Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Violent Chatter

For the record, this next piece is meant to change point of view every time there's a word of dialog. Keep that in mind, and hopefully it shouldn't get too disorienting.

You feel a sense of foreboding every time the fan changes its cycle. The metal shudders as it clicks into place, carrying with it a long sound of grind and doom in the extremely claustrophobic tunnel. You count the seconds in your head as you work the control panel. It glides into place, a piece of metal grinding away endless at the back of your mind, your comfort zone, and suddenly you feel a sense of primal dread, knowing full well that at any given moment, your life could come crashed down around your shoulders. This is a thought you're distinctly uncomfortable with, and you try not to think about the several hundred thousand tons of earth around and beside you. The tunnel in which you're working is tight, and well-engineered, and meticulously designed. There are boards, committees, and groups designed to make sure this thing doesn't fail, and you know full well that it shouldn't.

The metal grinds again, jangling your nerves, and you swear that "shouldn't" isn't a word that tends to belong on the end of that particular sentence. "This shouldn't be terminal" just isn't very comforting.

The chatter of your headset nearly makes you jump out of your skin, and your head slams into the aluminum tunneling above you. "God damn it, you're a mechanical engineer, not a little girl in grade school. Get your ass in gear and fix that panel, and you'll be out before you know it. If your candy ass didn't pass confined space training, than I'd've figured you more for a pansy intern than an engineer. Get to work!"

The foreman sighed, and put down the radio. His years in the field had prepared him for every eventuality, but that didn't mean his blood pressure stood around long enough to make it a smooth and comfortable practice. As usual, his engineers were behind, and such an abysmal efficiency would be laughable on any CV, much less something one had to be managing from a position of authority.

He sighed about his job, and went to go make himself a cup of coffee in the mean time. The engineer still had the standard debugging work to do on the console, and that meant running diagnostic tests even after the firmware had been checked, reinstalled if necessary, and upgraded to ensure smooth function.

The coffee machine was, as usual, completely empty. "Great," he began bitterly, "just my goddamned luck..."

I put the manuscript down, and glanced up. "You do realize that you've shifted from second to third person at the end of the second paragraph, right?"
He smiled in response, in his mind, proud to let someone else in on the big joke, "It's a meta-writing practice I follow, significantly increasing the schism between the engineer and his manager. It's it excellent?"
I scowled at him, "No, it's a joke. Don't get me wrong, as ideas like these can be interesting, but it's also really disorienting. Reading is a hobby for most people, and something they like to do effortlessly. Every single time you do something like this, you're forcing your reader to do something they don't like, or at least have to make an effort to adjust to. That's every potential buyer and reader signing up for effort instead of relaxation. No publisher will even entertain that kind of crap, much less consider publishing it. You're wasting my time as much as theirs, with this kind of work."
He scowled, the furrow of his brow narrowing to make his eyes look beady. "You think you're better than me?"

"No," I said honestly, "I think your writing is better than this. Get over yourself, listen to some criticism when someone hands it to you, and make a better manuscript. I know you're capable, but that doesn't mean you can coast by without putting your soul into the piece. You want to commit murder in a book, then commit it in the first degree. Don't go giving us some manslaughter that you aren't committed to. Writing is more biographical than fictional. Your life has to be in it. If it isn't, you aren't writing for your reader, you're masturbating in size 12 Times New Roman. Now rework it and bring it back when you feel like you've made some improvement."

He snarled angrily at the smug bastard in front of him, and stood up. After stomping to the door and slamming it closed - and the one after it - he began to feel a little silly. He sighed, and looked at the now wrinkled manuscript in his hands. The agent was a dick, without question, but Eric couldn't help feeling like there was some logic in it. The schism between lifestyle and character may have been a little over-emphasized by style rather than tone. Words themselves speak only as far as they can, but there's more to characterization than just point of view. He realized he'd need to hammer out his atmosphere, style, and personality.

"Blah, blah, blah, effeciency, yadda, work. Bastard," you say with all the false cheer you can fit into your voice, and jab angrily at the console. The technology behind it is actually quite straightforward, so figuring out what part of the console has gone shouldn't be too hard.

Shouldn't be. You sigh, and keep plodding along at it.

The easiest fix is to start with the firmware. The numbers are pretty conclusive, so you check the version of the related firmware. The numbers seem wrong to you, so you grab the radio and double-check. The version number is relayed back to you, and it checks out. Just for giggles, you reinstall it from your flash drive, and restart. After the boot is finished, you try the open command. The door teases you by making a happy noise, and failing to do anything else.

You plow at the controls a bit longer, debugging through mostly hardware checks and various forms of mechanical witchcraft. This isn't really work for the more mechanically sided engineer, but you volunteered because of your degree in computer science. After having spent a half-hour in this hell-tunnel, you regret the decision more than you can really find words for.

Suddenly, your manager explodes over the radio. "Anything yet?"
"Then get on it. I don't have all day!"

The foreman sighs, and drains his Styrofoam cup with a hard pull. He crushes it, and drops it into the trash can, and turns to go grab another one. "Damn engineers."

I tossed it back on the table. "Did nothing I told you last time sink in? Changing points of view is just unnecessarily complicating the story. Beyond that, your work tends to favor flat plotlines through simple interactions. Much of your work would be better suited world-building rather than starting en medias res, as well as a lot of individual quibbles like the use of second person at all, and weaker side characters. Genuinely, you'll probably need to do some major revisions to these first few chapters if you want this particular project to be anywhere near workable. I'd honestly suggest starting over."

And for the second time, he stomped out of the office, havoc in mind when slamming the door. "S'cuse me sir, please stop slamming the door," you tell him from your secretarial desk, "it's expensive."
"Go screw yourself," he answers, "you think you're better than me."

I sigh, and buzz my secretary. "Send in the next one, please..."

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