Read the story I wrote last night

I don’t usually write stories. I write essays, poetry and straight dope posts. But not stories. so for some reason at three AM last night, I decided to write a story in my weblog instead of a more relevent post on Halloween. It was written on the fly in the middle of the night with no forthought about where things like plot an characters were going. But I’m still pretty proud of my first story.

Pratihba and the Dragon

Pratihba really wanted a burrito.

She knew she ought to be laying seductively on some embroidered bedcloth coyly sipping perfumed yoghurt and listening to the bells around her milky brown ankle faintly shimmer. It would have been a good scene. She was beautiful- long sculpted nose with just a bit of hawkishness to it, long eyes that are capable of flashing like a young maiden eyeing the local cowherder in a Bollywood film right before the scene when they almost kiss, and long black hair that looks like how swimming through mercury must feel. But that same hair was laying like a dead wet lump around her face, slowly soaking through the dirty sheets. Her eyes were itchy. Her nose was peeling away in white patches of dead skin with the first cold of the season. The only tinkeling came from the windchimes outside, which were fairly howling in the rain and wind.

Pratihba knew exactly what she would do with this burrito. First she’d peel away the foil, as it always set her on edge to even think that it might get close to her fillings. She’s put exactly five sugar cubes in her tea since she was a child. Her pretty smile was laced in silver. Then she’d focus on the beans- how they go from round little pebbles to earthy mush in her mouth. Then she’d get to the rice which was thinly flavored with chicken stock (her mom would kill her if she knew!). After a few more bites, she’d hit the sour cream gold mine. They always lumped it all in one spot. Once she hit that, it’d be over. She’d douse the rest of the burrito in hot sauce and consume it a breathless flurry of bites.

It was a good thought. Good enough to keep her just hungry enough not to fall alseep during that hour she spent in bed trying to find the courage to put on some clothes and make the two block long trek to the Taquaria El Dragon.

She dressed in front of the radiator. Jeans over pajama pants (warmer that way), two woolen sweaters, feet shoved sockless into dress shoes. No umbrella. For a moment she thought ruefully that her hair had just dried from her shower. She grabbed a powder pink beanie and ran out the door before she could decide to go back to bed.

She was just half a block away when the lights started going out.

Water splashed into her dress shoes as she hurried through the puddles to get to warm and safe pools of light coming from the taquria. But then the dragon came. She couldn’t ignore that.

“No way” she thought, “I’m still holding that stupid beanie”

Pratihba stopped. She looked up. The dragon was red and looked like more like a big stupid worm than anything else. She was still caught on the incongruity of it. Who would have thought you’d run into a Chinese dragon? It flapped it’s useless little wings and undulated a bit. She threw the now soaked beanie at it, screamed, and ran to the Taquaria.

Pratihba realized that she probaby hadn’t seen a dragon. She willed herself to walk to the counter as if nothing had happened. She was sleepwalking. She was just going to order her burrito and everything would be fine. She’d go home and call her mom and talk about her baby sister. It’d be alright.

“One super veggie, please”, she said, pulling out three crumpled ones.

“OHhhhhheeeeeeyiiiiiii” wailed the ghost behind the counter. He had an old Mandarin style pigtail and a black padded jacket. His wife, an old woman in a flowered silk dress, grabbed Pratihba from behind. The woman ghost was much stronger than Prathiba. Prathiba passed out.

She woke up in the kitchen. The ghosts looked strange wandering around the dirty chrome of a modern commercial kitchen. The six burner stove was on full blast- six rings of blue flames. In the corner, some old tortilla chips began to smoke under a too-close warming lamp. It was unbearably hot. Even the ghosts looked uncomfortable as the stood around looking etheral.

“This place is going to fucking burn down. Who are you?” Pratihba screamed. The ghosts looked unconcerned. Pratihba walked over and turned off the stove and the lamp.

“Who the fuck are you? You need to get out of here! I just wanted a burrito. I hope to fucking god you didn’t kill the cooks because…” she said as she picked up a chef’s knife.

The ghosts looked at each other and chuckled. Then Prathiba noticed the wall behind them. She’d never been in the kitchen before. the brick was covered in old red paint. A rusted fuse box said “China One Cafe”. She had always wondered what the old taquaria had been. For a moment she had some crazed thoughts about the plight of the Chinese Railroad workers. Then she remembered that it all led up to her being in a kitchen with a bunch of ghosts. Prathiba tried to look mean.

“Who are you!” she demanded.

The female ghost stepped forward.

“We miss our restraunt. It is cold out there. We have nowhere to be. The family that owns the Taquaria is on vacation to Arizona. I hoped we could try it again for just a day. How was I to know that making burritos is much harder than making roasted duck?”

Prathiba thought this made some kind of sense.

“Why the dragon?” she asked, just to clear up the rest of the story.

“To scare any customers away. All I have to cook with is beans and tortillas. I can’t possibly make anything good.”

“So you arn’t interested in being dangerous? I mean, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you guys are good ghosts, right?”

“Oh yes. Of course. It’s not our fault we’ve been damned to walk the Earth forever.” Said the woman, looking back at her husband for reassurance.

Pratihba remembered that she had to call her mother. That could wait. But she knew what her mother would do in this situation. She invited the ghosts to her house for some tea and pampadums. The etheral couple gladly accepted. They stayed up all night talking. Even the tactiturn man began to tell stories about his long gone life. The dragon (who seems much smaller when you get over the fact that he’s a dragon) was curled up in front of the radiator.

Pratihba enjoyed having the company so much that she invited the ghosts to stay in her house. Every wednesday she stopped by the farmer’s market for a fresh batch of vegetables and then the Asian grocery for various ingrediants. The ghost couple preapared the most wonderful food imaginable. Every night they would gather at Prathiba’s table and watch as Pratihba ate their creations. Eventually Prathiba began taking boxes of their food to lunch at work with her. Her friends ate bits of this and pieces of that. From there a small catering firm developed. After many years, full of much laughter and joy, Pratihba and the ghosts bought the old Taquaria El Dragon, allowing the previous owners to retire to sunny Arizona. They ran that restraunt until the day Pratihba died. When Prathiba’s soul began to fly away from her, she quickly grabbed hands with the ghosts. The trio flew up into the heavens, to the unknown that meets us all one day. The dragon looked mornfully for a moment, and then began to make his own way back to the forests where he could frolic with other dragons.

You may not believe this story is true, but if you look in the kitchen of the old abandon Taquaria El Dragon, you wills till find a fuse box that says “China One Cafe” on the side. And you will see payrolls with nary a cooks’ name on them sitting in Prathiba’s little desk in the corner of the kitchen. Make of that what you will.

Okay, I’ll jump into this.

It seems to be written for children (or perhaps just childishly?), but the language precludes that. The similes in the first paragraph are muddled. The story just didn’t interest me. Sorry.

Good work. I assume you are inviting comments. I have some comments to share. I know how harsh criticism, even constructive criticism, can feel; by no means must you let it discourage you.

A bit heavy on adjectives and adverbs. Seductively, coyly, perfumed, milky, faintly. That’s five in just one sentence.

In narrative terms, “milky brown” her is a descriptive aside that detracts from the overall point of the sentence. The problem is one of viewpoint; you have now introduced the viewpoint of the main character, and looking down on herself and discovering that her ankle is milky brown conflicts with the idea that the story is being told from her point of view.

Also, what sound does shimmering make? Is the heroine suffering from some form of synesthesia?

Again a problem of viewpoint. Once you have gone behind the eyes of the protagonist and following one of her trains of thought, switching to an author’s viewpoint is jarring. Switching POVs is a bit like switching between present and past tense. Unless your name is Juan Rulfo, you don’t do it. Not this way, at least.

“its”. But you knew that.

Where is the evidence that the woman is the wife? Unless the protagonist knows them from before, which is not evident (I think) from the narration, she would not know for sure who the woman was.

To me, this sudden emotional uproar on Pratihba’s part doesn’t fit with the narration up to this point. There ought to be some internal monologue where her emotions are described, so that we know what emotional state she is in and that she has a reason to suddenly start yelling. Fear, anxiety, aggression, whatever, just something to make the transition from a groggy person just waking up to one screaming out loud. Something as banal as “She suddenly felt very angry” would suffice.

At this point there is only dialogue, and aside from how we can infer from what Pratihba is saying, we don’t know her emotional state.

Again, transitions are useful to keep the emotional flow running smoothly. Remember, when reading a story we “become” the character, and we do this sort of by coupling our emotional state with the action in the narrative. Really good stories keeps the emotional furnace alive by communicating with the reader.

One trick to figure out where to place such narrative “spandrels” is to read the story out loud, trying to make it sound interesting and involving.

I may be on grammatically shaky ground here, but to me this is a sudden and jarring jump from past tense to something else (past perfect tense?) or perhaps not a tense altogether, but at least a different viewpoint. From a past-tense narrative that occurs in real time, we now are looking back as though we are no longer part of the action. Which is consistent with the next paragraph:

which is all well and good; it’s the sudden shift I’m concerned with.

And then, of course, the sudden present tense out of nowhere, particularly egregious for a person we later find has died.

At the prose level, this is a well-written piece. However, like Chefguy, I felt the story never interested me. The protagonist seemed much like a soulless cipher whose character was not established. The bit about her mother is a nice touch, and one I wish was more consistently applied.

There is also the problem of tone. While pigeonholing by genre in literature is often a Bad Thing, a reader needs some landmarks to navigate by. The surrealistic elements (dragon, ghosts) puts this story squarely in the realm of magical realism. For this kind of story, the somewhat childish mode of narration feels wrong to me: it’s rather flat and unrefined.

You can refine it in a number of ways. For example, pull it just a little further in the direction of a cheery fairy-tale, and couple it with darker observations, allusions and anachronisms, and you could have something with a little more kick to it. People having a good time and going to heaven just doesn’t interest most readers, even if there are dragons involved.

Lastly, the narrative is uneven, as I alluded to in my comments above. You started out with a physical description of the protagonist, one that had no relevance to the rest of the story. Insofar as reading is a kind of mental virtual reality experience, describing the physical appearance of the protagonist is usually only detrimental to the reading experience.

I liked the surrealistic qualities of the story, and there is the glimmering of a character in this Pratihba. So please keep writing.

even sven, IIRC you’re still in high school, yes? If you’re interested in more writing, there’s a forum on Holly Lisle’s Forward Motion board just for people under 18. You might check it out. http://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php

Re: Read the story I wrote last night

I read your story, sven, and looked through some of your other writings over at evensvenlandia, the weblog to which you linked in the OP.

First of all, let me say that I was impressed by your creativity, and I think that you have a raw talent that is well worth developing. The wicked sense of humor that marks some of your other writing seems not to have made it into Pratihba and the Dragon, however – but this was probably a conscious decision on your part.

I liked the multicultural aspects of Pratihba. I get the feeling that you could have explored those areas more if the story had been longer, but in any case that appears to be one of your strong suits. The multiculturalism is particularly important, I think, if adolescents are your intended audience, but the cultural boundaries and surprises were something that I (as an adult) found interesting.

What your writing lacks the most (IMHO of course) is discipline. You make spelling and grammatical errors with frequencies that belie your intelligence and talent, and (as already pointed out by gentle) you have a tendency to drift in tense. In SDMB posts and blogs, typos can be forgiven to an extent, but if you want people to critique your writing I think that you will need to focus on your spelling. At the very least, use some form of spellcheck. I wouldn’t recommend passing “written on the fly” first drafts on to strangers for critique; at least try to get the errors out yourself, so that your SDMB readers will comment on the style and content rather than go all spelling-and-grammar-nazi on you.

An example of how a repeated spelling mistake can really cause problems is that we don’t even know for sure what your protagonist’s name is! In your story, it’s spelled “Pratihba” 13 times and “Prathiba” 9 times. Since the name is one that is probably unfamiliar to many in your target audience, they won’t even know how to pronounce it to themselves, let alone if reading it aloud. I’d venture a guess that you’re familiar with Pratibha Parmar, the film director. The spelling that she uses for her first name is by far the most common I’ve seen, with “Prathiba” a distant second. You owe it to your readers to help them with an unfamiliar name, not cause confusion!

[BTW, it’s taqueria not taquaria, but at least you’re consistent there!]

I agree with gentle’s criticisms almost 100%, so I won’t repeat his/her points.

As to content:
I wanted more of the dragon! This is purely personal, but he does share top-billing in the title! Most stories with which Western readers are familiar use the European-model dragon, who is fierce and (usually) bad-tempered and exists for the hero to slay (or sometimes tame). The Chinese-model dragon is usually much more beneficial, and considerably less fearsome, which you capture quite well in your descriptions. You’ve created him, so use him more!

What had the Chinese ghosts done to be “damned to walk the Earth forever”? We need more backstory!

I’m going to stop there for now, since it’s late here, but may add some more comments later if that’s OK. I did enjoy many of the aspects of the story. I would recommend that you flesh it out a bit, post it to your weblog, and resurrect this thread with a link to the improved version. Do some copy-editing first (and use spellcheck!) and you’ll be helping to keep your audience interested.

Good luck, sven!

P.S. Having just checked out your weblog again, I see that you seem to be shutting it down. I hope that you reconsider this action – I’m a little concerned that it may be partially in response to feedback from the SDMB, both from this current thread and from your job-related Pit thread . I also hope that the muse returns to you, and that you keep the weblog going. It seems like a good outlet for your creative impulses, at least until you can get the film career on track.

(Since the Pit thread is closed): Best of luck with the job situation. Did you acccept the Blockbuster offer? Keep working to make your own choices, happiness, and hope!

I liked it. I thought it was funny and surreal. It was just the right length so the absurdity did not become stale. The juxtaposition of the first two lines should clue people in that it is a comedic story and the overwroughtness of the descriptions are part of the comedy, do not change any of that.

Thanks for the comments. I know I’ve got a long ways to go with fiction, but at least this time I wrote some instead of telling myself that I can’t do it. I’ve learned a lot to apply to my next attempt- includeing the fact that I just can’t make up fiction as I go along like I do with stories based on life experiences.

This whole vacation from writing thing won’t last long. It’s just been hard times in my life, and I can’t think of anything to write that isn’t whiney self-indulgence. It’ll work out in the end. I think I’ll have quite a job hunting adventure to tell tommorow, so keep an eye out.