Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Beginning 684

“That’s not fair!”

Even as the words left her mouth, even before Professor Ted’s eyebrows rose, Hope knew she sounded like a child. A particularly bratty one. She took a deep breath and did not look up at the wall over his shoulder, where the clock was ticking down the five minutes before the last bus left campus.

“What I mean,” she said quickly, trying to sound more like the experienced woman of the world she was at 18. “Is this is worth at least a C. C minus.”

Professor Ted cleared his throat and rubbed uncomfortably at his goatee. He was young, baby faced, and Hope was pretty sure he’d grown the facial hair in an attempt to add a few years to his look. It certainly wasn’t because he liked it. He never went more than five minutes without scratching at his chin.

“Maybe from another student,” he said. “But this is not an acceptable level of work from you, Ms. Doe.”

He pushed the previous week’s assignment across the desk. Five pages, three hours, and a small, apologetic “F” written in purple across the top of the paper. Hope sucked in another deep, deep breath through her teeth.


Professor Ted rubbed his chin whiskers again. And yet again, until Hope looked like she was going to scream. She could scream all she wanted, no way would he admit that annoying teeth-sucking thing she did every time she talked was the whole reason he had given her the "F."


Opening: Sarah from Hawthorne.....Continuation: Kate Thornton

26 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Professor Ted is an odd mix of formal with casual. Who refers to a professor that way?

A lot of this gives the impression Hope is a high school senior and a lot gives the impression she's a college freshman. I'd like it clear which it is.

The paragraph about the goatee should be put somewhere else. It's slowing down the scene, and not something she'd be remarking on at a time when her life is passing before her eyes.

I assume Hope's going to pull out a Glock and kill Professor Ted in the next paragraph, thus justifying starting the story here.

Adam Heine said...

I like a lot about this, but I want to know what's at stake pretty soon. Why does THIS grade matter? And why should I care about Hope? She's not unlikable, but she's not likable yet either. So far, I get the impression that she's smart and possibly arrogant. It's a fine line.

Now I don't need all this information in the first 200 words, necessarily, but if I don't care about Hope and her predicament within another page or two, it'll put me on the story's bad side. Just my opinion.

I liked "small, apologetic 'F'". A nitpick though: I was uncertain how a small F could be written "across" the top of the paper. That'd be a difficult feat even with a very large F.

~Aimee States said...

Too much explaining and not enough kick. Delete the following (IMO)...

She took a deep breath and did not look up at the wall over his shoulder, where the clock was ticking down the five minutes before the last bus left campus.

trying to sound more like the experienced woman of the world she was at 18.

He was young, baby faced, and Hope was pretty sure he’d grown the facial hair in an attempt to add a few years to his look. It certainly wasn’t because he liked it.

Five pages, three hours, and

Apologetic

through her teeth.

~And for the love of G*d, please give her a name besides Ms. Doe

Matthew said...

This strikes me as a scene that would play out in the middle of the chapter.

My thoughts are pretty much the same as EE's, except I would say an odd mix of formal and casual is an accurate description of the modern, young teacher. Most of these young teachers don't know if they want to be the harsh disciplinarian or the students best friend and end up as a strange mix of the two.

I base that purely on anecdotal evidence.

Anonymous said...

I found the opening to be incongruent.

"That's not fair!" is something a high school student would say not a college student.

"Professor Ted" - indicates maybe college. Although we referred to our professors by their first name in college and Mr. Lastname in high school.

"bratty child" - high school.

Hope's thoughts about the goatee is odd here and sounds like a more experienced woman than 18.

A purple apologetic F? I never had a teacher/professor that was apologetic about any grade they gave out or use a purple pen and I just don't see a professor explaining giving an F to someone because it is not up to the student's standard.

The entire scene to me was lacking and boring.

I can almost imagine that the next scene is that she misses the bus and thus cries all the way home in the rain but before she arrives something happens. If I guessed right - start there.

Whining about a grade=boring.
Shooting professor Ted=exciting.

vkiw

_*Rachel*_ said...

It's certainly not a bad opening, but it's not catching my interest.

Wes said...

"It certainly wasn’t because he liked it." This seems like a change in POV. She might think he didn't like it, but she couldn't know for sure.

A lot of drama occurs in and out of classrooms when grades are on the line (I had a grad student pull a gun on me when I refused to be on his thesis committee.). This was particularly true when the U. S. had a draft during wars, and if a guy flunked out he soon found himself in Viet Nam. You are getting good feedback that you can use to fix a story that has promise.

And to add a tasteless joke, what about "I'll do anything for an A"? It happens.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Thanks for the continuation and the comments!

EE: I actually had a professor in college who asked to be addressed this way. Hope is a college freshman, albeit a very stressed out one who's about to shoot her mouth off in a way she's going to seriously regret.

Adam: You're right, that should be "on" not "across". I'm going to see if I can address some of your excellent questions about the stakes in the next rewrite.

Aimee: I appreciate your advice on where to trim. As for Hope's last name being "Doe," it's supposed to be an early indicator that not all is as it seems with this girl. You think it's too on the nose?

vkw: Actually, she makes the bus. And then she sulks all the way to her job. ;-) Incidentally, you don't need to keep posting as Anonymous if you don't want to. If you click on "Name/URL" under "Choose an identity", it will let you fill in a name as a header without requiring a blog.

Wes: Holy crap! Glad you're all right.


Anyway, thanks again to all and keep the comments coming. I'm getting some ideas on how this can be rewritten and what needs to be clarified to up the stakes...

~Aimee States said...

~As for Hope's last name being "Doe," it's supposed to be an early indicator that not all is as it seems with this girl.

I think there are better ways to get that across. Behaviors that actually point to the fact that she isn't what she seems would be a good way to make people wonder. If she drops a pencil and catches it midair, I'm thinking she's not just a student, etc.

Eric P. said...

Ditto Aimee's comment on pruning the dead wood. Too much of the detail seems irrelevant (at least in an opening) and slows things down with the mundane when we're hoping for a hook.

Would a professor really flunk a student for doing work that would be acceptable if only it had come from another student? Seems a bit much. I could see "You usually give me Bs, why did I get a D-?"

I know a guy in real life who goes by the (nick)name Jon Doe. (Short for something longer that begins with "Doe" which nobody can ever remember.) All is just about exactly as it seems with him.

And, I can't help myself, I simply have to link to this similar true-life story on Not Always Right. Truth is stranger.

pacatrue said...

I was interested enough that I would keep reading. As a grad student in his 30s with a temporary goatee who's taught a couple undergrad courses, I can only take Professor Ted's F as completely inappropriate. One can't grade to student potential, only actual performance. If I was ever caught giving someone an F only because I was sure they could do better than they did, even though their essay was of the same level as some other student's essay, I assume I'd be kicked out of the program. If that's the Ted you're going for, then cool.

pacatrue said...

FYI, I've been called "Professor Paca". It comes from my insistence on being called Paca, but my student's insistence on calling me Professor, and so periodically Professor Paca will pop up.

Xiexie said...

I think the mix here between formal and casual is a good one. I know that for me as far as the Art professors -- my major -- I call almost all of them by first name, and the one, who was the disciplinarian (with her silent studio classes), was Professor Melanie; though, some did call her Professor Price -- mostly non-majors.

You don't have to spell it out for us with Hope's last name being Doe. Clue us in with an odd behavior or three.

The sentence:
It certainly wasn't because he liked it.
could be changed to:
Hope didn't think he liked it; he never went more than five minutes scratching at his chin.

Or that second sentence could become a clause of some sort starting with "as he never..." -- I think you know what I mean.

I like this.

vkw said...

Oh my Wes,

I'm so happy you were not shot! I believe the, "I'll do anything for a grade."

Not that I would know that personally but I knew it happened in college and in high school.

Thnks Sarah - I knew I could do this, I just wasn't.

( “That’s not fair!”

Even as the words left her mouth, even before Professor Ted’s eyebrows rose, Hope knew she sounded like a child. A particularly bratty one. She inhaled deeply and reminded herself that she wasn't in high school anymore.

"What I meant is this is worth at least a C. C minus," she added quickly as she looked at the clock. The bus would be leaving in five minutes and she didn't have time for this shit. She had to get to work.

"This is not an acceptable level of work for any of my students, Ms. Doe," the baby-faced professor replied as he scratched his chin. "Especially not from you."

Professor Ted pushed the assignment across the desk dissmissively. There in the top left-hand corner a small "F" was written.

Hope counted to ten and then counted again. It didn't work . . . and)

-I don't think a professor would give an 'F' just for work that was below his expectation for a particular student. Maybe a D for C work or C for B work. An F is pretty harsh.

Evil Editor said...

It would be cool if student A, who's been flunking every paper, turned in a paper identical to student B's, who's been getting all A's, and though their papers are worthy of a C, Professor Ted gave student A an A for overachieving and gave student B an F for underachieving.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Well, here. Let's try this again, this time with a few key points clarified. And oh look, now we're actually getting to the plot within 200 words. The miracle of editing!

“That’s not fair!"

Even as the words left her mouth, even before Professor Ted’s eyebrows rose, Hope knew she sounded childish. “I mean,” she corrected quickly, “This is worth at least a C. C minus.”

She tried to smile and did not look up at the wall over his shoulder, where the clock was ticking down the five minutes before the last bus left campus.

Professor Ted cleared his throat and rubbed uncomfortably at his goatee. “Hope,” he said. “This isn’t proofread. This isn’t even typed. This looks like you wrote it half an hour before class.”

He pushed the previous week’s assignment across the desk, a small, apologetic “F” written in purple at the top of the first ink-smeared page.

“Okay, it’s not going to win the Pulitzer, but it’s five hundred words and fictional.” Hope pushed the paper back. “You can’t tell me this is the worst paper you got.”

“What happened to Aliz?” Professor Ted went on. “That woman warrior character you brought up last week? You were so excited when we were discussing--"

"You never said I had to write that story," Hope interrupted. Despite herself, she could hear her voice rising again. The clock clicked down another minute. "It was stupid. Magic and swords, little kid stuff."

Adam Heine said...

I definitely like this better, Sarah. It doesn't lay out the stakes yet, but I can see how they're probably coming up soon. And it tells me a lot more about Hope.

"He pushed the previous week’s assignment across the desk..."

Maybe just say "He pushed the assignment." Calling it the previous week's assignment potentially confuses it with the assignment Ted mentions two paragraphs later.

Speaking of 2 pp. later, I like how Ted doesn't directly answer her question.

Anonymous said...

“That’s not fair!”(despite the paragraph that follows, was too young and spent half this reconciling my image of a child with that of an eighteen yearold.

"You're not being fair." (then you don't have to waiste a paragraph explaining she's older than she sounds.



"she said quickly, trying to sound more like the experienced woman of the world she was at 18." (This sentence was painful to read. It's the author's voice. Not the chararcters.)


“Is this is worth at least a C. C minus.” (I hate this character. I can see a 16 year old arguing over grades, but a college kid who does it just turns me off. I see a spoiled brat and I want to beat her with a club.)

"to add a few years to his look."= to look older.

It certainly wasn’t because he liked it. He never went more than five minutes without scratching at his chin.

“But this is not an acceptable level of work from you, Ms. Doe.”= this is not acceptable Ms. Doe. (Trust your readers. We can infere he's got diffent standards for her, based on the first sentence, unless you want your dialgoe to sound fake. Then go for it)

There are some good things here, but the narrator comments on observations too much. Character should be built over the length of the story, not dumped in our lap all at once, like this piece does.

The sentence structure is odd at times and can be very word. There's also a touch of overwriting. I'm not sure what kind of book this is. It reads middle grade at times, but the character seems too old. I'm also not arguing over grades is a good place to place to start-I've seen this a thousand times. It's not new and it's not interesting.

as an experiment, pick a paragraph from page two, and start there. If it doesn't make much difference to the story as a whole, that's your clue this is throat clearing.

Anonymous said...

On another note, I was reading through the comments and saw this.

"And then she sulks all the way to her job."

I'm sorry, but I just don't want to read this. It confirms my suspicion that motivating force is grades and the angst that causes. Get to the story.

_*Rachel*_ said...

I like this one a lot better, though I'd cut the "quickly" in the first paragraph. And it still seems a bit of an odd reason to fail her. Drop her grade a letter or two, but fail? There's something wrong with the story itself if it's that bad.

Is this metafiction? I bet Aliz is real.

Robin S. said...

Hey- Gotta mention - Hi Kate!

Great to see ys, and good continuation!!

Xiexie said...

The rewrite is much better.

~Aimee States said...

"You're not being fair" is a good suggestion. As is dropping "last week's". You really need to get rid of apologetic. An F can't apologize. The rewrite is much better, I agree. I gather that the last sentence points to this becoming a fantasy? Works for me.

Wes said...

Good improvement on the rewrite.

BuffySquirrel said...

An F can't apologise, no. But it can look apologetic, same as a dog can.

Eric P. said...

How about "A small F, apologetically written..."

Much tighter. I like it.