Title: Breno & Cauê
Subtext: Try green.
Date: 06 Feb 15 (Friday in the PM)
Time: 1 minute
Replies: 53
Revisions: 17
Publicity: Superfeed

Steam collected in beads and slid down the glass shower door. Coffee lit the air. Shoes got tied. The day began.

Breno and Cauê were two of twenty-something male, nondescript and sober to start this one. They met out. September was getting hot.

Interlocking hands. “Vamos fazê-lo.”

They drove a borrowed, worn out Volkswagen for an illegal casino in a small favela down Rio way, stopping only to dip in a Guandu pool and drink Breno’s grammy’s rum out of a cloudy flower vase.

At the waterside they reviewed.

“Pode apostar a mil. Você ganha, nós dividimos. Você perde, eu aposto a mil. Eu ganhar, eu te pagar a mil.”


They arrived in the afternoon. The place was four leaning lengths of fence loosely capped by scraps of corrugated iron. It was dark inside, but two streams of light split it up. Half of each was got by dust.

Cruzados weren’t worth what they used to be. Nobody could keep up with them.

Cauê put his last thousand down on a wheel – black.


“É sua vez.”

Then Breno, down for his last thousand – red.


They drove back in silence, pained.


Elk » Authorship
Elk » 11:01 AM 05 Nov 15
Elk » 9:22 AM 24 Feb 15
Elk » 6:23 PM 12 Feb 15
Elk » 8:34 AM 10 Feb 15
Bear » 7:49 AM 10 Feb 15
Elk » 11:18 PM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 10:48 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 10:25 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 10:20 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 10:18 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 7:41 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 7:41 AM 07 Feb 15
Elk » 10:26 PM 06 Feb 15
Elk » 10:24 PM 06 Feb 15
Elk » 9:56 PM 06 Feb 15

The Thread (53)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. Not sure how to read this one:

    were two of twenty-something male

    This piece has a nice rhythm. A lot might have happened that day, but you manage to say what matters in so few words – enough to paint the picture anyway.

  2. Read it like this: “par for the course”.

  3. Agree with Horse. Elk’s pieces always leave me wanting more. One more piece of the puzzle. Something more that happens. But maybe that in and of itself is enough. This coming from someone who too often says too much.

    “Two of twenty something” reminded me of Housman’s “When I was one and twenty”, which is likely not your intention, but the aspect of relatability, of humanity, makes it work.

  4. “Two of twenty-something males” is overwrought. Objective third-person would work better here. The less style the better.

    “Breno and Caue were twenty-something, non-descript and sober.”

    It’s strange that the piece starts in the home, yet they meet out, yet they hold hands. It seems like they live together at first.

    I think the missing element here overall is conflict. They both lose at roulette, but so what? What’s at stake? There’s a picture here but not enough story.

    I like Chekhov’s description of a story. A writer’s job, he said, is to describe a problem, not solve it. A problem or conflict is necessary for a story to come into being, though giving us the solution is going too far.

  5. “Two of twenty-something males” is definitely overwrought. That’s why I chose “two of twenty-something male.”

    In reality, I didn’t choose anything. I let my fingers go as I’d expressed interest in doing earlier in the day. That’s what came out. Hang around enough with people who either don’t speak English or speak it secondarily at most and you’ll find yourself talking more poetry. And anyway, I go for function – doesn’t matter what gets said as long as you know what I mean. It’s not even clear to me that Horse doesn’t know what I mean. He’s the only one who’s expressed something that could read like confusion. So there you go – I’m not sure he’s not sure.

  6. Still overwrought. Maybe more so.

  7. Brazil in the 80s, anyone?

  8. What’s the conflict here?

  9. It’s a vignette — a slice of life. If there’s a “conflict” it’s poverty versus risk, and hopes resting on a weak plan.

  10. Okay. That’s good. But here’s why I’m not picking up on that idea: these guys were not impoverished. They have a car and a glass shower door between them and they can afford to gamble. Maybe rework their economic status in the piece or play up the fact that they’re not poor and can afford to gamble. That is, either make them poor or contrast them with the truly poor.

    Slice of life style works are great but must still engage readers – and what engages readers is conflict.

  11. Maybe the money they gambled was necessary for something else? That could be the revelation at the end. “Pained” as a feeling after a gambling loss is okay in this sense but too vague. A slightly more specific idea at the end might add the missing element.

  12. The prescription for conflict is interesting in regards to vignettes. So much depends on a red wheel barrow yada yada. Not saying it isn’t there. But for Williams for instance, where?

  13. It’s intentionally not perfectly transparent, but “split” and “half”, in addition to the tags #insurance and #probability and statistics, speak to what this is all about, an underlying arrangement these guys have. If the first hits, they split the winnings. If he doesn’t, the next gives it a go, and if he hits he returns the winnings to the first. That’s one shot at 500 cruzados a piece, with an insurance shot for that bet if it loses.

    The only thing that can go wrong is if they both don’t hit.

    This may sound painfully familiar, @bear.

    I’d actually like to make that plan clearer, but I don’t want to just lay it out. Any ideas?

  14. A conversation about sharing the rum maybe.

  15. That’s perfect — probably more a convo when they’re sharing it than about their sharing it.

    Editorial note — I downgraded the Volkswagen.

  16. Familiar indeed.

    The story makes more sense with this news. I don’t think you want us trying to figure out what exactly they’re doing through symbolism. Throwing the plan in there might be necessary.

    By the way, by overwrought, I mean over-styled, which obscures the basic transfer of information. Two of twenty-something male seems like a complicated way of saying they were twenty-something.

  17. Maybe saying this is their last bit of dough wound help create conflict.

  18. Most of your suggestions have been taken. Still a bit rough – but all there.

  19. Better, in my opinion. Their situation is much more clear, and our minds now focus on the problem they’re facing. A really strong piece with those little additions.

    Would you mind translating the Portuguese? Something about dividing?

    Do you speak the language, by the way?

  20. Roughly.

    First quote = “Let’s do it.”

    Second quote = “I put down a thousand. If I win, we split it. If I lose, you put down a thousand. If you win, you pay me back.”

    Third quote = “Yep.”

  21. Obrigado.

  22. I just want to be clear about this “overwrought” thing. When an author chooses language to induce thought in the mind of a reader there is no such thing as overwrought. The only thing that can be overwrought is intentionally complicating language with no other purpose in mind. What would possess anyone in this great Land to complicate language for no other reason at all? Like I said, the “two of twenty-something male” language rolled off my fingertips, but as it came I held onto it. If I wanted the phrase to get out of the way I would have rewritten it like a river. I kept it as a pile of boulders so you’d slow down, climb up over it, and see what there is to be seen from on top.

  23. Authorial intent vs. reader’s perception. What can I tell you. It may have been intentional, but I don’t care for the intent. I think it’s over-stylized and detracts from the story.

    Again, I think this. You don’t have to. And we’ll disagree, which is fine.

    But don’t say there’s no such thing as overwrought. That’s silly.

  24. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep language simple in stories about reality. The more fantastic the story the more choice there is to mess around. There are exceptions, of course. This piece is perfect for an objective narration, which requires the utmost minimum of style.

  25. In true Rooster fashion, I’ve edited the piece. Take a look.

  26. When I read your edit I say, “I don’t want this piece to exist.” In fact, it seems my energy for the piece revolves around that line. So I changed it back.

    I said again that it rolled off my fingertips. The intentionality came by holding onto it, which I did, have done, and will continue to do.

    More on the substance of it – they are two of something, like specimens. They are two “twenty-something males”. I’ve shortened it a bit to give “twenty-something male” it’s own category in the universe, i.e. they are “two of a kind”.

    Twenty-something and male is a loaded description just as it is. It says almost everything about these guys. Again, the whole energy of the piece revolves around climbing over this line.

  27. Disagree entirely. Otherwise it’s a good piece.

  28. Let’s see how it ages and then revisit.

  29. Always sound advice.

    Except for dairy.

  30. Cheese.

  31. American cheese.

  32. A compromise?

    “two of twenty-something male specimens, nondescript”

  33. Elk there’s a shorthand that could be expanded. For what it’s worth, I think the disagreement lies therein. Bear sees the construction as overwrought, too much. But you have a world of meaning there that the sentence in its current form only even alludes to. So in your mind, considering the relative sparseness of words when compared with the density of meaning, in your estimation, how could it be overwrought? Perhaps the solution is to say a little more instead of a little less.

  34. Or maybe a simpler adjustment.

    “Breno and Cauê were two and twenty-something, male, nondescript and sober to start this one. They met out. September was getting hot.”

  35. I’ve been on the other side of this argument numerous times and I generally don’t give in to the reader. So I know where this is coming from.

    In this case, I really just dislike the grammar. Two of twenty-something male is either baroque or incorrect. They were two of male. That doesn’t make sense.

  36. We are two of accordant. But I think Elk has a super removed narrator in mind — a voice that wants to speak hyper-dispassionately. Making it normal speak removes that. I’m looking for ways to preserve his distance.

  37. I see removed but not super removed, not hyper-dispassionate. Objectivity is achieved by following the rules to the nth degree — and that includes linguistically.

    As for tonality and register, simpler is better here. No need for any indulgence of sophistication. Use the precise word in the precise sentence, etc.

    Again, my real issue is that it doesn’t seem grammatically proper, even as a stylistic choice. Two of is generally followed by a plural or collective noun (accordant), not by a singular noun (male). Trying to foist incorrect grammar upon the reader is purposeless here, in my (the reader’s) view. If there’s a world of meaning behind it, it is inaccessible. If it is a narrative cliff to surmount, I say we should have taken the easier path.

    Sorry if this is sounding negative. As Homer said, “This things I believe.”

    Homer Simpson, that is.

  38. I understand and meant to illustrate your point with “two of accordant.” I read “male” as an adjective, and intended “accordant” that way. You read male as a singular noun. In that case we are two of agree-er.

  39. Ah, I thought you were using accordant as a collective.

    I think someday I will understand writing.

    Onward. Elk’s already gone.

  40. “Male” is an adjective, and “twenty-something” is an adverb here. The noun is “two”. I realize grammatically it’s off key, but it’s a focal point and I’m inclined to go with Falcon’s suggestion about expanding rather than contracting.

  41. Two is a noun. But “two of” requires a noun afterward as well, correct? Two of these or those. Not two of red or blue. Red or blue what?

    If it’s not incorrect, and I’m not ceding that, it’s certainly baroque. It’s still a simple sentence and not difficult to discern it’s meaning, but unnecessarily complex.

  42. It is, apparently, a type of appositive called an appositive oblique. The noun “two” is replaced by another noun or noun phrase through the preposition “of.” Replacing it with an adjective doesn’t work and actually changes the meaning of the sentence so that we read the adjective as a noun.

  43. Let me maybe settle this – it’s poetic, if not a line of poetry thrown into prose. Now what? I’m still allowing the aging process to do its thing.

    @bear – This is the same sort of thing you brought up in the other most-replied post, The Dematerialized Zone. It seems you may take issue with anything that doesn’t go by the book. Query, which book are you using anyway?

    The book I use has one page in it and one line on that one page. It says, and I quote:

    Do whatever the hell you want.

  44. It’s your piece. It’s up to you.

  45. Hey, you’re invested in it. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not over. Let’s give it some breathing room and see what develops in a bit of time.

  46. I’m trying to clarify language. I don’t think readers should need to decipher parts of speech to determine meaning.

  47. Happy to discuss grammar re: The Dematerialized Zone.

  48. Wait – I just need to clarify this – do you not know what I mean by “two of twenty-something male”?

  49. They are two guys in their twenties.

  50. Right – and ordinary.

  51. Falcon, on Dematerialized, I am, as you know, a proponent of commas in the first sentence.

    Elk, saying something in an ordinary fashion is exactly what the story calls for. With ordinary language we can create extraordinary stories.

    And of course we can play with language as well. At times. I don’t think it’s called for here. This isn’t an argument of philosophy as much as it is an argument of technique.

    I do, however, favor, generally, substance over style.

  52. Two ordinary guys in their twenties.

  53. Or three ordinary guys in their thirties.

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