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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Traitor's Cage--first 13 lines

   
Author Topic: The Traitor's Cage--first 13 lines
KillerDonut
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I just started on this story today so its not finished yet, but I'll be sure to tell you guys when I'm done. Not sure how long it will be, but it should be fun to write. Tell me what you think!

__________
Life was cold, cruel, and harsh. I hated it.

“Traitor Poltor, present yourself before the Council.”

I shambled over into the spotlight in the middle of the room. The chains around my wrists and ankles wore away my skin. Blood already slicked the iron around my right foot. I was fortunate that was my only injury, so far.

“Traitor Poltor, you are hereby sentenced to life in the traitor’s cage without possibility of appeal, the pleasure of sunlight, or the presence of another human soul ever again. Your name will be stricken from the records, and you will easily be forgotten. As the law declares, you have the right to make one last statement before your life is erased. Speak up, or your peace shall be forever held.”
_____________


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Ray
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I wasn't crazy about the first paragraph, mostly because it tells me nothing about what's going on. If you just start with the second paragraph, I already get the impression that life sucks without having to be told that.

Otherwise, this works pretty well for me. I'd like to know what his specific crime was though, because I'm left in the dark about it.


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zephyr
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I think it's good. It definitely hooked me.

Although, along the lines of Ray's post, I think it could do without the first sentence. It sound whiny, and from what follows it is very clearly painted that life is what the first sentence says.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is... The first sentence is not needed in my opinion.

Not to be redundant or anything. :)

[This message has been edited by zephyr (edited February 05, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by zephyr (edited February 05, 2006).]


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Aspirations
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It's a definite hook. I think the first sentence could work if you shorten the first thought and made the second something that will help the reader sympathize more with your character. Simply: Life was cruel. It gave no relief. <or> Life was cold. I had little hope left. Something that gives impact without making your protagonist sound completely bitter and defeated. I would leave out the "I hated it" because if your MC hates life, what will be his motivation to say something so brilliant or so earth-shaking that his sentence might be suspended by the Council. If he hates life, why would he even bother to make the attempt? It sounds as if he has already written his life off.

Re: "...you will easily be forgotten" I'd like to see you bring more emotional weight to this statement. "...you will be forever forgotten" <or> "...no memory of you will remain". Being remembered after death, either through your actions or what you leave behind, is probably one of the basic human needs and the thought of being totally obliterated from history would be a terrible punishment.

It's a great start. I'd like to read more.

[This message has been edited by Aspirations (edited February 05, 2006).]


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Marva
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Very good start. I'd only reiterate what the others said about the first line. Does one start with dialog? It can work with a strong statement.

I would read on.


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pjp
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I agree in part with the others. Instead of dropping the first line, how about moving it to the end of what you have there, as in:

Life wasn't just cold, cruel and harsh. I hated it.

-OR-

I hated this cold, cruel and harsh life.

The reason I like something like this included (just not the very beginning) is because we're hearing it from the character.


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KillerDonut
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Thanks for the info guys. Not too much is changed, but I did get rid of the pesky first line. The question now is whether its good to start out with this dialogue.

_________
“Traitor Poltor, show yourself before the Council.”

I shambled over into the spotlight in the middle of the room. The chains around my wrists and ankles wore away my skin. Blood already slicked the iron around my right foot. I was fortunate that was my only injury, so far.

“Traitor Poltor, you are hereby sentenced to life in the traitor’s cage for treason against the Great Republic without possibility of appeal, the pleasure of sunlight, or the presence of another human soul ever again. Your name will be stricken from the records, and you will—easily—be forgotten. As the law declares you have the right to make one last statement before your life is erased. Speak up, or your peace shall be forever held.”
_______

[This message has been edited by KillerDonut (edited February 05, 2006).]


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Jaina
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I don't mind the dialogue, though in all honesty you could probably cut it, too, and it would still work. It does raise several questions right off: who is this person, what has he done to be taken in front of the Council, and whether "Traitor" is his name or a title.

The only thing that bugs me about this is actually the last line: "Speak up, or your peace shall be forever held." Sounds too much like the wedding "Speak now or forever hold your peace" and I kept getting this mental image of this brusied and bloodied groom standing before the altar begging someone to spare him from this miserable fate of having to marry this woman.


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Shendülféa
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I hate to contradict everyone that has posted so far, but I can't say that I like the story beginning with the dialogue. I actually liked the original first line best. I wanted to know why the MC hated life so I kept reading. With the dialogue as the first line, I didn't because it doesn't really interest me. This character is being called before the council. So what?

I suppose the reason that I liked the original first line best was that it gave me an idea of what the MC was thinking as this was happening. With the dialogue as the first line, I don't get that at all. All I get is that this character is in a bad situation, but I really don't know what he's thinking about it. With the original first line there, I know this character is definitely not happy with his present situation and I want to know why, so I keep reading.


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x__sockeh__x
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I liked it - I cringed at the blood slicked the iron part. =) The second one is much better. There was only one thing that bothered me: "and you will--easily--be forgotten"
I don't see the need for the dashes, it makes it sound weird in my head.
Good opening though! =)

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krazykiter
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Actually, the story begins quite nicely at "I shambled over...".

Drop the first line and the first dialogue. Then let us know who's speaking to Traitor Poltor and why he's a traitor.

Otherwise, nice.


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Susannaj4
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I like the second better as well. I like the descriptions. I could picture it.
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KillerDonut
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Hmmm...how about this?

___________
Justice failed me.

“Traitor Poltor, show yourself before the Council.”

I shambled over into the spotlight in the middle of the room. The chains around my wrists and ankles wore away my skin. Blood already slicked the iron around my right foot. I was fortunate that was my only injury, so far.

“Traitor Poltor, you are hereby sentenced to life in the traitor’s cage for treason without possibility of appeal, the pleasure of sunlight, or the presence of another human soul ever again. Your name will be stricken from the records, and you will easily be forgotten. As the law declares you have the right to make one last statement before your life is erased. Speak up, or your peace shall be forever held.”
__________

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to say something about my last line Jaina. I just thought it was an interesting twist on the phrase that fit.


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The Fae-Ray
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"Traitor Poltor, you are hereby sentenced to life in the traitor’s cage for treason without possibility of appeal, the pleasure of sunlight, or the presence of another human soul ever again."

I thought that sounded weird. It seems to me that it would sound better if you just left it at "without any possibility of appeal." The rest doesn't sound like it would be found in a court.


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Susannaj4
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Well, it depends on what court you are in. But I don't think that I got the image of getting married because of that statement.
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J
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I'm an attorney. Your description of a court issuing a punishment "without possibility of appeal" has profound implications for the fundamental nature of the legal system and the society of your world.

I won't get into the technicalities of what is and isn't applealable, but I need to give a brief description of appellate theory and criminal procedure to make my point:
1) Appellate theory
One of the most fundamental principles of American and English law is that errors of law are always appealable, and the appellate court has broad discretion to find and correct errors in the trial judge's conception or application of the law. ("de novo" review.) Appellate courts are far more deferential to a judge's finding of fact, and more deferential still when facts are found by a jury. But the most basic idea is that a litigant is always entitled to have an appellate court review whether the trial judge got the law right

2) Criminal procedure
Criminal trials proceed in two distinct phases: liability and sentencing. The liability phase is usually before a jury (some exceptions exist for misdemeanors not capable of punishment by jail or by consent of the parties). The end of the liability phase is the "movie moment" when the jury foreman gives the verdict to the bailiff, and the judge reads off guilt or not-guilt for each charge. The sentencing is generally decided solely by the judge (exceptions again exist, notably in capital cases, where sentencing factors are found by a jury). In federal courts, the sentencing is an appealable matter of law.

Having gotten all of that out, here is what I find fascinating about your opening lines. The judge declares unappealability as part of the sentence. In effect, he declares that his own sentencing and the jury's determination of guilt cannot be reviewed for errors of fact or errors of law as part of the punishment for the crime. In other words, the trial judge declares that part of punishment for the crime is that the defendant is stuck with every error of law or fact made by the judge or jury, including errors about guilt and innocence or errors of sentencing.

This says some very interesting things about your society. It says that either this society does not have any meaningful sense of "due process," or that this society finds some crimes so horrific that it would rather punish innocents than risk that judicial error provide the guilty a chance at going free. Either way, you have a society whose sense of procedural justice is substantially different from our own.

Moreover, this sets up a dangerous potential for extreme corruption. If a judge has the power, by sentencing, to make his decisions unreviewable by an appellate court, nothing stops him from ignoring the law altogether to punish his enemies or favor his friends.

I'm beyond long-winded at this point, I just want to say that this opening provides the promise of an intelligent and cleverly designed fictional world.

[This message has been edited by J (edited February 06, 2006).]


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KillerDonut
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Wow, that was some response J. I think it needed to be said because it seems to have solidified some thoughts in my head. I won't say your theories on my world are right or wrong but it is an excellent observation. I hope I live up to your expectations when this story is completed. I will certainly have to keep it in mind that I could be sued if it doesn't come out right.
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pjp
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KillerDonut:

If it was or wasn't your intent, my impression of the judicial system in this story was pretty much as J described (without all the details).


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KillerDonut
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I just said that for fear of explaining more than what is in the first 13 lines. What J saw is something I want people to see in the first 13 lines.
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Martinal
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This is how I'd like to see it:

Justice failed me. (Strong sentence, works excellently as a hook)

I shambled into the spotlight in the middle of the room. The chains around my wrists and ankles wore away at my skin. Blood already slicked the iron around my right foot. I (or It) was fortunate that was my only injury, so far.

“Traitor Poltor, you are hereby sentenced to life in the Traitor’s Cage without possibility of appeal. (The rest can be assumed by the reader and shown later in the story) Your name will be stricken from the records; you will be forgotten. (The best way to make an impact is to make the statement clear and concise--the more words, the less the effect) As the law requires, you have the right to make one statement before your life is erased. Speak, or your peace will be held.”

I removed some of the higher language because I felt the Judge or Councilman didn't seem to care much about ceremony... it sounded like he wanted to get through with this traitor and on to the next. If I misinterpreted, and the sentencing is of more importance, then my changes are moot.

Regarding "Life was cold, cruel, and harsh.": Adjectives are great, but using them in large quantities diminishes their potency. If you were to keep this sentence (or use some other like it), I suggest cutting the two adjectives that are least needed. "Life was harsh." can grab a reader (and definitely an editor) more effectively than "Life was cold, cruel, and harsh."

For "I hated it.": That is something better off shown than told. Saying "I hated it." tends to get a "Well, duh." response from readers. Showing his hate for it and why he hates it is more intriguing and adds to the complexity of the character.

My first assumption when seeing "Traitor Poltor" was that "Traitor" was a title. Once the Councilman said "traitor's cage" my assumption was verified--no change needed there in my opinion. I capitalized "traitor's cage" in my edit, because it sounded not just like a place, but the name of the place.

I took out some words in the last line, but I think it still holds enough of the wedding line to make the average reader wonder if you phrased it intentionally.

I agree with J and pjp on the judicial system--I got a major 'corrupt' vibe.

If you have more, feel free to send it to me. I'll look at it asap.


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KillerDonut
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I have completed the first chapter of the story which is about 1000 words long. I have sent it to those who sounded interested in reading more. If anyone else would like to read the first chapter just tell me and I'll send it as soon as I can.
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