Lacuna

(Thought I’d share a short story I wrote several years ago and only just stumbled across.)

Lacuna

by: Allie Frost

         Café La Bréche was unusually busy for a Thursday morning. Outside, beneath the bright yellow awning, every table was occupied. To foreigners, the café advertised ‘Paris in a cup,’ but to the Parisians it was nothing more than a simple, somewhat tacky café by the Seine, the towers of Notre Dame watching thoughtfully in the distance.

Emery King wasn’t overly fond of the place, but she had picked it out—and so he went. She said she liked the ambience. He preferred to select his breakfast venues based on the food choice and whether or not he deemed the prices reasonable, but Mona would take burnt croissants and exorbitantly expensive espresso as long as the atmosphere was nice.

“Your coffee will get cold if you don’t drink.”

At his warning, Mona obediently took a sip from her mug, green eyes twinkling over the rim. “Cold coffee is not a tragedy,” she teased.

Emery scoffed. “For €4.50 a cup it is.”

Mona laughed. A breeze kicked up, and she brushed some auburn strands of hair from her face. She had changed her color again. She had been blonde the last time he saw her, and brunette the time before that. He didn’t even remember what her natural hair looked like—or if he had ever seen it.

Mona smirked. “You’ve always been too serious, Emery.”

Emery sighed, crossing one leg over his knee.

You are not serious enough.”

“I am known to be serious sometimes,” she informed him indignantly. “For example, when I tell you I am glad you came to visit, I am being serious.”

He dabbed at his moustache with a napkin. The foam from his coffee always collected there. He would probably need to shave soon. He had an important conference in about a week and wanted to look professional. Mona hated the moustache the last time they had met—Berlin, three years ago. It was half the reason he’d kept it so long. But this time she said she loved it.

“I could visit more often if we lived in the same country.”

Mona took the sunglasses from the top of her head and positioned them over her eyes. Emery wished she wouldn’t hide them. Sometimes, when he looked in her eyes, he could almost grasp what she was thinking, or feeling—almost. No matter what else she changed, her eyes had always been the same. Mystifying green.

“I like it here,” she determined. “There is no reason for me to move.”

Emery rolled his eyes. She liked it now. She would hate it in three months and move a thousand miles away, most likely, and he’d only find out when his letters would return to him unopened with ‘Return to Sender’ stamped in red on the envelope.

“You don’t even speak the language.”

Mona laughed lightly. Emery loathed that laugh as much as he loved it. Such a careless sort of afterthought – as though she found no actual humor in his words, but wanted to appease him. A whimsical flippancy. An expression of pity. It frustrated him.

“Precisely why I like it.”

Emery tried not to show his annoyance. She couldn’t even order a croissant in French. Yet she had lived in Paris for at least a year—or was it two? He didn’t remember. She knew ‘bonjour’ and ‘au revoir.’ Hello and goodbye. She was a creature of constant hellos and goodbyes – it was what came in between those hellos and goodbyes that kept changing.

“What is the point in living in a place where you can’t understand anyone?”

“That’s the point, though.” She stared at him, but he couldn’t quite see her eyes beyond the tinted lenses. “If you don’t understand, then you can pretend. The nastiest insults become the prettiest compliments when you don’t understand the difference.”

             It’s a pretend life, he wanted to tell her. You’re not really living.

But of course he wouldn’t say that. She wouldn’t listen anyway.

He sighed.

“I will never understand you, Mona.”

He had known her for a long time—thirteen years. Since freshman year of college. Every sporadic letter, every fleeting conversation since then always felt like he was speaking to someone he had never met. Struggling to hang on to the image of a person he would never really know, and perhaps, had never known at all.

She smiled coyly. “No, you won’t. But it’s better that way.”

Her coffee had stopped steaming. She had only taken a few sips—the mug was over half-full. €4.50 for a cold coffee. Such a waste—a tragedy.

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Writing Rewind #2: Wings of Fate – Chapter 1 Part 1

Because the chapters of this monstrosity are so long (the first was 10,000+ words and it’s one of the “shorter” ones if you can believe it) I’m splitting them each into at least 2 parts. Some may even be 3, depending on the content. Since I’m only including snippets instead of the full draft, which means large cuts in plot and context, I will attempt to assemble some semblance of a story from the passages I select. Don’t want y’all to miss out on the extremely well thought out and plausible plot I devised ten years ago!

Last time we dissected the problematic prologue, which introduced a mysterious “mission.” This time, we meet our hero, and my very first original protagonist (of some kind of substance) – Heiwa! So let’s get started with Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter.

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch1p1

*sigh* Here we go again… bogged down with excess description and detail.

If it wasn’t cringe-worthy enough in itself, I envisioned this piece as an “anime/manga,” hence the random Japanese phrases strewn about. But that’s the least of the issues, here, so I’m not going to bother pointing them all out. Rest assured, I am mortified by them.

Every sentence just keeps going, and going, and going, when it has already conveyed the message and does not need any further explanation.

Also, way, way too many adverbs. I’m actually not as anti-adverb as some folks tend to be (within reason), but I do think they should be used sparingly. A decade ago, I was a huge advocate of adverbs; but I didn’t really know better. Still… I look forward to hacking through them. Might get my word count under 200,000 with that alone!

So, an initial scan yields this:

ch1p1marks

Time to get rid of that awkward phrasing and those pesky adverbs! Not to mention the overly-descriptive passage about Grandma. Her character becomes clear later through dialogue and her interactions with others, and doesn’t need to be so overt from the get-go. We don’t need a full description in her first appearance. Or ever, really.

ch1p1fixed

Despite losing some description, Ritsuko’s character and personality still seems to come through, as does her relationship with Heiwa. And it could be done in far less words! Imagine that!

*cracks knuckles* The next bit is going to be… well… a challenge. But it does show just how bloated this entire story is, as there are passages like this throughout the piece.

ch1p2

SWEET JESUS. Where to START? I almost wish I could highlight all of it in red.

ch1p2marked

While some degree of description is necessary for setting and for characterization, as blindly leading a reader into a story probably isn’t wise, I think I laid it on a little too thick. And by “a little,” I mean way too thick. There does need to be set-up of some kind, especially since the story is futuristic, but an exposition dump is almost always a bad way to approach it.

These revelations should be more gradual, especially when it comes to the protag; we’re going to be spending 22 chapters with this guy, so not everything needs to be spelled out right at the beginning. Especially not in such a callous way, either – the listing of his flaws comes off as trying too hard to show what a “screw up” Heiwa is, or to downplay him on purpose; like making a girl protagonist “clumsy” just to give her a flaw. In retrospect, the message doesn’t need to be quite so heavy-handed, as his personality unfolds throughout the introductory chapters and doesn’t need to be foisted upon the reader right at the start.

ch1p2fixed

The word count for the selection was more or less halved, and nothing was really lost. Everything that needed to be said is still there in a more concise manner. Heck, it could probably be trimmed even more! HECK, I PROBABLY COULD HAVE LEFT IT ALL OUT. But, I digress… onto the next snippet!

ch1p3

I thought the last section was bad, but now, I… am beginning to regret doing this. I’m not sure I can take it. I might just shrivel up and die of embarrassment.

ch1p3marked

FIRST OF ALL, THAT CRINGE-TASTIC RED HIGHLIGHTED SENTENCE HAS GOT TO GO. That is so, so, so bad. “Green orbs.” I am horrified. LAY OFF THE EYE DESCRIPTIONS, ALLIE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Sadly, as I have seen the rest of this work (being the one who wrote it, and all) I know it will only get worse from here on out. Much worse.

Also, lots of awkward wording and phrasing that needs to be refined.

ch1p3fixed

Whew, the cringe is gone! Well… most of it, anyway.

The last portion for the first part of the chapter (because I don’t think I have the energy to any more of it today… I need a break to ponder my life choices) features another character; Heiwa’s mother, Izumi.

ch1p4

*gets out the scissors* TIME TO START CUTTING!!!!!!

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Izumi doesn’t need to spell out her entire life story and the progression of her illness all in one chunk of dialogue. Especially since it has already been discussed previously, and it is partially explored in the paragraph that follows it. It’s just too much, and can be narrowed into something that is more efficient.

ch1p4fixed.PNG

AH, much better! So much is gone, but not much is lost. Izumi’s personality and her situation peek through without bombarding the reader with info. Subtlety is a virtue… one I did not understand a decade ago.

That’s it for today – I’ve done enough damage! Next time, we’ll tackle the second half of Chapter 1… which is, unfortunately, similar to the first. We’ll discover what “the letter” means and how it will affect our hero, Heiwa. Hopefully, I can whip the latter half of the chapter into shape without splintering my sanity.

Writing Rewind #1: Wings of Fate – Prologue

I’ve mentioned my history with fanfiction in a previous blog post, and I’ve probably touched on some other early writing ventures, but perhaps the most significant of those endeavors is the 539 page, 285,000+ word anime-inspired sci-fi epic, Wings of Fate, which I wrote when I was a 14-15 year old “weeaboo” with lofty dreams of drafting a masterpiece. Sadly, the end result was a nightmare.

I look back on it sometimes when I need a chuckle at my own expense, because it’s bad. Unfortunately, these strolls down memory lane typically result in more cringing than anything else, but for the last decade or so, the file has been sitting mostly untouched on a flash-drive.

Therefore, I thought I could use it for an experiment, of sorts – I’ll cut out snippets, chapter by chapter, post them here, then examine mistakes I made and how I could have improved it. I’m not a “pro”  but I don’t intend to do anything with this work (no serious editing and I do not want/intend to attempt to have it published in the future) so I might as well use it as an exercise. Sure, digging up past examples of my terrible writing might not be the best idea for my ego and could even induce some level of trauma, but who knows? It might be therapeutic!

I won’t be posting all of it, so some context will be missing, but I’ll do my best to bridge the gaps. I mean, the whole thing was over 500 pages on WordPerfect, single-spaced except for paragraph breaks. I typed it on my now-ancient Dell PC, and it’s a tedious read that can probably be classified as torture. The end result of this little exercise won’t be perfection, but it will certainly be an adventure!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

So here we go… with Prologue: The Mission! (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

 

P1

I have mentioned my previous tendency to over-explain and add superfluous detail; an issue that still creeps up on me to this day. I was tempted to strikethrough the entire thing…and it’s only the first paragraphs. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

So, after a scan, this is what I came up with:

P1FIX

First of all, I described the general’s eyes as “icy azure,” and then “frigid.” I guess I REALLY wanted to make sure everyone knew how cold he’s meant to be. Forewarning, this will be a recurring theme with the personality/physical traits of various characters. This whole section is bogged down with needless detail and a lot of “tell” instead of “show.” It’s just TOO MUCH.

And so, after a quick edit, this is the fixed version:

p1fixes

Streamlined and much shorter – it attempts to set the scene without delving into too much unnecessary detail and description.

Let’s move on to…

p2

Again… this is just… no. Just no. My initial reactions resulted in this:

p2error

I mean… clearly, I didn’t do much research prior to writing this, but for a story that features a confidential, military-related mission, the way I framed it is RIDICULOUS. Plus, it would never happen. Not that I was aiming for “believable,” but even the parts that could have been at least a tiny bit plausible were just… a mess.

ALSO WHY WOULD I EVER DESCRIBE SOMETHING AS “GOOD-SIZED?”” I mean really. USE YOUR WORDS, ALLIE!!!!

Here’s how I fixed it:

p2fixed

I can feel the 533 pages being pared down already – like a sheep being shorn from the shackles of its oppressive fleece. How I wish I could travel back in time and give Past-Allie a thesaurus and a good smack in the face!

p3

Again… way too much all around. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, “The General” is a cold man. Frigid, even. I don’t think I used nearly enough adjectives to describe him.

p3errors

These were my initial edits, but I did rework some sentences a bit more as I slogged through through the changes. (I know “General” is meant to be under-cased, but since no names were used in the prologue, I capitalized it to make it more clear.)

p3fixes

Seeing a theme? Edits are much shorter, because, back when I was 14/15, I frequently fell into the all-too-common trap of incessant, grating detail. Gotta leave something for the reader to draw on their own instead of beating them over the head with it.

Lastly, to send off this disaster…

p4

*headdesk*

p4errors

Notice there is only ONE SENTENCE LEFT UNTOUCHED. ONE. OF SEVERAL. And really, the comma in that sentence is sketchy.

Also, the two red segments scream of using a thesaurus for certain words. Typically, there is nothing wrong with this as the thesaurus is a useful tool, but it sometimes makes a sentence or phrase sound unnatural. I mean, “Ebony tresses?” “Azure eyes met cerulean heavens?” Kill me. However, I can see where my tendency to refer too-often to a character’s eye color began.

Less is more. LESS IS MORE. I was quite obviously not aware of that back then…

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Sadly, this is only the prologue. The ensuing chapters (of which there are 22, I think – I will probably split each chapter into 2 posts) are all absurdly long (I had a notorious reputation for long chapters in my fanfiction days) and the story was crammed with so much detail and bloated dialogue and repetition that it might cause me to lose my sanity to revisit all of it. However, despite the pain, it does feel good to go back and trim down the superfluous bits, and be able to pinpoint and mend the errors I made in my writing a decade ago. This is equal parts soothing and enraging… though the scales may tip more in favor of “enraging” as this blog series continues.

Next time, I’ll venture onto Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter. We’ll meet our reluctant hero and get a taste of what his life is like… it’s probably going to contain frequent references to his eye/hair color, so brace yourselves now.

 

*Also, thanks to anyone who bought the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, during the Countdown Deal this weekend! If you missed out, it’s still just $4.99 to purchase at Amazon, but I’ll be running more deals in the future!

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