“The Saga Begins: A Conversation with Myself”–Philip Odom

Honorable Mention, Fiction

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

Wait, so that’s how we’re going to do it?  I know it’s a short cut to set a mood, but come on.  Why is it all the scary things happen on dark and stormy nights?  If you’re a great writer you should be able to make things even scarier on a bright and sunny afternoon as children play in the distance and fluffy clouds waft gently by.  That’s how you do it, you smack the reader upside the head with something out of left field, not spoon feed them clichéd images to prime the emotional pumps.

Are you quite done?  I’m trying to write a story here.

Could’ve fooled me, but please continue flailing about on the keyboard.  It amuses me.

If I might get this thing going… ahem.   “It was a bright and sunny afternoon…”

Are you for seriously right now?  You’ve not only completely ripped off my line, you think fixing it involves pretending it’s opposite day?  I thought we could write better than this drivel.  Maybe instead of setting mood we establish the mood through artful storytelling and well-developed characters?  Can we do that?

Okay then.  “John fished around in his bag for the wallet he knew would be there.  It wasn’t.  Even though he knew he had put it there just last night when he turned off Leno…”

Alright first of all, what is up with that sentence structure anyway?  It’s all choppy and flows horribly, almost like you copied and pasted the crap that comes in spam email and put it into what I’m increasingly generously calling a story.  And Leno?  What, is this story set like five years ago?  Who watches Leno?

I’ll have you know I’m using that as a device to set the time period.

Really?  Be that as it may, it’s a little ridiculous for an opening act on your magnum opus.  Plus, I mean, you’re in a class with a bunch of twenty-somethings that probably don’t remember Leno much but as a punchline for jokes on Family Guy.

Okay, okay.  We’re losing focus.  Back to the story; what would you suggest, oh knower of knower and seer of seers?

You forgot prognosticators of prognosticators since you’re going to be quoting old movies and pretending you’re being original.  Well we know you suck at establishing setting, and also suck at diving right into the story, so what can we do that plays up to your talents?  I know, terrible poetry!  No, wait, that’s so terrible that even hipsters won’t enjoy it ironically. 

Watch it, pal.

Pal?  What are you, like 70?  Anyway, we need to play up to strengths you don’t have, so I guess we need to ask someone else to write it?  Nah, we don’t have the time for that.  Why don’t we see what you come up with for a different beginning?

“Call me…”

Stop!  Oh my God stop!  Herman Melville, you are not.

Touché, touché. Well let’s try this:  “Darkness.  A heavy, wet darkness clung to everything, making every breath a cloud of memories that wafted from the nose and dissipated into the ether.  Footfalls reverberated from the surrounding walls and faded off into the distance as flashes of blue light pierced the otherworldly smokiness.  Detective John pulled the collar of his overcoat in tighter and cursed lightly under his breath.  His gait slowed when the police tape materialized in front of him.  He surveyed the scene with the grim sense of duty that being a front line grunt will give you.  Bullet casings here, blood splatter there, and a body looking almost peaceful as it lay in the middle of the alley; it was all just another day on the job.”

Wait, so you write Noire fiction now?  I’ll bet next thing you’ll be telling the reader that the cop is grizzled and somehow establish that it’s 1949.  Oh, wait, and in Los Angeles, right?  You’re totally ripping off that game LA Noire, aren’t you?

Shut up! Well… I might have been a little bit.

I knew it!  I don’t know that Noire is your strong suit.  I mean, it’s not bad, but let’s face it; you seem to be trying way too hard to shoot for something here… and you’re kind of missing.

Jackass.

Hey!  I’m just here to help!  Switch gears.  Write about what you know, right?  Pick something you know a lot about and start writing.  Let’s do that, but let’s do that well; shall we?

Well, let’s see what I can come up with aside from a string of insults directed at you.  Hmm… how about:  “The alarm clock blared with nearly feigned urgency.  John flipped onto his side with a grunt and opened one eye to glare at the clock that dared interrupt his sleep.  Reaching a hand up into the air, he slammed it down on the snooze button to teach that particular miracle of modern technology a lesson.  Satisfied that punishment had been swift and justice served, he rolled on his opposite side and drifted off to sleep…”

Just what the hell is “feigned urgency” for an alarm clock?  How does an inanimate object feign anything?  You do know what that word means, don’t you?

Of course I do.  Feign:  verb; pretend to be affected by (a feeling, state, or injury).

Oh look who figured out how to Google a word.

It’s a rough draft.  You shaddup with that attitude about word choice.  I’d have fixed it later.

Sure you would have, but it doesn’t matter.  This story isn’t going anywhere, is it?  It’s just the story of you getting ready for work in the morning, isn’t it?  Why don’t we go back to the detective story, drop the Noire and dripping pretentiousness, and see what’s there?

Don’t make me drink you into a stupor.

Oh, you know I just get louder and more right.  Or, well, more right, all the way up until I convince you that hitting on the impossibly-hot, straight bartender is a good idea.

You have done that from time to time.

Now who’s getting us off track?  Back to this detective story; let’s take a different tack on that.  Try again, but this time write, like, good or something.

Bite me.  But anyway:  “Fog hung in the air as Detective John walked to the end of the alley.  The lights from police cruisers flashed blue and took turns with casting shadows.  John pulled at his coat collar and shuddered.  As he walked forward, he was unnerved by the sound of his own footsteps.  Police tape appeared, and he walked slower.  He shook his head.  Two days from retirement and they give him a serial killer case.  As someone once said in a movie, he was getting too old for this shit.”

Oh ye gods, the Noire was better.  Where do I begin?

You could be helpful, you know.

I guess I could, the grade does belong to both of us.  Well, let’s go sentence by sentence, I guess, Mister “I Think I Can Write.”  The first one has serious issues.  For one, it’s not really helping set the mood, and for two, it just kind of states things like you would have written in fourth grade.  You know, now that I think about it, I don’t think Miss Castalow would have let you get away with that in the fourth grade, either.

Maybe…

How about this?  We need to set the mood and time of day without just saying “it was a dark and stormy night at midnight” blah blah blah, so what time of day is it?  Early morning?  Late night?  If it’s a crime story, especially with a serial killer, as cliché as it is, it’s probably better to set it at night.  Also, we need to know something of John’s mood about this whole thing.  It needs to feel weighty and unnerving.

So more like this?  “The air was heavy with late night fog as Detective John made his way towards the mouth of the alley.”

Well, look who figured out a good opening hook!  Or, well, as good as can be expected from the likes of you.

Bite me.

You wish.  So, next we need to look at the police cruisers.  It’s all about setting mood at this point, so expand on that.  Make me feel what the detective feels… but not like you write, do it, like, I don’t know…like you know how to write in English or something.

One of these days I’ll figure out how to get back at you, Inner Monologue.  Well, how about this?  “The strobing lights from police cruisers intermittently turned the world blue and took turns casting shadows onto the vapor that oozed around the crime scene.”

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but better.  Now, this dude needs to inhabit this scene.  You’ve told us how the weather is making him feel, now make us believe it, and do it without explicitly telling us how actions in the scene make him feel.

You forgot to insult me a second time.  You’re slipping.

Now you shaddup.  Just write something good.

Alright.  “John pulled the collar of his overcoat closer around his throat and shifted his hat forward slightly on his head.  He shuddered.  As he plodded forward, the sound of his footsteps echoed off the bricks around him and momentarily drowned out the distant police radio chatter.”

Well there you go!  John… and I’m groaning, literally, at that name choice… feels like he belongs there.

You know “John” is a placeholder name, right?

Sure it is, I believe you.  I’ll bet you were going to title this something like “Detective John Catches a Killer” or something.

It’s a working title.  You can bite me right now, you know.

Keep saying it and maybe it’ll happen.  You’re weird, you know that?

Says the one that keeps insulting himself.

Says the one that’s holding an argument with himself.

Touché.

So, back to this story.  Keep setting the scene.  Why is he walking slower because there’s police tape?  The way you worded that I would think he was startled by the tape because yellow offends him or something.

You’re a piece of work.  “He slowed down as he noticed the police tape appear in front of him, beyond which lie the victim.”

There, that does work better.  I can’t believe I’m complimenting you on that.

You know you secretly want to.

Now you, sir, can bite me. 

Now who wants some action?

Whatever.  Let’s get back to work on this or we won’t ever finish.  First, you do know that bodies “lay” there they don’t “lie” there in the past tense, right?  Second, shaking his head is fine, but I’m not sure that it should be a stand-alone sentence and… wait, holy hell, did you just reference Lethal Weapon?

Maybe… it works on Family Guy.

Yeah, well, it can get tedious and doesn’t necessarily fit the mood you’re building here.  Let’s reword the end of that paragraph some, and make it punch-y.  Something for the ages and with a body laying there.

I’ll fix the lay/lie nonsense in the final draft, and as for the rest… I don’t know that I can do that.

That’s my line!  Stop stealing my thunder!

Sure, sure.  “He shook his head in disbelief.  Stopping short of the barrier, he dropped a cigarette onto the asphalt and snuffed it out with right his shoe.  Cupping his left hand in his right and, moving his right thumb up and down, he massaged his left palm.  Even though retirement was less than a week away, it felt further away than it ever had.”

Better, but holy crap, is it important to know which side of his body these actions happened?  And what’s the deal with the wording of that third sentence?  Do better.

Anything constructive you can contribute, or are you trolling today?

Hey, I’ve been pretty helpful so far.

That remains to be seen.

Stealing more of my lines!  Plagiarism isn’t a pretty color on you.  At any rate, drop the reference to the right foot in the second sentence.

Like this?  “Stopping short of the barrier, he dropped a cigarette onto the asphalt and watched as the damp surface snuffed it out.”

Holy crap, that’s pretty good.  Wait, am I complementing you now?  What has become of me?

You’ve regained some sanity.

Says the one that talks to himself.  That next sentence needs to be better.  The shape it’s in makes it clunky and unappealing, and I don’t think it’s necessary.  If that’s an important plot point, you can introduce that in later paragraphs or chapters, but right now it just kind of breaks everything up in a stupid way.  You’re stupid for putting it in there.

Oh good.  You’ve gone back to insulting me.  The nice you was worrying me.

It was worrying me, too.  That last line seems fine on its own.  As long as you drop the hand job sentence, you’ve got something good at the end.  So drop that sentence and put it all together.  And for the love of God, Country music, and all that is Holy. change the detective’s name before I quit us.

Fine.  Here’s the completed opening paragraph:  “The air was heavy with late night fog as Detective Clark made his way towards the mouth of the alley.  The strobing lights from police cruisers intermittently turned the world blue and took turns casting shadows onto the vapor that oozed around the crime scene.  John pulled the collar of his overcoat closer around his throat and shifted his hat forward slightly on his head.  He shuddered.  As he plodded forward, the sound of his footsteps echoed off the bricks around him and momentarily drowned out the distant police radio chatter.  He slowed down as he noticed the police tape appear in front of him, beyond which lay the victim.  He shook his head in disbelief.  Stopping short of the barrier, he dropped a cigarette onto the asphalt and watched as the damp surface snuffed it out.  Even though retirement was less than a week away, it felt further away than it ever had.”

There, that’s much better.  It almost sounds like you know what you’re doing… almost.  It sets the mood without beating the reader about the head with it, establishes a little about the main character without explicitly listing characteristics, and the end feels like a good lead in for dialogue between the detective and someone on the scene.

Wait, are you complementing me again?  I’m askeered.

Bite me, and expand this into a story.  I want to know what happens.

Okay, here goes nothing…