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A new start

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by SuperflySnuka, Jul 6, 2007.

  1. Hey JLeaguers, etc.

    After reading various comments, I thought I'd take another stab at the Soccer Chopper story...

    Here's my first two parts...

    The sky over Afghanistan is clean, fresh, pure.
    Looking into it, the sun overwhelms, a reminder that across the world, it is just as bright.
    The scarce clouds may cover some of the blue, but they cannot erase the Black Hawk chopper that crashes through them. Another reminder, that in the middle of such peace is such war.
    The small boy staring up at the sky sees both.
    He is frightened for a moment at the intruders; he doesn't know whether to run or stand his ground.
    The rocks in his hands are the only thing that will protect him, he thinks, but he stays, still monitoring the helicopter, wondering what mission the visiting Americans are on.
    And then he sees it.
    It floats in the sky like a feather, descending from the heavens by the second, 200 feet from the ground but falling.
    Two hundred feet ... 190 ... 180 ... 170 ... 160.
    He squints, the chopper blocking some of the sun, but not all, and he rubs his eyes in disbelief. It can't be what he thinks it is, but he slowly starts to run toward the chopper.
    The package hangs in the air, waiting, waiting.
    One hundred fifty feet ... 140 ... 130 ... 120 ... 110.
    The boy's eyes are trained on both the sky and the ground, a rough terrain.
    It still drops, inching closer to the ground, inching closer to the boy.
    He is in a full sprint, the rocks from his hands have hit the ground, the look of fear now a smile. He realizes that the Americans have given him a gift.
    One hundred feet ... 90 ... 80 ... 70 ... 60.
    His arms stretch, his hands anticipate, his palms pointed to the sky as if he were giving thanks.
    And maybe he is.
    Fifty feet ... 40 ... 30 ... 20 ... 10.
    He's so close, he can feel it. He can read the side, "N-I-K-E," but he doesn't know what the letters mean.
    Nine feet ... 8 ... 7.
    He can see himself playing with it, kicking it, holding it, loving it.
    Six ... 5 ... 4.
    In seconds, it's his.
    Three ... two.
    The soccer ball will mean more to him than anything he's ever gotten.
    One...

    THE SHOPPER


    Mitch Gold walks into the Target on Ventura Boulevard and makes a beeline to the sporting goods section.
    He's already been to two other stores in the last two days, both times leaving empty-handed. Just that effort is painful, courtesy of four hip replacement surgeries. At 59, Mitch has a face that looks decades younger, a body that feels decades older. His soft eyes scan the aisles, hoping, praying, that this is his last stop.
    There it is, a soccer ball, eye-level, which is a good thing as even stretching makes Mitch groan.
    Bright, shiny, made in Singapore, sold in America and soon to be shipped to Afghanistan, the plastic ball represents hope. Moreso, it symbolizes a connection between an average American citizen and a young Afghani boy.
    But to get that ball to that boy, someone also has to ship it and someone has to drop it from the sky. Then, when it's in his hands, someone has to ask for more soccer balls so that more little Afghani boys and girls can have them in their hands.
    To each of them along the chain -- the shopper, the shipper, the dropper and the messenger -- the soccer ball means something different.
    For all, it represents peace, a small bond between two peoples at odds, a small gesture of peace and not hate.
    But individually, the ball is support, it is regret, it is distraction, it is love.
    It started back in April, with Princeton and Nicole Soh.
    Princeton is an American pilot, stationed in Afghanistan. Nicole is his wife, stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. Princeton's days are busy with Black Hawk chopper maintenance checks, systems checks, electronic checks. It's the life of a soldier -- wake up at zero-six-hundred, shower, mess hall, work protecting the United States until sundown, mess hall, shower, bed.
    And then there's Operation Soccer Chopper.
    Princeton and Nicole first conceived of Operation Soccer Chopper when fellow members of Nicole's internet scrapbooking message board, Scrapshare, offered to send care packages to her husband.
    "What can we send?"
    "How can we help?"
    "Does he need baby wipes? Beef jerky?"
    With a PX on his base, Princeton didn't need the essentials. But when he heard that some fellow soldiers had given some Afghani children a football he was just as confused as the kids. "What do these kids know about football? What they need is soccer balls or volleyballs, even."
    Princeton and Nicole figured that soccer balls and volleyballs can be used without anything more than a couple of rocks to form a goal.
    So they started asking the Scrapshare women, who in turn asked their husbands for help. The husbands emailed their friends and coworkers, and three months later, Princeton has dropped more than 500 soccer and volleyballs to Afghani children.
    Two of those soccer balls have the name Mitch G. written directly on the sweet spot.
    Mitch no longer champions many causes, like he did when he was a teenager in the 1960s, campaigning for Kennedy, against Nixon. He remains politically motivated, an outspoken critic of not just the war on terror, but all wars. To him, wars only result in bloodshed, only disaster, never in prolonged peace.
    But those days in the 60s, when he would sit in his radio studio as a college DJ, playing all the latest rock-n'-roll just to anger the establishment at Upsala College in East Orange, N.J., are long past. All that rallying, all that picketing resulted in little satisfaction. He still regrets that he can't tangibly measure the net result of his youthful actions.
    But this, this can be measured. Much as he'd love to, he can't exactly invite an Afghani child into his home, serve him a plate of hot dogs and baked beans and explain that most Americans, ones like himself, aren't monsters. That they wanted to wage peace, not war.
    This little soccer ball, an investment of $15, could be his small contribution, his only chance to put a smile on the face of one small boy, instead of a gun in his hand.
    "It's like a drop of water in the ocean," Gold said. "But I think we still have to try."
    So he provides his small link in this chain, and it's the first link.
    Without a ball from Mitch, like so many others, Shane Harkins has no ball to send to Princeton Soh over in Afghanistan. Mitch considers his link insignificant -- much like Shane Harkins considers his, Nicole Soh considers hers and Princeton Soh considers his -- and, essentially, he only has one goal.
    To give a few kids thousands of miles away a chance to score their own.
    "Will this one act of kindness make a big change in the scheme of things?" Mitch says. "I don't know. We're probably too far gone to make a real change. But it is an act of kindness, and I hope that it will change just one little kid's mind. You never know what that one act of kindness might bring."
    So he takes his purchase, two soccer balls, back to the office. Mitch works at Marsh Private Client Services, and while he enjoys his job, it's days like these that send him home hours later still smiling. It can be something as little as bringing a stack of Dodgers baseball cards and giving them to coworkers who have young kids. something as insignificant as buying a couple boxes of Thin Mints from a girl scout who's come to the office.
    Two years ago, word spread that a female coworker had brain cancer. Mitch bought several yellow Livestrong bracelets in support, part of a company-wide effort that numbered in the thousands. Mitch still wears his, though it's joined by a pink bracelet for breast cancer and a magenta bracelet for leukemia and a black bracelet that says, "I Did Not Vote for Bush."
    Clearly, he does not support the war. Clearly, he does support the troops.
    Starting with those soccer balls, which he's carried into Shane Harkins' office.
     
  2. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    Excellent lead.

    Might want to double-check something . . . I'm not sure Nike soccer balls say "Nike" on them. I believe they just have the swoosh.
     
  3. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Snuka, I like the progress we're making here, and I think we're getting closer, but let's talk about a few things:

    1. Ultimately this is your story, so you have to decide how you want it to begin, but I think it needs to be quicker and cleaner with the chopper up top. I admire what you're trying to do with lines like "another reminder in the middle of such peace is such war" but it's too clunky. I'm a chronic over-writer myself, so I can empathize with want it to be GOOD, but just remember, you already have a great story. The images you construct will naturally explain the contrast between peace and war. You won't have to say it, because as a reader, we'll see it. You'll hear this again and again in your writing career, and it will always be true: Show, don't tell. You can do it better than I can, but here is kind of what Chris is talking about...

    High above the jagged and rocky desert that blankets much of central Afghanistan, a gray and green UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter knifes through the clouds.

    Princeton Soh, the Blackhawk's pilot, scans the horizon from behind dark aviator glasses. He's hunting for his target. The rotors make it impossible to hear anything, and so he must rely on his eyes. Finally, he spots what he was looking for: a cluster of children, working in a field. With the steady hand of a heart surgeon, Soh guides the 16,000 lb chopper into position, hovering 200 feet from the ground. Twin 23-pound, gas-operated M60 machine guns are mounted on the sides of the bird. Both weapons capable of firing 550 rounds per minute, capable of tearing apart a tank, a bunker or an entire squadron if necessary.

    He nods to his gunner, and just as a group of boys runs toward them, the soldier takes aim, leans forward and launches.

    A soccer ball, a white pearl against the gray desert sky, slowly spins as it falls to earth.

    Part One.
    The Purchase:


    2. You may not quite like what tried to throw together there, and that's totally fine if you do, but I want to talk a little about some details in your previous lede if you keep them. The best narrative writing requires rich, telling details that illuminate both your scenes and your subjects, and you have much of that already in your piece. And while I'm ok with some measure of artistic license, I'm a little uncomfortable with this:

    I fear that, in pushing you to be descriptive and interesting, we may have encouraged you to write a scene that your reporting simply can't support. As much as you may want to get inside this Afghani kid's head, I don't think you can. If you had witnessed this scene, maybe. If you had interviewed the kid, certainly. But even if Princeton Soh described this to you in vivid detail, I still think it's a bit of a stretch.

    Norrin Radd pointed out something I want you to think about as you go through this again: Can my reporting support every one of these details? Did the ball say NIKE, or was it a Swoosh? Is the sky really clean and pure and fresh over Afghanistan? Or is it gray and bleak and ugly? Does the boy really rub his eyes in disbelief, like he's in a cartoon? How do we know it will mean more to him than anything he's ever received? More than a copy of the Qur'an? More than a goat his father gave him? Just make sure you're not projecting too much here. When Gary Smith does this kind of thing, it's because he's interviewed 50 people, for hours and hours, about reconstructing that kind of scene. And even he went, arguably, a little too far with his first Pat Tilman story based on other's accounts and what we assumed happened. Some of those details I grabbed for my rewrite of your lead I grabbed from wikipedia, which I would never do if I were reporting the story. So if you want to do something similar, don't be afraid to call back Princeton Soh (if that's possible) and double check details with him. Tell him, "I want to start my story with you in the helicopter, and I just want to make sure I get everything as accurate as possible. What kind of guns does a Blackhawk have? Are they mounted on the sides? How much does the chopper weigh? Is it difficult to hear? Do you wear sunglasses when you fly? What color is the sky? How dangerous is it?"

    One of the things I always do with my narratives, which I got from an editor many years ago, is I put together a checklist right before the story is going to run and I go back to the subject and ask details. That might not always be possible if you're writing about a celebrity or something, but if you CAN double check things, do. Most of the time, you get even better details just in that fact checking process.

    Thanks for having the courage to keep tinkering. I'm sort of like the Green Lantern of the Justice League, so I'll let Superman and Batman weigh in again and perhaps they can give you better advice than what I just did (and maybe they'll disagree with what I wrote), but keep mulling it over. It's going to be an excellent story.
     
  4. DD

    More great insight...

    My only problem is that I've tried multiple times with Princeton to get a more detailed description of the chopper, and I just haven't gotten it. That, and unlike Gary Smith, I'm working on a "relatively" tight deadline.

    This is a freelance story, and they want it pretty soon. Unfortunately, that it is freelance story in itself posed a problem. No guidance, no critiquing.

    But that's what you guys are here for...

    Now, with the lead, I crafted it from several pictures of the drops and the kids and from Princeton's descriptions themselves.

    In all pics, it is a bright blue sky, almost cloudless. He tells of kids holding rocks, throwing rocks, etc. He tells a good story, but without quite enough detail...

    Here's a combination of the both of ours. I like the description of the boy that I've included, but I like your more intimate description of the chopper and pilot.
     
  5. Here's my first two parts...

    The sky over Afghanistan is clean, fresh, pure.
    Looking into it, the sun overwhelms, a reminder that across the world, it is just as bright.
    The scarce clouds may cover some of the blue, but they cannot erase the Black Hawk chopper that crashes through

    them. Another reminder, that in the middle of such peace is such war.
    Princeton Soh, the Blackhawk's pilot, scans the fields.
    He's on the hunt, again, and he suddenly spots what he's looking for.
    A lone Afghani child, working on his hands and knees.
    Princeton drops the chopper, pulling 16,000 pounds of green and gray metal closer toward the earth, closer

    toward the target.
    For a moment, his gunner, wielding a 23-pound, gas operated M60 machine gun, enough force to tear apart a tank,

    takes his hands off his weapon.
    He's just gotten a nod from Princeton, who tilts the chopper to the right.
    The soldier takes aim, leans forward and fires.
    The boy is frightened for a moment at the intruders; he doesn't know whether to run or stand his ground.
    The rocks in his hands are the only thing that will protect him, he thinks, but he stays, still monitoring the

    helicopter, wondering what mission the visiting Americans are on.
    And then he sees it.
    It floats in the sky like a feather, descending from the heavens by the second, 200 feet from the ground but

    falling.
    Two hundred feet ... 190 ... 180 ... 170.
    He squints, the chopper blocking some of the sun, but not all, and he rubs his eyes in disbelief. It can't be

    what he thinks it is, but he slowly starts to run toward the chopper.
    The package hangs in the air, waiting, waiting.
    One hundred fifty feet ... 140 ... 130 ... 120.
    The boy's eyes are trained on both the sky and the ground, a rough terrain.
    It still drops, inching closer to the ground, inching closer to the boy.
    He is in a full sprint, the rocks from his hands have hit the ground, the look of fear now a smile. He realizes

    that the Americans have given him a gift.
    One hundred feet ... 90 ... 80 ... 70.
    His arms stretch, his hands anticipate, his palms pointed to the sky as if he were giving thanks.
    And maybe he is.
    Fifty feet ... 40 ... 30 ... 20.
    He's so close, he can feel it. He can read the side, "N-I-K-E," but he doesn't know what the letters mean.
    Ten feet ... 9 ... 8 ... 7.
    He can see himself playing with it, kicking it, holding it, loving it.
    Six ... 5 ... 4.
    In seconds, it's his.
    Three ... two.
    The soccer ball will mean more to him than anything he's ever gotten.
    One...
     
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Snuka -

    I know you're coming up on deadline, so will keep my thoughts brief this morning in the interest of clarity and efficiency. Thanks again for letting us in on this, and thanks to all the workshoppers who answered the clarion call of the urgent umlaut.

    - Jones's recommended story reordering is a sound strategy. And as you move forward, think not only of the story arc of all four parts; but also think of the arc in each of the four individual parts.

    - DD's recommendation to tighten the top is a must. Right now the revised lede is about 2/3 too long. You need to delineate the Blackhawk scene for us, yes - but to do it quickly and efficiently. Then you need to explain, in a sentence, what the series/story is going to be about.

    - The good news is that most of the material is already on the page - you simply need to chip away the surplus to let it stand out. The essence of all writing is rewriting, so set the piece aside for a few hours. Go for a run, see a movie, take a nap. Then print the thing out on paper and go through it with a pencil in your hand. Cut whatever doesn't advance the story. You'll be amazed what you see. Here's an example (not prescriptive, just illustrative):

    Princeton Soh, the Blackhawk's pilot, is hunting. scans the fields. He's on the hunt, again, and he suddenly spots what he's looking for. There. A lone Afghani child. working on his hands and knees. Princeton drops the chopper, pulling 16,000 pounds of green and gray metal closer toward the earth, closer toward the target. Soh dips the nose, and 8 tons of destruction close fast on the target. For a moment, his gunner, wielding a 23-pound, gas operated M60 machine gun, enough force to tear apart a tank, takes his hands off his weapon. All the door gunner can do is wait.

    Which gets you down to this:

    Princeton Soh, the Blackhawk's pilot, is hunting. There. A lone Afghani child. Soh dips the nose, and 8 tons of destruction close fast on the target. All the door gunner can do is wait.

    As you move through this rewrite you're only going to cut and simplify. In this example - which may or may not be better, but is simpler and shorter - I was simplifying "16,000 pounds" and got "8 tons." I then thought "8 tons" of what? The specifications of the machine gun - all of which is good research detail, but had to be cut because it provided no narrative benefit - gave me the idea that the helicopter's purpose is to destroy things - which gets us "destruction." And since we're using these few sentences to heighten tension, we then include the door gunner without specifying what he's waiting for. Again, I use this example just to illustrate process. Make the sentences your own.

    Your job now - and it's the joy and terror and bane of every feature writer - is to go through your story line by line and do the same thing.

    Great job, Snuka. I hope this helps. And thanks again for sharing it with us.
     
  7. DD - I rechecked everything I wrote in the lede with the pilot, and he gave me the go-ahead on most of it. Some things were rewritten, but stayed true to it for the most part.

    JMac-
    I like your idea of paring it down, but I do want to keep most of the sequence. Here's my thinking...
    With DD's rewrite, I thought it put you right there. His focussed more on the chopper/ball/setting, while mine focussed on the ball/drop/child. I like the infusion of both.
    I certainly agree that I can chop some off, but I'd really like to keep some of that flavor.

    No?
     
  8. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    The soccer ball that rained from the sky flooded a nation with hope.
     
  9. hmm...

    how about a boy with hope? Not really a nation.
     
  10. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    perhaps. in my mind, i equate the boy with the hopes and dreams of a nation in desperate need of a rebirth. it starts with one ball, one boy.
     
  11. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Yes, by all means, keep the best of it. But it needs tightening, not just as matter of lyric, but as a matter of space. Right now that lede is 465 words long. That's nearly 500 words before the reader has any idea what this story is going to be about. That's a real gamble. And while I understand that you're introducing not only the first installment, but the whole series, and trying to set the scene, you need to pace yourself a little and try not to shoehorn all the writing into the first couple of grafs.

    I'm not suggesting you scrap it - rather that you trim the fat from it.
     
  12. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    Sorry that I'm late coming to this.

    I'm with those who suggest that the top needs a good trim. I've just spent 12 hrs trimming an overlong (what else?) ms, so here's my 90-sec buzz


    The sky over Afghanistan is clean, fresh, pure. Ok, if you want.

    Looking into it, the sun overwhelms, a reminder that across the world, it is just as brightI struggle with this and I'm not sure that I understand what it says or why it's there other than pacing..

    The scarce clouds may cover some of the blue, but they cannot erase Sorta contradicts the first sentence, on the one hand clean and pure, on the other a few clouds the Black Hawk chopper that crashes through them Obviously the nut here, could we get a little specificity, like how many tons it is, the speed of its descent. Another reminder what was the first one ... maybe something along the lines of Like the jeeps and tanks that roll by whenever, that in the middle of such peace is such war. awkward, maybe if you just have the boy seeing the war around him, that most things barely get a reaction, but this one is different


    I'd like to start with the kid looking up--the sun hanging, the chopper crashing. Scrap your clouds, across the world, time of war, and the like. Some short declarative sentences of what it is. I might not mention that it's Afghanistan until sentence four, but that's me.


    I'll look at this a bit more later this afternoon.

    YHS, etc
     
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