoid realizing might be piss might become A smell he kept telling himself wasn’t piss.
With similes such as the screening room looked like an alley, look for ways to detail that comparison. How does the room look like an alley? For instance: The screening room stretched into the darkness, as narrow as an alley. Pinched in on both sides by high walls that disappeared as they rose into the smoke and gloom. Yeah, I know, gloom is an abstract, but somehow archaic language snags in the reader’s mind if it’s not overused.
Sea foam pounced on a woman’s half moons. They were tight. Then the camera cut to her soft, filtered expressionless face, then it switched to her head from behind with the ocean rising towards the audience, to get a full look at her flowing dirty blonde beach waves. The tide washed just above her head. Shark braving heart and body sank into the inertia of watery gravity.
My Comments: If the setting and actions and objects—so far—are clear and careful, you might get away with poetry this early. It’s got to be clear that it’s Vincent who’s perceiving Shark braving heart and body sank into the inertia of watery gravity. Otherwise, as the writer you’re imposing yourself on the story and trying to impress with style. One of the strengths of first-person is that it allows for this type of poetic language, because people talk funny. In third-person you risk looking like you’re trying to impress as the writer.
Emerging from the surface of the sea, a dark narrow faced man decorated with a seaweed mask leered into the darkened water beneath him. As quickly as he appeared above, he raced to the bottom of the ocean. The audience looked into a strange acropolis of underwater caves, framing the two bodies who pretended to float. A hair stylist must have drenched them in hairspray to make their hairs coil mid air. The man was dressed as Poseidon the sea god, and the woman was naked. He wrapped her in his kelp and attached himself to her and they began. He kissed her bosom, her moons, her starry eye lids. She kissed his shell encrusted beard and the conch shell between his legs. The cave grew dark so a deep vignette framed the woman’s 20 foot tall head as she blew a 30 foot long conch. Some of the audience members yipped, hooted, and made other weird noises with their o-shaped mouths. Vincent watched this with the same level of emotion as the actors. What was it about beauty within the obscenely graphic? His eyes switched like the camera between the people kissing on the ground and the people kissing in the air. Snap. Sizzling old rags steaming rotten breath in sighs. Their voices like gravel from chain smoking. Snap. Aquamarine fantasy between Neptune and his nymph. Then, that fake underwater cave became so dark there wasn’t a difference between the worlds divided by the thin veil of film.
My Comments: I loved and they began. Because the actor has a conch between his legs and the actress is blowing a conch… is this a pornographic movie?
Keep the cigarette smoke present. A shifting veil that hovers or rises, adding motion to the scene. If possible, keep us aware of the gloves in his pocket.
Also, what’s twenty and thirty feet to the narrator? This is a chance to describe the narrator by the way he describes things.
Vincent felt a heavy breath fill his chest. The charm revealed itself. His life was a movie. Everyone felt so fake. The audience were equally talented actors. Silhouettes of arms and legs waved before him like black sea grass. He exhaled and his muscles went limp under a cloud of smoke. The last that he saw was another strange sight. The director had decided to blow up these miniature white balloons on thin white strings, dozens of them, and let them float upward in front of the camera.
My Comments: This is tough. A character alone having an epiphany? In the first chapter? Be careful. The first chapter/scene should hook us with questions, it should not resolve tension through revelation.
In the novel Theater by Maugham, the main character ultimately arrives at a restaurant. She’s an actress, and as she eats alone and anonymous she watches couples dancing. She sees them through an archway that suggests a proscenium, and she realizes that everyone is playing a part in life. This kind of observation works in Theater but only because it comes at the tail end of the novel. If you put such a lonely revelation at the beginning you risk telling the reader that problems can be explained away.
Beginning are about raising questions—and thus creating tension.
A smile flickered on the curl of his lip.
My Comments: I’d much rather a stranger’s hand crept up the inside of his thigh. Or that piss was confirmed. Or that he loses a glove in the murk. Anything that carries the tension forward.
Forgive me if this scene comes at or near the end of the novel. It seems to resolve so much and end with a gesture of happiness or contentment. But if it is an opening, we need to see tension. As it is I’m not sure it’s a porn movie. If it is, the ticket stub can be found and reveal Victor as having gone to a grind house.
The only thing that seems to be at risk is his suit. Can you do something with that? He fiddles with his watch; can you suggest the time? Is it dark or light when he arrives? How can you suggest potential menace or reward?
Whatever the case, Thank You!
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