Sour Ground 842 words - witholding info from the reader

Phyrebrat

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#1
Hi guys and molls,

Following the recent observation in another thread of a lack of crits, and my constant worry that I'm doing it all wrong, I'm after a rather simple feedback on this exerpt. Before I post it, though, I have to say that in the past the Boss has told me off for spoilers re this story and in case he - or anyone else - is serious in that respect, please don't comment or read this thread. ;)

This is a scene in which POVs Willie and his best mate Kate, along with her husband Neil are considering the absence of other friend, Craig, who went out clubbing the night before and hasn't come back. Willie, Craig and Jose are guests at Kate & Neil's house, so Craig's absence is a bit of a worry, however ...

Jose is not a real person, and exists solely in Willie's mind, but Willie obvs doesn't realise this. Craig's voicemail is also 'not real'.

Am I cheating the reader? Is there anything in the passage that makes you think a reader when they discover this will think I've acted unfairly.

Thanks

pH

‘Where’s Craig?’ [Neil, who's just come into the kitchen with a hangober says this]
‘Not back yet,’ Willie said, ‘What time do you think?’
‘I dunno. I don’t even remember if I gave him a key or not.’
‘Morning beeches,’ Jose said, swaggering in wearing pristine knee-length white shorts and a pink tank vest. His skin glowed even in the gloom, and his eyes were bright and lively.
‘What time did you get in?’ Willie said, ‘We were just talking about you two.’
‘Around six I think, maybe seven,’ Jose said, ‘Is Craig back?’
Neil and Willie looked at each other.
‘He’s not back?’ Jose said, and started chuckling.
‘No, he’s not. What’s so funny?’ Willie said as Neil set up the coffee machine. He was still rubbing his head.
‘That chick he met, he must’ve gone back to hers.’
‘You mean that old dear with the crutch? I hope he has his phone,’ Willie said, remembering last night’s strange out-of-sync conversation.
‘I didn’t see her, he told me about her. But you know Craig, doing his bit for charity,’ Jose said and walked out through the dining room and into the gardens, disappearing to the west.
‘Don’t be such an arsehole, Jose,’ Willie said, but it wasn’t his comment on Craig doing a disabled woman that bothered him, but that Craig liked to drink as well as trip out, and the dick wasn’t familiar with Lowe. It was funny how someone so annoyingly polite in some ways could be so inconsiderate in others.
‘Lemme call him,’ Willie said, reaching into his pocket.


The screen flashed when he looked at it; one missed call and a voicemail. He clicked the play button. The metallic voice advised him; “Message. Received. August. Thirty first. At. Two. Forty two. A. M.”
This was followed by the familiar sound of Craig’s voice, breathless and excited with a background of a thumping bass, voices and the occasional car passing; “Raaass! It just gets better. I wish you would pick up. Jose said you wanted to chat so I came outside to call. Why don’t you ever pick up, man? You won’t believe this. I met this hot gyal. Oh my days, she’s a scream, I’m telling you! She’s here alone, fam. Can you believe that? Do you think Kate and Neil’d mind if I brought her over tomorrow? To the house, I mean. Adele would love Kate. So… Look, text me yeah. If it’s okay. Ask Kate and text me. Okay, cool bruv. I’ll see you on the flip, later.”


A muffled sound followed as Craig fumbled with his phone and then the metallic voice cut in again. He hung up.
It seemed odd that Craig would be so forward in regards to bringing someone back to the house but something else worried him more. It danced around before his mind and wouldn’t settle so he could work out what it was. But there it remained, bothersome, sullen and unresolved.


Kate power-walked back into the kitchen with an exhaust of white sheets fluttering behind her. She threw them on the counter where they landed with a whump.

‘Help me with these will you?’ she said, and slid a pair of scissors over to Willie.
He followed her lead in cutting and tearing them into strips whilst Neil moaned about the insanity of it all.
‘Baby, come on, you’re not serious are you?’
‘Darling, have you forgotten about last night?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ he asked
Kate rolled her eyes at him. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’
Meanwhile Jose had returned and was munching on a huge green apple. ‘What happened last night?’ Jose asked. He wound some of the strips they’d prepared around his arms and was parading around like a mummy, making ghoulish noises, howling ‘Woo!’ in everyone’s faces.
‘For God’s sake!’ Neil said, slamming his espresso cup down before walking out to the reception. ‘I’m going to lie down.’
Kate hurried after him but returned shortly looking hurt.
‘Where d’you get that apple?’ Willie asked Jose noting he’d just come in from outside.
‘The shree…’ he said around a mouthful, pointing out to the garden.
‘What tree? They don’t have any apple trees. Just a flowering cherry.’
Jose laughed and flashed a wide smile as if he’d said the most ridiculous thing. He finished the thing and pitched the core out the open window where it landed with a splash, presumably in the pond.


Willie loved Jose’s irreverence and free sprit, but it was embarrassing seeing him act like that, as if the house were his own. Luckily Kate had been so focused on her sheet ripping she’d not noticed. He shook his head at Jose who just grinned again, raised his eyebrows and walked back out to the gardens.

A few minutes later and all the sheets had been reduced to long strips. Kate begun the task of hanging them immediately, starting with the window seat, then moving into the dining room, looping the strips over anything that could be used to hang them.
 
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#2
I realize that this is an excerpt and some of the problems I have may be taken care of by earlier sections in the story, so please take what follows with that in mind.

Okay, I read the spoiler, so
If Jose is not a real person, doesn't Neil find it odd when Willie speaks to him?

‘Don’t be such an arsehole, Jose,’ Willie said, but it wasn’t his comment on Craig doing a disabled woman that bothered him, but that Craig liked to drink as well as trip out, and the dick wasn’t familiar with Lowe.
I'm kind of confused here. Do adults use "doing" as a synonym for sex? Would someone who does this also think that Jose is an arsehole? I'm not sure who/what "the dick" here is, and don't know what/who Lowe is. If the reader knows, never mind. In the following sentence, I'm not sure who the "someone" is, whether Jose or Craig.

Does Willie know what's going on with the sheets? I don't. (Again, if the previous scene announced their plans to dress as mummies, you're fine.)

Another
Neil seems to be reacting to Jose. I know that he isn't, but the way you wrote it implies it. When you cut things this close to the line, you violate rules of fair play.

Argh. I'm sorry if this wasn't helpful. Again, it's the problem of coming in mid-stream.

Good luck!
 
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#3
I don't understand why Neil and then Kate ignore Willie addressing Jose, even by name.

Are some of Willie's vocalizations also not real?
 

tinkerdan

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#4
When you remove certain specific sections from this you end up with portions of seemingly inane conversation that goes un-commented about and mostly ignored by the others.
There is not enough clue for me to understand what might be going on in regards to the spoiler by the time I reach the end and that doesn't even cover the cut strips of a white sheet. Is that some cultural thing going on there?
 

Phyrebrat

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#5
Ahh. Okay... when I get access to my laptop instead of just this phone I’ll try to contextualise things. I figured that all the other stuff wasn’t going to throw anyone as I’m just looking for comments on my potentially cheating the reader.

Thanks in the meantime!

pH
 

Jo Zebedee

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#6
I didn't see anything that would stand out as cheating for me - but, on a general note, if you hold a close point of view you can get away with more, as the person in that pov believes what is happening anyway. So, if we stay in his head when he believes, that should be fine. You'll have more issues with cheating the reader if you pull into omni at any point - because that narrator will know.

On a nitpicky note - there's a lot of saids in the excerpt. Some of those becoming action tags might break up your sentence structure and keep it flowing well. :)
 

The Big Peat

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#7
It does feel like Neil is reacting to Jose, or at the very least accepting that Willie is having a real conversation that he can hear, in the first paragraph. And as such, I might be a bit confused come the spoilered reveal.
 

The Judge

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#8
SPOILER ALERT

This entire post is likely to be full of spoilers, and I can't be fagged with dodging in and out of the spoiler tags, so if you don't want the plot twist spoiled, read no further!


Right, this kind of twist is right up my writing and reading street, and if I do say so myself, I'm good at it. This, I think, is nearly there, but as it stands yes, to my mind you've breached the writer-reader pact. Misleading the reader is fine, but you have to give hints so that the canny reader can pick up the twist, just as in a detective novel the writer has to lay out all the clues so the reader could have worked out who the murderer is. You also can't lie to the reader, and this comes perilously close to it at times.

So, if Willie is talking to Jose in reality, that is words are coming out of his mouth addressed to someone who isn't there, you must have the others react to this in some way. If they know Jose is his imaginary friend and they're now used to it, you could have them shrug their shoulders or mutter "Not again" or something, or as and when two of them are in the room at the time, they could look at each other and raise their eyebrows. If they don't know about Jose, then they need to express concern about Willie and his sanity when they hear him speak.

If Willie isn't in fact speaking aloud to Jose, you must at some point show this isn't the case, though I'm not sure how in this particular scene. Perhaps after he's wittered on to Jose, Kate could say "You're quiet this morning, Willie" and he thinks it's odd? Or could Neil and/or Kate talk over Willie when Willie is speaking to Jose? After all, they don't know they need to be silent when he's talking. But though I can accept someone hallucinating about a person who isn't there, can people hallucinate that they are speaking when they aren't? :unsure:

By the way, it's not enough for the others' reactions etc to happen once in the story, either, the clues have to be present more often, preferably in every scene in which Jose appears.

It's a good line about Kate not noticing Jose because of the sheet-ripping, but what about Neil's failure to acknowledge him earlier? By implication, you're putting it down to Neil's hangover, but I think you need more there for Willie to justify the lack of Neil's good manners.

One of the near-lies to my mind is the Neil and Willie looked at each other line -- as written, it's meant to make us think the two of them are reacting to Jose's question. That's fine. And it's fine for Willie to look at Neil in expectation of a reaction. But why is Neil looking at Willie? There's no reason for it in the writing, which to my mind there should be.

You've done it better with Neil's later "For God's sake" and slamming the coffee cup down. Again we're meant to read this as Neil reacting to Jose, which is fine, whereas I imagine he's really reacting to Kate's dismissive "You wouldn't understand." The problem is, her line is too far away from his reaction because of all the Jose stuff in between. What I'd suggest is that you have Jose mummying and wooing earlier, setting it up, then Kate's line, just as Jose woos right in Neil's face -- so there are only a handful of words between what she says and what Neil does.

I have to confess Craig's call confused me on first read as for some reason I thought it was Neil hearing it. D'oh! And then I was more confused with the "It seemed odd" para as I wasn't sure who was thinking all that -- looking at it again, it's obvious it's Willie, and the whole scene is his, but perhaps use his name in the para to make it clear. On a re-read, I like the hint that he knows something is wrong, but can't work out what. Trouble is, I've no idea what, either, so it's not enough of a clue to my mind.

On a general note, I think it could be made sharper and more taut, but it's a good first draft.

That help?
 

Phyrebrat

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#9
'm kind of confused here. Do adults use "doing" as a synonym for sex?
Hi Sam, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Yes they do, but it is an unpleasant, somewhat misogynistic term.

Would someone who does this also think that Jose is an arsehole?
Well, yes, I think someone saying having sex with a disabled person is doing charity work does make them such. :)

I'm not sure who/what "the dick" here is, and don't know what/who Lowe is
Jose is, for saying what he said.

Lowe is the town. This would obviously be clearer to a reader as he story is set there.

I'm not sure who the "someone" is, whether Jose or Craig.
Right, that should be clearer, thanks.

Does Willie know what's going on with the sheets? I don't. (Again, if the previous scene announced their plans to dress as mummies, you're fine.)
Yep, the reader knows. Willie has been told to hang scraps of rags in the windows of the house.

Argh. I'm sorry if this wasn't helpful
Your comments were great! Very helpful! Thanks.


When you remove certain specific sections from this you end up with portions of seemingly inane conversation that goes un-commented about and mostly ignored by the others.
Thanks TD for your comments.

It does rather, doesn't it. On one hand I think context is important (in terms of having read the entire story up to this point), but I'm pretty sure in draft 2 I'll cut some of the extraneous, inane, chat.

There is not enough clue for me to understand what might be going on in regards to the spoiler by the time I reach the end and that doesn't even cover the cut strips of a white sheet. Is that some cultural thing going on there?
I should have really cut the last two lines about the sheets as they're not strictly important to the question I was asking, and not contextualised in this snippet. However, in my above comments to Sam, you'll see the purpose. It's not a cultural thing, and the characters themsevles have been asked to do it, but neither they nor the reader are really sure why they're doing it hence Neil's skepticism.

On a nitpicky note - there's a lot of saids in the excerpt. Some of those becoming action tags might break up your sentence structure and keep it flowing well
Thanks Jo,

Good point! Coming from the dialogue queen too ;) I'll attend to that in the repost.

It does feel like Neil is reacting to Jose, or at the very least accepting that Willie is having a real conversation that he can hear, in the first paragraph
Cheers, P.

Agreed, I'll tweak. Ta.

Right, this kind of twist is right up my writing and reading street, and if I do say so myself, I'm good at it.
Thanks,

Well, I'm still clinging on to the hope that when I'm finished you'll Beta/Trounce SG, so there's hope for me!!

Misleading the reader is fine, but you have to give hints so that the canny reader can pick up the twist, just as in a detective novel the writer has to lay out all the clues so the reader could have worked out who the murderer is
I believe (!) I've laid the odd seed hither and yon prior to this, but I guess I have to wait till this is beta'd to know for sure. It's something I keep in mind when I'm writing, but as you know, it might be too subtle or oblique as it is.

So, if Willie is talking to Jose in reality, that is words are coming out of his mouth addressed to someone who isn't there, you must have the others react to this in some way.
See this is something I'm kind of hedging; I can't decide whether to make it all imaginary, or to have his experiences verbal. AS he's in/had a kinda fugue I thought I could get away with it, but yes, this is my biggest concern. How to include Jose etc in a real way that doesn't break this logic. TBH I'm not toooooo bothered that the secret remains a secret. I mean to say, I'd be happy for it to be a reveal, but the story's success is not predicated on this.

If they know Jose is his imaginary friend and they're now used to it, you could have them shrug their shoulders or mutter "Not again" or something, or as and when two of them are in the room at the time, they could look at each other and raise their eyebrows. If they don't know about Jose, then they need to express concern about Willie and his sanity when they hear him speak.
This makes me wonder if I could rewrite the story to include this logic when i come to draft 2, but I'm not sure. Willie's eccentric and his friends know he is suffering mental health issues due to discovering his medication in his bag, but ... I don't know.

If Willie isn't in fact speaking aloud to Jose, you must at some point show this isn't the case, though I'm not sure how in this particular scene.
Totally.

On a general note, I think it could be made sharper and more taut, but it's a good first draft.
Thanks, I think a lot of the chat, voicemail and - as Jo said, 'saids' - can be whittled and tightened.

Thanks for the comments, all!

pH
 

ctg

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#10
You are doing fine pH. If you'd be mocking the reader then I would be worried as everything else is tradecraft. It annoyed me that you didn't but in the paragraph breaks but as a story it moves on even if some of the people might not 'actually' be at the present situation. And, for being able to pull this off shows your skills as a storyteller. Well done and sorry for the short crit.
 

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