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Gloves Off: XXIV
Actions before thoughts, please
Today, let’s check out an excerpt from the novel Blood Drive by Lizzy Ostro. To read it as originally posted, please click here.
An Excerpt from Blood Drive
Another day, another needle.
Another canned question, another canned response.
“I’m good, you?” I say, mindlessly.
Nobody asks you how you are to really know.
My Comments: “Needle” = menace. I like that. Notice how you demonstrate “canned response” in the line of dialog, so you don’t need to name it in the preceding line.
After the dialog we lapse into Big Voice, declaring things. Be careful, the lack of physical verbs and the abundance of “is” and thought verbs such as “because” might not be your strongest opening. They answer questions before those questions are even raised in the reader’s mind.
Nobody answers to really tell you.
It’s not because they don’t care.
It’s not because they do care.
My Comments: Again, “thought” verbs such as want and because don’t raise tension. By explaining stuff, they flatten the energy. Get us into scene. Don’t explain the narrator’s motivation; instead, depict actions and allow the reader to decide the motivation. You can make these observations later, they’re valid, but get us into a scene.
It’s not because you don’t want to tell them.
It’s not because you do.
It’s because it’s robotic.
It’s a thing you ask.
It’s a thing you answer.
My Comments: You can demonstrate robotic. Please show us this world and allow the reader to decide it’s empty and robotic. So much of the internet is full of opinion pieces, and we’ve all gotten smart about avoiding them and looking for work that can show us and teach us something. That’s why you’ve got to bury your worldview more and more. Seduce readers with verbs in a scene, earn some authority, only then can you make bold, abstract statements.
There is nothing more to it.
But it would be rude to say nothing. You’re better off asking an empty, ingenuine question rather than saying nothing. That’s how the empty soul of our society works. Just make it look good on the surface, the rest doesn’t matter.
Janet is my blood taker today. She reminds me of the secretary at my elementary school. Lots of jewelry that looks like it could be made out of bottle caps. Bright colors. Big shapes. I’m surprised her shirt isn’t bedazzled in puff paint.
Janet has one of those laughs that sounds fat. Like a skinny person couldn’t make those noises. It’s comforting. You feel safe with people like her.
My Comments: All good. Excellent, we’re into scene. Better yet, avoid “is” by showing us Janet doing something. Janet stretches on latex gloves, then gloves atop those gloves. She sets the vials in order on the folded towel. She could be the secretary at my… Get the needle(s) back into the story.
At blood draws, I love how they ask “left or right?” And you put your arm on the wide, padded armrest. Every physical detail will give you more authority.
But I’m puzzled. Why does she say the next line? What has the narrator done to suggest he’s done this before? Does he have track marks on his arm? What prompts her to say the next line?
“I see you’ve done this before, Tom. Do you have any questions for me? You ready to get started?” Janet asks bubbly.
I say, “Yeah, I’m ready. I feel great. Let’s do this. But Janet?”
“Yes, Tom...” she asks, puzzled.She rips open the paper slip and picks out the needle.
on me. You take as much as you need.There are people to help out there. They need it more than I do.” I say, charmingly.
My Comments: Careful of the adverbs. In Minimalism you’re not allowed mindlessly or bubbly or charmingly, you’ve got to unpack those qualities so the reader decides. Imagine an actor. How would he pitch his voice or duck his gaze or force a lopsided aw-shucks grin to demonstrate “charmingly”?
It amazes me that I can so easily pretend to be a charming, caring man when on the inside, I’m a bitter piece of shit. I was never able to use that charm on a lady I had a crush on. And over the years, I stopped trying. Somehow, though, knowing that I’m just weeks away from my rehearsed lowering into the dirt, it’s gotten easier. Just when I thought I couldn’t care less, I do. And I guess when you have nothing to live for, maybe that’s when you can start to live.
My Comments: Okay, my take is that the character plans to commit suicide, right? Again, try to externalize I’m a bitter piece of shit. Demonstrate it through action/gesture/posture. Turn it into a performance instead of a declaration, okay?
As I sat there, I felt myself feeling light again. As my blood drained into each vial, I ebbed closer to that euphoric feeling you can only get when you’re losing your life line to a jolly woman named Janet. I look forward to that every time I’m in that chair. It feels almost good. Almost because it isn’t real. It’s just the body’s false sense of protection, as your life is slowly slipping away.
Funny how the world is set up in quite the same way.
My Comments: We skipped over the cold cotton swab smelling of alcohol. The latex tube cinched around the arm. Maybe the “thwak” of Janet slapping the forearm to bring up the veins. The plunge of the needle. Sometimes the blood draw tube loops against your arm, and you can feel the incredible heat of your own blood. All of these—or whatever you can invent—would help to pull the reader into what’s a pretty cerebral story.
If the blood is going into glass vials, the character could break one “by accident” and prompt the taking of more blood. Whatever the case, can you demonstrate this desire for more blood to be taken—instead of putting it into dialog?
Or, show the narrator going to several blood draws or blood banks, one after another, so the reader can realize he’s aggressively giving up his life.
If this is the opening of a novel, it’s very important real estate. Consider that this sequence might come later in a book. But first, we’ve got to be hooked by a system of pattern or actions.
In closing, Thank You!
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