Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Substantive Edit

With the semester for me coming to a close this week, I thought I'd put up one of the two short stories I had to write for one class I had. Not both, because a) the first one wasn't very good, focused on a character who has my experiences of having a type (and therefore goes through all the girls I've noticed or had crushes on that resemble one another) and b) to make things a little different, I'm going to put in the original draft in - as well as a version with substantive edit suggestions. Sort of similar to how Stephen King does that in his 'On Writing' book. The substantive editing was the final assignment in another class, which I found fun and interesting.

Original:

"No Sugar for Dad"

Mitchell opened the microwave and took out the freshly popped popcorn. He was in a tiny kitchen, and the microwave was on top of a similarly tiny fridge. Only  turning around and walking two feet would bring him into the living area, where Chris lounged on a twin-sized air mattress. They were in a small apartment located in a tower of low-income dwellings and it was New Year’s Eve 2012. Mitchell had arrived with a movie, and after they did some very light shopping that largely consisted of Kraft Dinner and junk food to eat during the film, he’d made the pasta for the two of them in the kitchen while Chris put the movie into the player, ready to go.
Mitchell was a young adult, about twenty. Chris was a middle-aged man, thirty-three years older than Mitchell. Mitchell had a full head of thick dark hair, a stocky frame, and a smooth-skinned face. Chris was balding, wiry thin, and his face was full of lines. Both wore glasses.
The two men had met in a college class a couple of years ago. Mitchell was just out of high school, and Chris was attempting to change the direction his life was going – he’d never had a job any better than retail and currently worked at Canadian Tire. Mitchell had an easy knack for getting along with people older than him, and Chris warmly reciprocated in class, so they got along well. Chris even paid Mitchell twenty dollars a week to tutor him in a class that taught Adobe InDesign after observing Mitchell’s quick ease with the program. Those were interesting sessions; they had to use both Photoshop and InDesign to create properly-structured visuals and pamphlets, and Chris was hopeless at both. Despite their efforts and corresponding lunches at McDonalds, Chris had been nevertheless been doomed because the big midterm test in that class had been paper-based and theoretical rather than practical and computer-based, so that as Mitchell consistently wrote down answers and checked the right terminologies, Chris sat there with his pen poised, staring at the paper in deep thought for over ten minutes before answering one question. When they went over it together later, Mitchell had to keep in his laughter as he saw Chris’s sparse, wrong, woefully incomplete answers. He’d matched the Pen Tool icon in Photoshop with the term “History Brush.”
By the end of their first year, neither Mitchell or Chris completed the program they were in; Chris merely stopped coming to a couple of classes, and eventually became absent from all of them altogether. Mitchell failed one, causing him to not qualify for several others. By that point he’d lost all interest and knew he wasn’t going to pass one of his other classes, so he opted to drop out. Part of it had to do with his obsessive focus on a long-distance relationship he’d developed with a girl he knew in high school who’d moved to Calgary, which had taken complete precedence over his homework completion. But Mitchell kept up his friendship with Chris because he was engaging to talk to. At the same time, the one other personal friend Mitchell had, still in high school – Eddy – decided to report him to the police at school because Mitchell had thrown foam at him at Hog’s Back Falls (but he didn’t phrase it that way) so Chris was all Mitchell had by that point.
Chris lived in Vanier, in an apartment building for low-income or welfare-funded people just below the poverty line, and Mitchell had lunch with him there for the first time that winter. They had an enjoyable time and Chris had a neat record collection. That was when, despite the mini rainbow flag perched on Chris’s table, Mitchell found out that the older man was actually gay. It was a shock to him – discovering something that personal about someone always was to him – and it had come indirectly through a conversation about the way certain 80s pop stars looked, with all that make-up and hair styling.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that half of those people were gay, I mean look at me, you think I’m any different? I know how it goes.”
Mitchell didn’t react and decided, with a firm open mind, that the revelation would have nothing to do with their friendship, so they continued on the way they were. They had a lot of phone conversations over the next year, and met up for lunch on frequent occasions. Once or twice Mitchell met him at Canadian Tire to go the nearby Burger King. More than once over the phone, Chris, apparently battling some conflicting inner feelings, ensured Mitchell knew that he saw the younger man as a sort of son, and that was how he cared about him. This was after some banter about how Chris sometimes felt uncomfortable having the younger man around too often or too intimately, like at his apartment. Mitchell had no issue with that or how the older man was, and kept his interest in their lunches and phone conversations.
On Chris’s suggestion, Mitchell spent the evening of the last day of the year at his apartment, to have a drink and watch a movie, talk like two guys. Mitchell looked forward to it. During that period, he was still in a constant text-based relationship with that girlfriend in Calgary. It was going through a phase that had the potential to be the end of the relationship, so it was good to have that night as a distraction. Chris, from his perspective, did not like Brooke – he had to listen to Mitchell talk about his issues or perspectives or feelings concerning Brooke on the phone, and now and then he’d mention this other girl, “Blinder” or whatever her name was, something German. His low opinion of Brooke was that she never gave anything back to Mitchell.  As he’d told Mitchell, he wouldn’t take that melodrama in a relationship.
Mitchell bought some Kraft Dinner at the Loblaws, and after it was cooked in that tiny kitchen, both men settled down to watch a Kevin Smith film called Dogma. Chris drank the whole time, which made him prone to talking and the movie prone to being paused often. When they finally finished, it was almost the New Year. They continued their conversation, however, and predictably, Mitchell started talking about Brooke. Chris wasn’t interested.
“I really think we’re still in a proper relationship, and I really think she still likes me the way she does,” Mitchell declared. “I have to be positive and optimistic, no matter what, or else this will just fail due to the distance and to her damn mother.”
“I don’t know why you are so committed. You won’t for one second entertain the idea that she’s playing you?”
“She can’t be doing that, I know her.”
“Well all I know is that I wouldn’t want that in a relationship. No melodrama.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
Chris stared hard at him. “Would you ever entertain that?”
“What?”
“A relationship. With me.”
Mitchell stared at him for a second. The thoughts going through his mind turned repulsive at the idea of the two of them sexually active together. “Uh… sorry Chris. I like girls.”
“Really? I know for certain you wouldn’t get that kind of crap from me.”
“Sorry man…as a friend I’m interested.” He tried to sound as positive as he could in saying that, because it was true – he wanted to be Chris’s friend. They had good conversations. Chris seemed to care about what he went through from time to time – whether it was Brooke or issues with his father or the whole needless Eddy affair. And Mitchell had his own care for Chris – it was just a friendly, platonic care.
“Well, alright then.” He looked slightly downcast, and when Mitchell looked into his eyes, they seemed let down if not crying out for him. He had to suppress a grimace. Maybe the whole idea of being almost intimate friends with a much older man like him – hanging out at his apartment and all that – was a bit too much.
Chris accompanied Mitchell to the bus stop on the next street a short while later. When Mitchell had paused to see the record collection again, Chris had opened his closet (the collection was in his bedroom) to get a coat and Mitchell had caught site of the porn magazine on the floor. In all the time he’d known Chris, he hadn’t seen the magazines, but of course Mitchell had never found the impulse to go looking in the man’s closet. Chris noticed Mitchell’s discovery and grinned. “Oh, yeah, my nudie magazines.” He’d chuckled, and then they’d left. As they’d walked to the bus stop, conversation about human attraction came up, and Chris had noted that he’d found Mitchell attractive right from the beginning. Mitchell did his best to keep the conversation towards other topics, but that didn’t stop Chris from even letting slip that he’d “jerked off” to Mitchell once or twice, if not more. Mitchell thought briefly about how that topic – masturbation – had somehow popped up in Chris’s conversation topics at least once during every conversation they’d had. “There’s not one person in this whole world that doesn’t do it,” he’d noted at the bus station once. Mitchell couldn’t remember how that piece of info had found its opening into the conversation, but that December-January night was the first time Chris had connected the act explicitly with him.
Despite all of this, Mitchell wanted to make the effort to continue his friendship to Chris because there were positive traits to the guy, good times and memories, and he didn’t like the idea of distancing himself from someone just because they were gay (even if they harbored feelings towards him). He bussed home that night, arriving just in time for 2012 to begin.
Two months later in March, Mitchell phoned Chris. They had your normal conversation at first, but it became apparent to Mitchell how conflicted Chris was over his feelings to him; originally he’d maintained that Mitchell was more like a son to him, but perhaps that was just a cover to avoid revealing the truth and perhaps scaring him away originally. Chris didn’t seem as interested in continuing much of an intimate friendship, especially after he propositioned him once again on the phone, but Mitchell tried; eventually he agreed to keep in touch in the coming spring so they could arrange more lunches at McDonalds and other fast-food places.
Chris never called him back. And Mitchell, even though he was always interested in the friendship, realized that he really wasn’t too bothered. It was June now. Mitchell had finally moved on from Brooke by now, so maybe Chris was another person to commit to his past. The guy wouldn’t call back, and Mitchell wasn’t up to making the effort to bothering him with a phone call – if Chris didn’t call him, there was a reason. The older man was probably too conflicted to entertain a friendship with someone with whom he wanted more, and Mitchell wasn’t going to deliver. Besides, perhaps it wasn’t in good nature to keep Chris close all the time when he spent all his private time fantasizing about Mitchell.
Two and a half years later, in 2014, Mitchell was walking through a courtyard at the college, having returned to the same program he’d dropped out of several years ago. He was in a hurry; he’d parked at the main building and his paid ticket was about to expire. As he trotted along, something familiar caught his eye, and he looked to his extreme left. Sitting in the smoking shelter was Chris, evidently back at the college as well.
Mitchell stood there for a second. Chris saw him. Shaking his head with a small grin, Mitchell said, “I’ve got to run. See you.” As he walked away, Mitchell didn’t look back; it was neat and nice to see Chris again, but even if he had time, he wouldn’t have hung around for a long chat. Chris was part of his past now.
As for Chris, he didn’t respond, just inhaled deeply on his cigarette. Mitchell was a good-looking young man who cut it too short for him. He finished his cigarette, threw it to the ground, and stubbed it with his foot. Like he ever got any sugar, he reflected.

Edited:

Mitchell opened the microwave and took out the freshly popped popcorn. He was in a tiny kitchen, and the microwave was on top of a similarly tiny fridge. Only turning around and walking two feet would bring him into the living area, where Chris lounged on an twin-sized air mattress. They were in a small apartment located in a tower of low-income dwellings and it was New Year’s Eve 2012. Mitchell had arrived with a movie, and after they did some very light shopping that largely consisted of Kraft Dinner and junk food to eat during the film, he’d made the pasta for the two of them in the kitchen while Chris put the movie into the player, ready to go.
Mitchell was a young adult, about twenty. Chris was a middle-aged man, thirty-three years older than Mitchell. Mitchell had a full head of thick dark hair, a stocky frame, and a smooth-skinned face. Chris was balding, wiry thin, and his face was full of lines. Both wore glasses.
The two men had met in a college class a couple of years ago. Mitchell was just out of high school, and Chris was attempting to change the direction his life was going – he’d never had a job any better than retail and currently worked at Canadian Tire. Mitchell had an easy knack for getting along with people older than him older people, and Chris warmly reciprocated in class, so they got along well. Chris even paid Mitchell twenty dollars a week to tutor him in a class that taught Adobe InDesign after observing Mitchell’s quick ease with the program. Those were interesting sessions; they had to use both Photoshop and InDesign to create properly-structured visuals and pamphlets, and Chris was hopeless at both. Despite their efforts and corresponding lunches at McDonalds, Chris had been nevertheless been doomed because the big midterm test in that class had been paper-based and theoretical rather than practical and computer-based, so that as Mitchell consistently wrote down answers and checked the right terminologies, Chris sat there with his pen poised, staring at the paper in deep thought for over ten minutes before answering one question. When they went over it together later, Mitchell had to keep in hold back his laughter as he saw Chris’s sparse, wrong, woefully incomplete answers. He’d matched the Pen Tool icon in Photoshop with the term “History Brush.”
By the end of their first year, neither Mitchell nor Chris completed the program they were in; Chris merely stopped coming to a couple of classes, and eventually became absent from all of them altogether. Mitchell failed one, causing him to not qualify for several others.1 By that point he’d lost all interest and knew he wasn’t going to pass one of his other classes, so he opted to drop out. Part of it had to do with his obsessive focus on a long-distance relationship he’d developed with a girl he knew in high school who’d moved to Calgary, which had taken complete precedence over his homework completion. But Mitchell kept up his friendship with Chris because he was engaging to talk to. At the same time, the one other personal friend Mitchell had, still in high school – Eddy – decided to report him to the police at school because Mitchell had thrown foam at him at Hog’s Back Falls (but he2 didn’t phrase it that way) so Chris was all Mitchell had by that point.3
Chris lived in Vanier, in an apartment building for housing low-income or welfare-funded people just below the poverty line, and Mitchell had lunch with him there for the first time that winter. They had an enjoyable time and Chris had a neat record collection. That was when, despite the mini rainbow flag perched on Chris’s table, Mitchell found out that the older man was actually gay.4 It was a shock to him Mitchell – discovering something that personal about someone always was to him – and it had come indirectly through a conversation about the way certain 80s pop stars looked, with all that make-up and hair styling.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that half of those people were gay, I mean look at me, you think I’m any different? I know how it goes.”5
Mitchell didn’t react and decided, with a firm open mind, that the revelation would have nothing to do with their friendship, so they continued on the way they were. They had a lot of phone conversations over the next year, and met up for lunch on frequent occasions. Once or twice Mitchell met him at Canadian Tire to go the nearby Burger King. More than once over the phone, Chris, apparently battling some conflicting inner feelings,6 ensured Mitchell knew that he saw the younger man as a sort of son, and that was how he cared about him. This was after some banter about how Chris sometimes felt uncomfortable having the younger man around too often or too intimately, like at his apartment. Mitchell had no issue with that or how the older man was, and kept his interest in their lunches and phone conversations.
On Chris’s suggestion, Mitchell spent the evening of the last day of the year at his apartment, to have a drink and watch a movie, talk like two guys. Mitchell looked forward to it. During that period, he was still in a constant text-based relationship with that girlfriend in Calgary. It was going through a phase that had the potential to be the end of the relationship, so it was good to have that night as a distraction. Chris, from his perspective, did not like Brooke – he had to listen to Mitchell talk about his issues or perspectives or feelings concerning Brooke on the phone, and now and then he’d mention this other girl, “Blinder” or whatever her name was, something German.7 His low opinion of Brooke was that she never gave anything back to Mitchell.  As he’d told Mitchell, he wouldn’t take that melodrama in a relationship.
Mitchell bought some Kraft Dinner at the Loblaws, and after it was cooked in that tiny kitchen,8 both men settled down to watch a Kevin Smith film called Dogma. Chris drank the whole time, which made him prone to talking and the movie prone to being paused often Mitchell prone to pausing the movie often. When they finally finished, it was almost the New Year. They continued their conversation,9 however, and predictably, Mitchell started talking about Brooke. Chris wasn’t interested.
“I really think we’re still in a proper relationship, and I really think she still likes me the way she does,” Mitchell declared. “I have to be positive and optimistic, no matter what, or else this will just fail due to the distance and to her damn mother.”
“I don’t know why you are so committed. You won’t for one second entertain the idea that she’s playing you?”
“She can’t be doing that, I know her.”
“Well all I know is that I wouldn’t want that in a relationship. No melodrama.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
Chris stared hard at him. “Would you ever entertain consider that?”
“What?”
“A relationship. With me.”
Mitchell stared at him for a second. The thoughts going through his mind turned repulsive at the idea10 of the two of them sexually active together. “Uh… sorry Chris. I like girls.”
“Really? I know for certain you wouldn’t get that kind of crap from me.”
“Sorry man…as a friend I’m interested.” He tried to sound as positive as he could in saying that, because it was true – he wanted to be Chris’s friend. They had good conversations. Chris seemed to care about what he went through from time to time – whether it was Brooke or issues with his father or the whole needless Eddy affair. And Mitchell had his own care for Chris – it was just a friendly, platonic care.
“Well, alright then.” He looked slightly downcast, and when Mitchell looked into his eyes, they seemed let down if not crying out for him. He had to suppress a grimace. Maybe the whole idea of being almost intimate friends with a much older man like him Chris – hanging out at his apartment and all that – was a bit too much.
Chris accompanied Mitchell to the bus stop on the next street a short while later. When Mitchell had paused to see the record collection again, Chris had opened his closet (the collection was in his bedroom) to get a coat and Mitchell had caught site of the porn magazine on the floor.11 In all the time he’d known Chris, he hadn’t seen the magazines, but of course Mitchell had never found the impulse to go looking in the man’s closet. Chris noticed Mitchell’s discovery and grinned. “Oh, yeah, my nudie magazines.” He’d chuckled, and then they’d left. As they’d walked to the bus stop, conversation about human attraction came up, and Chris had noted that he’d found Mitchell attractive right from the beginning. Mitchell did his best to keep the conversation towards other topics, but that didn’t stop Chris from even letting slip that he’d “jerked off” to Mitchell once or twice, if not more. Mitchell thought briefly about how that topic – masturbation – had somehow popped up in Chris’s conversation topics at least once during every conversation they’d had. “There’s not one person in this whole world that doesn’t do it,” he’d noted at the bus station once. Mitchell couldn’t remember how that piece of info had found its opening into the conversation, but that December-January night was the first time Chris had connected the act explicitly with him.
Despite all of this, Mitchell wanted to make the effort to continue his friendship to Chris because there were positive traits to the guy, good times and memories, and he didn’t like the idea of distancing himself from someone just because they were gay (even if they harbored feelings towards him). He bussed home that night, arriving just in time for 2012 to begin.
Two months later in March, Mitchell phoned Chris. They had your normal conversation at first, but it became apparent to Mitchell how conflicted Chris was over his feelings to him; originally he’d maintained that Mitchell was more like a son to him, but perhaps that was just a cover to avoid revealing the truth and perhaps maybe scaring him away originally. Chris didn’t seem as interested in continuing much of an intimate friendship, especially after he propositioned him once again on the phone, but Mitchell tried; eventually he agreed to keep in touch in the coming spring so they could arrange more lunches at McDonalds and other fast-food places.
Chris never called him back. And Mitchell, even though he was always interested in the friendship, realized that he really wasn’t too bothered. It was June now. Mitchell had finally moved on from Brooke by now, so maybe Chris was another person to commit to his past. The guy wouldn’t call back, and Mitchell wasn’t up to making the effort to bothering him with a phone call – if Chris didn’t call him, there was a reason. The older man was probably too conflicted to entertain a friendship with someone with whom he wanted more, and Mitchell wasn’t going to deliver. Besides, perhaps it wasn’t in good nature to keep Chris close all the time when he spent all his private time fantasizing about Mitchell.
Two and a half years later, in 2014, Mitchell was walking through a courtyard at the college, having returned to the same program he’d dropped out of several years ago. He was in a hurry; he’d parked at the main building and his paid ticket was about to expire. As he trotted along, something familiar caught his eye, and he looked to his extreme left. Sitting in the smoking shelter was Chris, evidently back at the college as well.
Mitchell stood there for a second. Chris saw him. Shaking his head with a small grin, Mitchell said, “I’ve got to run. See you.” As he walked away, Mitchell didn’t look back; it was neat and nice to see Chris again, but even if he had time, he wouldn’t have hung around for a long chat. Chris was part of his past now.12
As for Chris, he didn’t respond, just inhaled deeply on his cigarette. Mitchell was a good-looking young man who cut it too short for him. He finished his cigarette, threw it to the ground, and stubbed it with his foot. Like he ever got any sugar, he reflected.

  1. In what context? When? For the next level or semester?
  2. ‘he’ refers to Mitchell or Eddy?
  3. That sentence has slightly romantic connotations. ‘had for a friend’ would keep the focus clear.
  4. This is mildly confusing. Despite the rainbow flag? The rainbow flag tells Mitchell that Chris is not gay? The rainbow flag would be a suggestion that he is gay, not otherwise.
  5. That sentence suggests that Chris is asking Mitchell to look at the way he styles himself similar to those certain 80s pop stars. Does Chris wear makeup and style his hair the same way? Is that how he explains his sexuality?
  6. This sentence sounds like it is coming from someone’s point of view – whose point of view is it? Who thinks that apparent idea? Does the narrator have his own perspectives?
  7. There is no point in including a character that only gets one sentence and an ‘apparent’ last name.
  8. This is already explained.
  9. They continued their conversation? They conversed throughout the movie? I thought only Chris was prone to talking.
  10. Is Mitchell repulsed at those thoughts or his thoughts repulsed?
  11. What about it? Is there a significance? Is it a porn magazine for gay men? Otherwise there’s no point for this whole scene.
  12. Yeah, we know.

The story is based on a real friendship I had with someone like that. Walking past him at the college a month ago is what inspired the story (which was due that evening).

I enjoyed analyzing my own writing and objectively picking up things and errors I made. I've been told most people find it difficult, but I didn't. I had to write a page-long explanation of the piece from an editor's point of view, including the errors and weaknesses, and I didn't find it hard to fill up the page at all. Then again, it's been said of me that I am way too critical of myself, but I think those arguments are reasonable and objective.

Now maybe I should try that with my own blog posts. That would really change the way they're written for sure.

Red Cloud
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