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Julia's Diner

Flash Fiction Pathfinding Love Story

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#1 Offline Emissary

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Posted Oct 22 2012 - 09:24 PM

Julia's Diner

Arnie had never been much of a charmer. He hadn’t been with many women. He didn’t know of all the different places where one could meet them easily. He had married fairly late in life, and he had never been good at grand gestures of affection.But even after all of that, he still understood what love was. Maybe Arnie had married later than most fellows, but he had married well. He loved his wife with all of his heart, and she loved him equally.Arnie owned a small diner on the corner of a small street, in the middle of a small neighbourhood. It may have been out-of-the-way, but it was a second home to the aging man, and it did provide enough of an income for him and his wife.Not many people came to his diner (named “Julia’s, in honour of his beloved), but there were two customers he could always count on to come by. They arrived at his restaurant like clockwork, to the point where he could literally set his watch by their movements.One was a young, pale, raven-haired man named Ted, a banker who worked the Hong Kong shift, which had rendered him nearly nocturnal in his habits. Each morning, right after Arnie opened for the day, Ted would walk in, usually wearing a crisp, black suit and tie, order a cup of decaf, and lament his lonely existence.For, while other young fellows might be out on the town, flirting with every girl they met, Ted usually stayed cooped up inside his home, reading novels about people who always managed to find love so easily, it was as if there something inherently wrong with anyone who had the slightest bit of trouble.And every morning, the young banker would sit, and talk about his life, and tell bad jokes, which Arnie never understood but always smiled at, in order not to hurt Ted’s feelings. And then he would leave, to read, and sleep, and lament his lucklessness in love.For the rest of the day, things would be fairly peaceful. People would come and go, ordering coffee and pie, and occasionally telling a life story or two to the nearest sympathetic ear.Then, late in the evening, when most businesses would be ready to close up shop, his second regular customer would show herself. A sweet, gentle, quick-witted girl, whose black eyes and ever-changing, but always vibrant, hair colours could both inspire and mystify those around her.Her name was Stephanie, and she was a graphic designer who would always arrive at “Julia’s” for a decaf, and a slice of apple pie. Eating and drinking, with a nigh-constant smile on her face, she would regale Arnie with (apparently) humorous tales about her day, all the while pining for some young fellow to come and sweep her off of her feet.And so, for many months, Arnie listened blankly to each of his two regulars as they lamented their unfortunate love-lives, but who never did anything to rectify their situations. And while the proprietor suggested numerous solutions (“Go out, meet a girl, see what happens!” “Waiting around’s no good! If you want to find someone, you’ve got to take the initiative!”), they would always respond with some excuse (“It’s too risky!” “What if something goes wrong?”).And then, on February 14th, at nine in the evening, something new happened. Stephanie was there as usual, drinking her standard cup of decaf, as the snow built up on the streets outside. But then, Ted walked in, already dusting the ice crystals off of his jacket, not even noticing that someone else was sitting next to his spot at the counter.Suddenly, as if choreographed by some unknown deity, the two regulars turned to face each other, in a moment of shared surprise. Ted stared at Stephanie, Stephanie stared at Ted. Then, slowly, they both turned to look at Arnie, was standing behind the counter, a dawning smile on his wrinkled face, as if to ask, “Who is this other person?”Arnie, although just as mystified about the situation as the youngsters, was happy that the two had finally met. After enough time listening to each of their stories, the old proprietor had realized how alike these strangers were.Slowly, Ted walked over to claim his usual spot, meekly ordering a coffee (black, two sugars), and doing his best not to stare at the beautiful girl seated next to him. Stephanie too, was careful to keep her focus on her meal, and definitely not on the handsome fellow beside her.With hidden hope and satisfaction, Arnie handed Ted his coffee, casually asking about his unusual hour of arrival.Ted explained how he had been forced to attend a wedding during the day, and since he was too tired to face heading back to the office, he choose to take a sick day, and hang out in one of the few places he could call home; “Julia’s”.Stephanie, still very interested in this new stranger, replied with her own story: escaping a seriously depressing Valentine’s Day party to come have a cup of coffee in a place without starry-eyed couples to remind her of how lonely she was.Arnie watched, hopeful, as the two engaged in the age-old game of flirting: knocking jokes and stories back and forth, discussing news, and generally finding each other genuinely interesting.And then, the clincher: Stephanie hesitantly asking Ted if he would like to accompany her back to the party. She used that word too; “accompany”, as if they were in a penny novelette. Of course, being a man of literature himself, Ted was instantly enamoured with the woman who used such a term in ordinary conversation, and was quick to accept her invitation with a shy smile.And Arnie smiled, watching the two loneliest people to grace his diner, walk out together.

~ ~ ~

So, yeah, I've finally entered one of these things (I'm so proud!) This is a pretty loose example of "pathfinding", I know, but hey, it's worth a shot, isn't it?I hope you guys enjoy reading it as I much as I enjoyed writing it! Have fun!-Void

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#2 Offline Kragghle

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Posted Oct 23 2012 - 01:57 PM

:kaukau: First, I'm going to review this thing line-by line. This isn't a judgment on the work as a whole. It mainly targets the flow of the story and your structure, not so much your ideas.

Arnie had never been much of a charmer. [A pretty generic statement. Regardless of the later content, I would start off with a little more of a zinger. Havig now read the full story, I now know that this has little to do with setting up the story.] He hadn’t been with many women. He didn’t know of all the different places where one could meet them easily. He had married fairly late in life, and he had never been good at grand gestures of affection.But even after all of that, he still understood what love was. [I may not be smart, but I know what love is. I love you Jenny Julia!] Maybe Arnie had married later than most fellows, but he had married well. He loved his wife [Cross this out and call her Julia. Her name is mentioned in the title, so you might as well get to the point here. Otherwise it seems a bit impersonal.] with all of his heart, and she loved him equally. [That sentence, for something expressing such beauty, was a bit formulaic. perhaps there's a more poetic way of putting this, or maybe my expectations are too high.]Arnie owned a small diner on the corner of a small street, in the middle of a small neighbourhood. It may have been out-of-the-way, but it was a second home to the aging man. [Considering that he's an old and mature person, why not call him Arnold?], and it did provide enough of an income for him and his wife.Not many people came to his diner (named “Julia’s, in honour of his beloved), but there were two customers he could always count on to come by. They arrived at his restaurant like clockwork, to the point where he could literally set his watch by their movements.One was a young, pale, raven-haired man named Ted, a banker who worked the Hong Kong shift, which had rendered him nearly nocturnal in his habits. Each morning, right after Arnie opened for the day, Ted would walk in, usually wearing a crisp, black suit and tie, order a cup of decaf, and lament his lonely existence.For, while other young fellows might be out on the town, flirting with every girl they met, Ted usually stayed cooped up inside his home, reading novels about people who always managed to find love so easily, it was as if there something inherently wrong with anyone who had the slightest bit of trouble.And every morning, the young banker would sit, and talk about his life, and tell bad jokes, which Arnie never understood but always smiled at, in order not to hurt Ted’s feelings. And then he would leave, to read, and sleep, and lament his lucklessness in love.For the rest of the day, things would be fairly [Cross out "fairly"] peaceful. People would come and go, ordering coffee and pie, and occasionally telling a life story or two to the nearest sympathetic ear.Then, late in the evening, when most businesses would be ready to close up shop, his second regular customer would show herself. A sweet, gentle, quick-witted girl, whose black eyes and ever-changing, but always vibrant, hair colours could both inspire and mystify those around her. [I guess this is something you find attractive. Me, not so much.]Her name was Stephanie, and she was a graphic designer who would always arrive at “Julia’s” [Technically this doesn't need quotation marks.] for a decaf, and a slice of apple pie. Eating and drinking, with a nigh-constant smile on her face, she would regale Arnie with (apparently) humorous tales about her day, all the while pining for some young fellow to come and sweep her off of her feet. [I can see where this is going.]And so, for many months, Arnie listened blankly to each of his two regulars as they lamented their unfortunate love-lives, but who never did anything to rectify their situations. And while the proprietor suggested numerous solutions (“Go out, meet a girl, see what happens!” “Waiting around’s no good! If you want to find someone, you’ve got to take the initiative!”), they would always respond with some excuse (“It’s too risky!” “What if something goes wrong?”).And then, on February 14th, at nine in the evening, something new happened. Stephanie was there as usual, drinking her standard cup of decaf, as the snow built up on the streets outside. But then, Ted walked in, already dusting the ice crystals off of his jacket, not even noticing that someone else was sitting next to his spot at the counter.Suddenly, as if choreographed by some unknown deity, the two regulars turned to face each other, in a moment of shared surprise. Ted stared at Stephanie, Stephanie stared at Ted. Then, slowly, they both turned to look at Arnie, was standing behind the counter, a dawning smile on his wrinkled face, as if to ask, “Who is this other person?” [This scene feels a bit forced. Maybe if you had more time to characterize these people it would work out, but given your limits I think you have to find another way of setting up this scene. There's nothing wrong with Arnie, though. I think I like him.]Arnie, although just as mystified about the situation as the youngsters, was happy that the two had finally met. After enough time listening to each of their stories, the old proprietor had realized how alike these strangers were. [Ever-changing hair meets black-tie banker. I guess anything can happen, although this isn't a classic match I typically expect. I guess they both have their love problems, but that never indicated compatibility to me. By that logic, I'd be a perfect match for every other single woman.]Slowly [Death to the adverbs!], Ted walked over to claim his usual spot, meekly [Instead of meekly, what if you described a physical mannerism? If you're running high on words, I understand, but otherwise, try it.] ordering a coffee (black, two sugars) [I don't think I needed to know the type of coffee.], and doing his best not to stare at the beautiful girl seated next to him [This is what I mean of a specific mannerism. I can totally see this.]. Stephanie too, was careful to keep her focus on her meal, and definitely not on the handsome fellow beside her.With hidden hope and satisfaction, Arnie handed Ted his coffee, casually asking about his unusual hour of arrival.Ted explained how he had been forced to attend a wedding during the day, and since he was too tired to face heading back to the office, he choose to take a sick day, and hang out in one of the few places he could call home; “Julia’s” [I think I had guessed that Julia's was his home].Stephanie, still very interested in this new stranger, replied with her own story: escaping a seriously depressing Valentine’s Day party to come have a cup of coffee in a place without starry-eyed couples to remind her of how lonely she was. [Angst, much?]Arnie watched, hopeful, as the two engaged in the age-old game of flirting: knocking jokes and stories back and forth, discussing news, and generally finding each other genuinely interesting.And then, the clincher: Stephanie hesitantly asking Ted if he would like to accompany her back to the party. She used that word too; “accompany”, as if they were in a penny novelette. Of course [You don't need to say that. The next clause is sufficient in itself.], being a man of literature himself, Ted was instantly [Join my petition to avoid amazingly, aggravatingly, annoyingly apparent adverbs today!] enamoured with the woman who used such a term in ordinary conversation, and was quick to accept her invitation with a shy smile. [Accompany isn't a normal word? I would have never guessed. Meanwhile, this paragraph can go with the last one.]And Arnie smiled, watching the two loneliest people to grace his diner, walk out together.

I am aware, of course, that almost everything I said was negative, and why it came out this way was something I pondered a bit. What could a writer possibly do to merit moments of praise instead of moments of constructive criticism? After considering this for a few minutes, what I think the most important thing for you to take into consideration in your later writings is to include those little "gold nuggets" into your writing, like a turn of phrase or a spoken statement that really stands out, those things that stick with the reader later on and perhaps stir up new thoughts. To use an example fro my own writing, I included a bit of dialogue in my short story "Mickey's Diner" (which I intentionally bring up do to the similar title) where Lois says "Don't think about it. Just know that it will be better." There's a punch there, something that stands out thematically, and part of the reason that it works is that the everything else leads up to it, and because of that it's all the better at capturing a beautiful idea. Then, of course, in any story, it's the author's objective to show surprising little bits of insight throughout the script to keep it alive.I understand and respect that this was flash fiction, however, so looking at this and trying to see it for what it is, I understand where you're coming from. What's important here is how it conforms to the theme, which you admitted was in a vague way, but really, the moment I saw the theme as "pathfinding" I thought "Isn't that every story?" The concept of an old man trying to mediate a romance between two strangers is interesting and it's a shame that you didn't have the space to really use him to create a subtler narrative. What makes this story automatically really entertaining - even awesome - is when I dare to imagine the Schwarzenegger playing this role.

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#3 Offline Emissary

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Posted Oct 23 2012 - 05:06 PM

First off, thanks for reviewing my work so thoroughly, and constructively!Hey, just thank you for reviewing my work, period.But anyway, I too would've preferred to expand the story more, and to more thoroughly establish the characters in their own light.I'm sorry about the adverbs. I've always liked them too much for my own good.So, again, thanks for the review, Mr. Valjean!

Edited by Emissary to the Void, Oct 23 2012 - 05:06 PM.

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#4 Offline Zaxvo

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Posted Feb 27 2013 - 12:40 AM

Hey, it's Zaxvo, from the SSCC! Your story has been randomly selected for a free review!You've written a very interesting tale here, I really enjoyed reading it. One thing that surprised me was the narrator: he doesn't really do much, besides observe. It kind of makes me wonder what his purpose is...the tale could accomplished just as well without him.However, in the end that's just a stylistic choice, and don't let it take away from the fact that you've written a wonderfully poignant tale here. It's well-written, perfectly paced, and just generally excellent.
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