Short Story Workshop
Round 1: Workshop - Short Story: Excerpt 2
Each day this week we will be posting an anonymous excerpt from these five short stories currently being readied for this year's competition.
Now that you're in Grade Four you listen to that song and think about Grade Three. Things were simpler then, and brighter, and you had a crush on Optimus Prime. You had a colouring book of the Transformers where you drew hearts all over the pages with Optimus Prime on them, which you would slam shut as soon as anyone came in the room, quickly but never quickly enough, because the important thing about crushes is that someone knows you have one but not that you want them to know.
Yes, he was a truck, or sort of a man-truck, but definitely neither one nor the other, which made it okay. At least it was okay in Grade Three, at least you had graduated from pausing the Betamax during the Garfield Halloween Special and making out with the TV screen. Optimus Prime was a proper object of desire. Strong, thoughtful, always striving to do right. A little reserved maybe, but you knew what they meant when they said more than meets the eye. They meant he would know when to hold your hand and when to admire your freehand drawings of him and when to make Brian Freeholt, that snot-nosed little bully, explode in a violet spray of gore during recess, after he pantsed you and called you the king of the gaylords. Which even then you knew was a pathetic insult, because gay means happy and what's the difference between a king and a lord? There isn't.
This is from a story called "Glory Days" about a sexually confused eleven-year-old who falls in love with Bruce Springsteen, Springsteen being a surrogate for other boys in the world. It appears to me that the crux of the story is the relationship between the 'you' (narrator?) and the outside world (friends, his mother and older brother, all of whom don't 'get' him.)
The opening (which is the excerpt) could be much stronger. Later in the story the voice is freer and there is a ribald lost quality that reminded me of George Saunders' story "The end of Firpo in the world." (Look it up if you want to hear a voice that is young and confused and lost and very very sad. It would be a good model for how to catch the tempo and range and irrationality of a child who feels like an outsider and is heading into puberty. ) You begin to catch that tone with lines like, "Brian Freeholt, that snot-nosed little bully..." Capture it immediately. Rewrite the first paragraph and find the voice. Make the reader sit up and say, Whooa, who is this guy?
I'm not sure about the second person voice. Lorrie Moore did it well in one story and now it's a fad. Be careful. Of course it points the finger and implicates the reader, who becomes the 'you' in some way, but that's too easy, and it can be off-putting. You can draw on the empathy of the reader without using the second person. One possibility is to rewrite the first two pages in the first person, or try the third person limited, which is what Saunders does in "Firpo". Third person limited can feel almost like a first person voice.
We need to be in the kid's head. He's struggling. He's muddled. The opening line is weak and the last line of the first paragraph is confusing. I had to read it several times. This kid is transferring all of his affection onto Springsteen, a fantasy. Show us the contrast, as you do later in the story, between the dream world and the real world. The kid dials an 800 number to talk to a Smarties' representative. I loved that. Consider giving us that scene earlier in the story. Maybe it should start the story.
Also, your last scene (not shown here) offers the narrator being subtly seduced by one of his brother's friends. This might come sooner as well. Show us his struggle earlier on.Read all excerpts from the Short Story Workshop with David Bergen »