ESPN’s Top Draft
Your Short Story.
BY AARON GUEST
KEITH LAW: So, first let’s talk about the story compared to all your other stories. I’ve got it ranked pretty high. It’s a big turnaround since you got that MFA, both in the quality of what’s in the stories and the quantity of stories. I feel also like you’re really using your drafting like a strong farm system. What do you guys think?
JAY BILAS: I ran my own mock drafts on this one, and the one thing I noticed is potential. If this is how it’s gonna play out, there’s just tremendous upside in this early round.
LAW: You mentioned going for more ceiling with this draft. Really trying something new. Let’s start with that.
BILAS: Tremendous upside—
MEL KIPER, JR.: You know I’ve got to be honest. It didn’t wow me over. You’ve got to burst out. We’re talking explosiveness right from the snap. That’s something, this wow factor, your story just doesn’t have.
BARRY MELROSE: You’ve got to get out there on the first shift, get a big hit. That’s the part of being a good writer, controlling the voice and channeling it through the character.
KIPER, JR.: A lot of character issues for me. Felt like we are missing a huge piece of the puzzle.
BILAS: It was an intriguing pick of narrators for sure.
LAW: Let’s talk developmental craft challenges you faced employing such a close POV. You need a very different approach, or at least part of your drafting approach has to be different, to be able to accommodate and develop this character in this way and also the minor characters. I think that’s the real challenge. Now like my colleague Mel was saying, if a character can hit the broad side of a barn with the reader right out of the chute you should consider that successful. I think Vernon throws strikes with the prose—
KIPER, JR.: Sure we can talk about “athletic prose” all we want but—
LAW: But in terms of this draft—were you intentional about looking more at ways to develop lesser characters first and hope to work on some of the other aspects of POV choice later?
KIPER, JR.: There are just a lot of character issues for me. I think I’ve said that. I’ll say it again. A lot of character issues. Right from the beginning. You need characters who can catch and run. I mean run. I mean explosive, dynamic plot points that can really be exploited. This main character Vernon, I like him. But I’m not high on him. The minor character Sullivan? He’s strong. He’s got the intangibles. And a bit undersized for this draft. If you’re going with a scheme like this, you need a guy like Sullivan in a more upfront role. If you’re going with this scheme you need characters who can play in it.
BILAS: Some of this is an eye‑of‑the‑beholder thing, but it’s just interesting because—-
MELROSE: Vernon as narrator? I think he’s one of the guys in the conversation. I happen to think he could change the game for you. I don’t think he will, but he might. Look, he’s not going to be this guy in that draft two months from now. He’ll get better each draft and that will make it a much better story.
BILAS: See, I don’t think it will. I think you’ve got as good a value as your gonna get pretty at this stage. Your prose is really athletic, sure, it gets up and down. Great pace. But with a protagonist, how often do we say, great pace, great voice, really well-written, impacts the story, but can he score? Or does the writing have to score?
KIPER, JR.: Just a lot of character issues for me. Just give another character the ball in space and see what he can do.
BILAS: In a couple of my mock-ups I wondered if the POV was a bit much. Just rimming these other guys right out of the story. I think maybe you need to go inside with these other guys if they’re going to contribute.
LAW: One of the major questions I have about the post-post-modern story is around the increasing use of POV shifts and whether they can help stories reduce the incidence and ineffectiveness of unreliable narrators.
BILAS: I mean showing you’re capable of doing a single, unreliable narrator, that is an awfully good thing. But is it what this story needs? Is it gonna get it to the next level in this publishing environment?
LAW: Improving your plot by acquiring or developing more POVs can affect a story’s batting average with the reader. The evidence supports that, even if there’s nothing definitive.
MELROSE: We go through this every time, guys. Obviously he does not want to scrap everything at this point in the draft.
BILAS: I think we have to ask that at this stage.
LAW: I think we’re all just trying to look for ways to think more analytically or just more critically about this draft where the narrator seems largely unreliable.
KIPER, JR.: Can Vernon make all the kinds of throws you need him to make? I don’t think so. He’s overrated.
BILAS: It depends what you’re looking at a protagonist for. Nobody has got a magic eye for this. Could Vernon be more consistent if asked to do less than he might have been otherwise if there were more options in the POV?
MELROSE: If you’re thinking about scratching your narrator at this stage, there are issues in the dressing room.
LAW: Consistency is something that the drafting process helps with. There’s no evidence I know of that more drafts hurt the final story. You start counting drafts, I mean, writers raise drafting concerns all the time, but there’s just nothing definitive. We are saying that you’re going to have to make adjustments. And we’re going to want to see you maintain those adjustments for several more drafts before you can think about publishing. You’ve got an MFA now. Anybody else want to add a final thought?
SKIP BAYLESS: Lots of generalities here, guys. Sounds like none of you care. One thing I noticed—look, I can tell you for a fact Franzen listens to me, he said I was his Howard Cosell—but you’ve just tuned out everything I’ve said in each workshop. So I’ve gained credibility reading this story and just by listening to the rest of you.
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