Friday, December 27, 2013

Writing With Horsepower

I've been making a conscious effort to work on the more creative writing, as opposed to blogging, that I consider my specialty.  I've got a good four or five projects swimming around in my head in various stages of development and the sad fact is that is where they will stay unless I make the effort the write them down.

After reading that god-awful story I blogged about the other week, I looked back on a story I've been working on for what seems like years, and I don't want to say I was impressed with myself, but it was pretty clear to me that what I had in my first draft was better written than what was published in that's story's final draft version.

Here's an example of the (pedestrian) writing from the unnamed author's awful story:
There had come a time when Margaret became sick of dieting and sick of being plain.  Once she'd made quite a success of herself in the advertising business, she could afford to give her entire body, from face to feet, a complete workover.  And she did.  Plastic surgery, liposuction, tucks here and there;  her lips were injected with collagen, her eyes were improved, her chin and cheekbones were enhanced and her breasts were enlarged.  

Et cetera.  You may have read that and thought to yourself, "I don't know what you're talking about, dude.  Maybe you're being too critical.  That's not too awful."

Maybe.  But this is why I think that's weak writing:  It's redundantly wordy and artless.  Just in case you were unsure of what the author meant when he wrote "her entire body," he's there to clarify that he means "from face to feet."  And yes, it's true if you give your "entire" body a workover "from face to feet" of course it's going to be "complete." 

And to make matters worse, the author knows his vague adjectives are not pulling the weight, which is why he goes into specifics about the plastic surgery, lipo, and other procedures, descriptions of which are no less vague or artless.  "Tucks here and there," somewhere on her "entire body" I'm guessing.  "Her eyes were improved."  What the fuck does that mean?  And you mean to tell me that when she got her breast enlargement surgery, "her breasts were enlarged?"  Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Anyway, in my own writing, I try very hard to make every word count.  I don't like using unnecessary, non-descriptive adjectives, and I don't like pointing out the obvious.  Excessive detail is not always a good thing.  Sometimes it's just excessive. 

At any rate, below is an excerpt from my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled The Losing End.  It's a crime story about a gang of con artists unraveling at the seams as they learn the true price of betrayal.  After the jump, I'll post a somewhat lengthy excerpt.  It's still in draft form and rough in some places, but one thing I hope you'll notice is that, despite being almost 500 words long, it's rather lean and efficient, at least compared to the example I cited above.

So click below to read it:

Before Benchwarmers, the crew ran a place called Elroy’s Tavern, a dingy little cellar downtown that had no parking and fewer customers.  It was owned by a sweaty meatball from Damascus named Sammy and he was running it into the ground.  Everyone called him Saddam Hussein behind his back, as the two dictators shared the same chubby cheeks, the same billowy mustache, the same vacant half-dead eyes. 
The bar was never a big moneymaker for Sammy, so he supplemented his income with sports betting, sometimes legally.  He’d made a killing years ago on the Super Bowl and that gave him the notion that he was some sort of gambling prodigy.  But Sammy was a fool, the kind of guy who not only made big bets on long shots but made his bets for stupid reasons, because he liked a team’s mascot or because he saw some softball interview on ESPN.  As much money as he was putting up, you would think he would develop a system or some professional discipline, but the gambling became a compulsion, and before long it became a problem in his marriage and for his business. 
During March Madness, Sammy got into Artie for almost twenty grand and when he couldn’t pay, Artie threatened to rip the mustache off his face and hang him like a war criminal.  Sammy only needed two broken fingers to convince him that Artie was serious and, having no other recourse, offered up his bar to pay off the debt. 
Ellroy’s now belonged to Harry Solo and crew outright, if not on paper, and it would soon be dismantled piece by piece, dream by precious dream.  Artie would get his twenty grand back, the vig, plus a back end percentage on the bustout, a sort of finder’s fee for setting up the job.  Sammy, of course, would go bankrupt and probably get audited by the IRS, have his property seized and his credit score ruined. 
Meanwhile, the crew turned Ellroy's into their business office and social hang out.  The back table, where Artie ran his sports book, became a mountain of paper, stacks of loose sheets and yellow legal pads scribbled margin to margin with Artie’s inscrutable code.  Jack ran his pharmacy from the pool table even as he scammed wannabe hustlers with a crooked eightball game.  The crew plotted capers in the back office, and entertained their girlfriends with free drinks at the bar. 
Sammy, who had stingy health insurance, said nothing.  He stopped coming around except to sign the paperwork, and even then it was becoming harder and harder to find him.  By this point, it didn’t matter.  The crew didn’t even bother opening the place up to paying customers anymore.  The phones were off and the electricity bill was overdue too.  Ellroy’s was officially in its death throes.
More to come.  Let me know what you thought in the comments.


KickinAssTakingNames said...

I'm one of those weirdos who only reads nonfiction so I'm no expert, but I enjoyed this. It engaged me and, although brief, it provided enough "meat" that I had a movie of the characters running through my head as I was reading it. The description of Sammy as a "sweaty meatball from Damascus" was perfect.

James said...

Thanks, I was pretty proud of that one myself, too. :)

I need to get this one out of my system, I swear. Part of me doesn't want to because it's been so present in my mind so long, but damn....need to tell this story.

Look out for more!