Tag Archives: Common Element

Writing is rewriting

justice_scaleSo, more people have read Perfect Justice now. Feedback is still rolling in.

The cool thing about hearing from multiple people, and why I push so hard to distribute my work, is that although everybody has one or two ideas unique to their personalities, there’s some advice which is the same from person to person.

That is the advice I latch onto, because it most likely represents a common element lacking in a story. And that’s why it’s important that as many people read and respond as possible.

Although I haven’t acted on most of his comments (as is my prerogative given that this is still ultimately my work), my co-worker Ted had possibly the single most brilliant insight about the opening of Perfect Justice. He pointed out that although I mention, briefly, that Replay technology is available commercially, I don’t expand on any of the possibilities. That’s a missed opportunity to draw the reader in to what a wonderful invention such a program might be. My shout-out to Ted is including baseball as one of the examples, even though I was tempted (from personal preference alone) to use an example from football instead.

As you know, I’ve been devouring podcasts about writing — more on my favorite podcast and the massive injustice to me in it in a future post. But for now, I’ll say that one episode about writing openings really opened my eyes to a simple but effective technique: mentioning objects as a form of quick and dirty, but very tangible description.

Perfect Justice has very little in the way of “here’s what things look like”, so that of course made me consider adding a little here and there.

The advice from the podcast is to use little lists of objects; especially adding one at the end that doesn’t fit with the others quite right to generate suspense. I’ll try an original example and see if I can convey how it works:

Mugs half filled with beer. A stain on the floor. A washcloth left on one table. And a flawlessly folded white kimono.

Did I succeed? You tell me. But the intent is obvious; I’m describing a bar. The kimono at the end is supposed to pull the reader in with a: What, what? Kimono? One of these things is not like the others… What’s going on? Who left a kimono in a bar scene? Why is it neatly folded in a place that’s still really messy?
Even though I may not have executed it correctly (it’s late and as always, I’m too close to the work anyway), it certainly was an effective technique when demonstrated in the podcast. The simplest of objects has a way of grabbing your attention when it’s mentally out of place.

The feedback on Perfect Justice which coincided with this is that a couple/three people have told me already (in their own various terminologies) that the story lacks imagery. And as a result, it’s hard to picture. So while it’s intellectually engaging (so I hope), it doesn’t hijack the reader’s imagination the way a truly well-crafted tale ought.

So I have been tinkering away at a new version. It follows here.

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Aiden struggled against the urge to speak out as they strapped him down. The bench was cold, even through his orange jumpsuit. He was self-conscious, almost shameful, of the touch of handcuffs and leg irons. The light from dozens of computers cast a pale glow across the lab. He ached to tell them how so very wrong they were, but it would have been futile; his protests would be ignored. What could he say that other prisoners hadn’t said?

The System was perfect. The System didn’t make mistakes.

Inevitably, they would discover their error, but this was little consolation. By then it would be too late. Still, Aiden had to try one more time. He couldn’t simply give up and let them win.

“I’m innocent,” he said flatly.

Nobody cared. In the background, someone even chuckled. Jackass, Aiden thought. But that was all the acknowledgment he got; no one else even glanced at him.

Aiden wondered what his lawyer was doing right now. Sipping sherry in a luxury condo? Providing legal advice to a gang leader who would probably walk?

The most worthless people on earth are the ones who bill for hundreds of dollars an hour, he thought, savoring the irony.

Aiden’s handlers plugged him into the latest hardware, the victim’s record already queued.

Full of nervous energy, Aiden’s mind began to play word games: Victim’s vision! Vicious vision! Vive la vision! Recognizing this might border hysteria, Aiden forced himself to breathe calmly. Beneath his apprehension lay an undercurrent of curiosity. Whatever horrors awaited, this would be his first experience with Replay, also available for commercial and entertainment use.

For normal people, Replay was a miracle come to life. The average Joe could feel – for a reasonable price – what it was like to throw the last pitch of a seven-game World Series. Or to ponder the first move against a grand master at a chess tournament. There were even rumors of black market recordings of sex with delicious Hollywood starlets.

Under other circumstances, this would be downright adventurous.

“Is he ready?” someone asked.

“Who cares? Do it,” one technician replied.

“Sweet dreams,” the first added cruelly.

Someone across the room typed a command, and the keyboard’s clacking was the last sound Aiden heard. His world vanished as abruptly as an extinguished light.