Writing Contests - A Note on the Ground

MasterClass has a contest going for their Zine, based on James Patterson's class. I have decided to enter. There are basically two requirements; 1) it has to be between 500 and 2000 words. 2) it has to be based on "a note on the ground."


In writing you can begin basically wherever you want. You can have a plan or you can not have a plan. I prefer to have somewhat of a plan. Should I start with character, setting, or plot? I think any of them can work well. As a default I would consider plot the most important, followed by character and then setting. I want this to end happy, so I will begin happy, then it will get not happy, and finally it will end happy. A classic double reversal. Maybe something like this.

A man writes a note and is happy, then he goes to deliver the note and is unhappy, then (for some reason) he is happy again.

That sounds like a decent framework for a beginning. There are a few different directions I could go with that. Let's see how some of them sound.

A man writes a note to a woman at work inviting her on a date. As he goes to deliver the note he sees her talking to another man who seems rather friendly. Angry and hurt, he throws the note in the trash next to her desk. As he is opening his car door someone calls to him, it is the woman. She walks up to him and hands him the note.

Maybe that works, I'm not sure.

A man writes his resignation letter and places it on his bosses desk. As he is gathering his personal items he gets a call. His wife has been in a car accident and is at the hospital. They only had to make it two weeks before he would have health insurance at the new job. He has to get the letter back before his boss reads it. He can't find the letter. While he is in the office his boss walks in. "I'm glad you're here, we need to have a talk. It would be hard for the company if you were to leave, and it is about time that you got a raise." Relieved, the man goes to see his wife.

That seems okay too. Let's play with having an interesting character that has some hopes and dreams. That should be included in both either way, but it is a much different starting point.

A garbage man who occasionally gets a cash tip from the mob hopes that he is going to be able to pay for his daughter's college, and fears that his knee isn't going to be able to keep doing the job forever.

I like that, I feel that that character has some real depth. But, we have no plot, and I don't seem to write that well without a plan. So . . . why would he either write a note, receive a note, or find a note? Maybe it has to do with his daughter, maybe he finds a note from a boyfriend that she isn't supposed to have. Maybe the boyfriend is connected to the mob, because that just causes more conflict, and it would make sense in this context. So . . . keeping this character in mind, what about something like this?

A man finds a crumpled note on the floor just inside his daughters partially open bedroom door. It reads "8pm, the bridge." It's 7:52 and she is supposed to be at her writing group. He drives to the bridge and finds her with her boyfriend. He punches the boy and brings her home. The next day he is on his route when a few young guys come up to him, and they beat the crap out of him, breaking his knee. They leave a note on him that reads "garbage, man." The next day at the hospital the man that normally delivers the tips walks into his room and closes the door. He says that the situation they are in is unfortunate, but kids will be kids, and the kid will be corrected. Some things have been arranged for the garbage man. The company is going to keep paying his salary, with a small raise, and he doesn't have to go back to work, ever. He leaves a note on the table that read "Happy Retirement."

That seems like a pretty good plot with a pretty good character to me. Let's see if I can actually turn this thing into a readable story.

He doesn't want another fight when she gets home. All of the cliches about teenage girls are true. Susan's at a writing group for school, but her bedroom door's open, the lights are on, and there's a piece of garbage on the floor. The last thing he wants to do is pick up another piece of garbage. He wants to eat, ice his knee, and watch a show; but he picks up the piece of paper, shuts off the light, and closes the door.

8:30
the bridge

Why? Why would there be a note on her floor that says that?

"Damn it!"

They made one deal when he bought her the car, no boyfriends 'til college, that was the deal, one rule. Now he's drivin' halfway across town after work because she's breaking the one rule. One, rule. She should have one goal, get into college. That was her job. Find a way to pay for college, that was his job, and he was working on it.

Both of their cars still had the lights on, right next to the bridge where half of his friends had ruined their lives in high school. He honked as he pulled up behind her car. Rapped his knuckles on the side of the other car as he walked towards the front; a beamer. She was getting out the other side, "Dad!"

"Get in your car, now!" She was mad, but she wasn't gonna talk back. "I'll follow you home."

As she was getting in her car, the driver's door of the beamer opened, and this punk-ass kid stepped out. "Get back in the car, and go home kid."

"You can't tell me what to do old man," said the kid.

"Get in the car and go home kid."

"You work for my dad," said the kid.

"No, I work for the garbage company, not for your dad."

"Are you sure? because I'm pretty sure my dad pays you to do some jobs," said the kid. "And my dad might find someone else to pay to do those jobs."

"I'll talk to your dad about that, and maybe about this too."

"Do you know what I was doin' to your Susan in there 'garbage man'?" said the kid.

The back of the kids head hit the car door as he fell, and he landed with his face in the dirt. At least a bloody nose, maybe a broken nose, probably a black eye tomorrow. The kid's dad would probably understand.

Susan didn't talk when they got home, she went right to bed. He didn't want to talk about it anyways, he just wanted to eat, ice his knee, and watch a show before bed.

His garbage route had been the same for years, but it seemed longer every year, and his knee hurt more every year. Four years of college wasn't cheap, even if Susan went to the local place and lived at home. Knee replacements weren't cheap either. He could use some extra cash.

Joe always met him outside if there was a 'special pickup.' He didn't know what was in the bags, and he didn't need to know, that's why Joe gave him the tip, a cash tip. But, there was no Joe today, just the regular load of garbage bins.

As he was stepping back onto the truck, a few guys walked around the corner and down the alley towards them. There wasn't enough room for the driver to go around. "Hey! Get out of the way guys."

"You should be more careful how you talk to people old man." It was the punk-ass kid.

"Go home kid."

The kid punches him in the stomach. As he bends forward, someone kicks him in the side of the knee and there's a "pop!" Something hits the side of his head and he's laying on his back. Someone slaps a piece of paper down on his chest, he grabs it, it says "garbage man." His head's ringing, his leg feels like it's been ripped off. The driver is leaning over him.

A hospital room has a lot different smell than a garbage truck, but neither of them are good. The beeping machines are annoying and kind of ring in his head; and it's cold. He doesn't even want to look down at his leg. The deductible on this is gonna be huge.

Joe walks in. Things just keep getting worse. "I might not be ready for a pickup for awhile Joe."

"That's what I came to talk ta ya about," said Joe. "We've heard there've been some problems."

"That's right, there have been some problems."

"Well . . ." said Joe. "The way I see it, kids are gonna be kids, but they have to know there'll be consequences, so that's been taken care of."

"Alright."

"I talked to the doc," said Joe. "That knee's gonna be a problem."

"Yeah."

"I'll talk to the hospital about the bill," said Joe.

"I'd appreciate it."

"And, don't worry about the job," said Joe. "I'll have a talk with the manager."

There was a piece of paper on the tray next to where Joe had been sitting before he left. He picked it up. A 'get well soon' card. On the bottom of the card was scribbled "Happy Retirement."

I like it, I kept going back and kind of revising as I went. Mostly I added in contractions to make the conversation and language sound more natural. I think it helped. There are 870 words there, so plenty of room to spare. It moves along pretty fast, I'm not sure if it's too fast, but I'm going to go with it.

I read it over a few times and changed a couple of words, nothing major. I am going to submit it and see if anyone else likes it. I think I am going to call it "Garbage Man."

I am sure I will be doing some more writing competitions in the future. You are welcome to join me on the journey at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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