Hey, guys, this is my first post, and I was just hoping to get some feedback on the introduction of a story I've been working on for a couple of days (I haven't decided yet whether or not I want to take it in the short story direction, or the novel). I've only got about 1500 words of it written yet. It's a SF-ish dealy with some fantastical and mysterious overtones:
From the Parliament building, the sounds of the riot outside almost resembled the muted tones of conversation. One could almost ignore the errant auditory intrusions of gunshots and screams to simply listen, trying to glean some meaning from the strange, half-heard language of the world without. Yalwen Mako, First Arbiter of Valiyrio Province, realized that the sharp mockery of speech assaulting the confines of his office was speaking to him, singling him out. Calling to him, begging the only reply of which he was capable: the performance of his duty. Never before in the History of the Accord had an Aribiter been forced to enact a Repudiation of an entire province, but the Letter of the Law was clear. Studying his wrinkled hands, Mako inhaled, as though the very air of his
P.S. This was thirteen lines in my 8.5 X 11 word processor; does this dimension set the objective standard for what thirteen lines is, or is the measurement based on the size of the forum window? I apologize in advance if I've violated a posting more.
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited May 27, 2006).]
Try Courier New at 12 with one inch margins all round. I have no idea what font and margins you were using to get this much text into 13 lines, but don't try that with your manuscripts, it will not endear you to editors.
Languagewise, you're trying a bit too hard. That won't endear you to editors either. Remember that the goal of your writing should be to communicate, not obfuscate.
From the interior of the Parliament building, the muffled sounds of the riot almost resembled the muted tones of conversation. This din in the streets of the Valyrio Province spoke to Yalwen Mako as he sat with forced calm behind his desk of office. Cracks of gunfire and vague shouting asked him a question which thirty-seven years as First Arbiter of the Province had scarcely prepared him to answer. Wiping the sweat from his brow with a wrinkled hand, Mako listened to the voices swelling inside him, each clamoring for his attention. Voices of the past rang with dark certainty, while, more quietly, whispers of a future that couldn’t exist begged for mercy. Never before had a Repudiation occurred at the Province level, but the Law was clear: Valyrio had to be destroyed.
[This message has been edited by somagray (edited May 27, 2006).]
I thought the analogy of the muffled sounds of a riot to a conversation was a stretch, especially as it forms a basis for later action in the fragment. I have never been in or near a riot so I can't testify as to how it may sound, but I did not find this a believable comparison. Maybe something more like "from his office, he could almost believe that the noise of the riot was only distant summer thunder"? Something that still implies force and threats, but can't be ignored.
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Actually, I was hoping to have the reader, from that analogy, assume or at least implicitly grasp that the building materials were such that the level of noise that actually reached the office was comparable to the level of a muffled conversation. I intended those conditions to mirror the bastioned situation(s) those in power sometimes find themselves, and additionally outline that there was a special intercourse going on between the people and the leader. Yes, there's a thunderous riot taking place outside, people are being shot, etc., but to Yalwen Mako, ensconced in his office, it's the abstract whole, filtered through the building that reaches him, and using Mako as a sort of P.O.V. character at this point in the story (after all, it's just him and the mob (with its strange communication) to him in the beginning, and he's the only cognizant character of the two), I described it the way I felt that he was experiencing it. To have put it more explicitly, I guess I could've written it a bit more like this:
Fury filled the streets. For every scream silenced by a gunshot, a whole chorus began, fanned like the flames consuming most of the commercial district of the Valyrio Province. What reached Yalwen Mako’s office, however, through the thick concrete walls, was almost like a murmured conversation. Mako sat at his desk of office, contemplating the question asked by the distant thunder of a world erupting in chaos. A question that thirty-seven years as First Arbiter had scarcely prepared him to answer. Wiping the sweat from his brow with a wrinkled hand, Mako felt guilty in the hush clinging to his office furniture; every moment of indecision meant the painful end of a life for which he was responsible. Never in the history of the Accord had
Does that seem more plausible to you?
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited May 28, 2006).]
I'm unsure which fragment is for consideration, so I'll assume it's the last one that begins with "Fury filled the streets." In the future, you might consider holding off on rewriting your fragment until after several people have commented. If you rush to make changes after each comment, you might find that you'll never get a story finished. (Better yet, don't post anything until the story is finished...)
Right. In my opinion, this opening (the last one posted, I mean) is trying too hard, both in style and in giving us information before we're ready for it. It also seems to lack focus -- the first paragraph deals with a riot in Valyrio, Mako in his office, Mako's position, how long he's been doing it, a building's construction, and an unclear question of some description. That's a lot to force upon a reader all at once. Take it easy on us at first and give us time to assimilate the information before piling on more info.
You have a several choices to consider (primarily for the first paragraph, but also for the entire opening). One, start with Mako's dilemma (destruction of Valyrio), develop it fully with the setting, and avoid exposition (things like how long he's been the FA). Two, start with the riot and develop the setting in full, taking the time to give us relevant information about Valyrio and the turmoil before introducing Mako's dilemma (all this can be done either through Mako's POV or via an omniscient narrator which can be abandoned in the second paragraph). Three, find a balance between the previous two choices and nail it in the first sentence, or first few sentences as may be necessary. Four, focus on the "strange communication" sensed by Mako that you mentioned, use this as a hook, and then develop the rest in due course.
Above all, consider keeping the style nice and simple and focused in the beginning. What I mean by this is that certain phrasings, while descriptive and perhaps metaphorical, tend to clutter up authorial intent, which ultimately sacrifices clarity. Clarity first; wordplay later. For example, this one:
quote:...contemplating the question asked by the distant thunder of a world erupting in chaos.
I have no idea what that really means. What is the question? Something like this will work pretty good at the end of a chapter, though.
Or this one:
quote:Mako felt guilty in the hush clinging to his office furniture
What does this mean? How does hush cling to office furniture anyway? In other words, what are you really trying to tell us? Mako feels guilty, right? What does his guilt have to do with hush clinging to office furniture? Tell us that he feels guilty and the reason why.
Here's another confusing passage:
quote:For every scream silenced by a gunshot, a whole chorus began, fanned like the flames consuming most of the commercial district of the Valyrio Province.
A whole chorus of what? Screams? I think so, but I'm not entirely sure if people are screaming or singing "I'd like to buy the world a Coke..." Well, I can infer what it is meant after stopping to consider what I've just read, but I shouldn't have to do that. I should have a very clear picture of what's going on as I read without trying to decipher it.
As a general rule of thumb, the simpler the introduction, the more likely a reader will engage with it. Consider telling things straight to help us become oriented in the world you are seeking to create. Let the situations and characters draw us in naturally, which they will do if we can understand it from the get-go. Impress upon the reader your ability to accurately and clearly describe a situation rather than trying to impress readers with overly descriptive prose.
The second version is better, I think. It comes closest to the impression you want to relate, horrible realities reduced to faded whispers by distance and abstraction. The third version doesn't utilize the POV as well.
Not everything works perfectly, and that does become one of the burdens of using a very poetic mode of expression. "This din in the streets of the Valyrio Province" is understandable but lends no strength to the metaphor or impression. The sensory impression created by "a wrinkled hand" is also out of step with the overall tone, it doesn't tell us why it matters that the hand is wrinkled, just that it is. Even a simple connector like "while, more quietly," can become a serious obstacle. But generally I think that any issues with the second version are clearly minor tweaking issues (granted, you've chosen a narrative voice that needs very careful tuning of just such small language issues, but it's not a bad choice).
With the wrinkled hand description, I was trying to first demonstrate Mako's age, so you know that we're talking about and old man, and establish a sense of his powerlesness/impotence in the face of events going on around him. Age, like the effect of the walls upon the sounds of the riot, has a diminishing/fading effect, something I also try to highlight with the line "A question thirty-seven years as First Arbiter had scarcely prepared him to answer." Furthermore, the only escape from the powerlessness of age is death, just the same way a quick death, according to the Accord's legal philosophy, is an escape from the riot that's filling the streets of Valyrio during this portion of the story.
Also, I thought it was fairly obvious that the "question" with which the passage was dealing was the question of Valyrio's continued existence. Maybe I could be a bit more clear with that by adding some specifics to that sentence.
What some of you call "trying too hard," Survivor called a "poetic style." The place from which I was writing this, Mako's worldview, is, at this point, overcome with a melancholy that is in many ways resigned to its fate, and he therefore senses a kind of morbid, bittersweet beauty about the abstraction of the horror of 1.) The fact that his world is all to hell and 2.) The performance of his sad duty, that of the "Repudiation," or destruction of Valyrio. I wanted the reader, while writing the second draft to know the reason for internal tension Mako faced, and to be hooked by that drama, but at the same time, wondering how, exactly, one went about a repudiation, what about the Law required the removal of the province like a diseased limb, what led to the riot. That's what I hoped would come across as an "in" to my mileu.
Also, the full impact of the horror is something I deal with later as an investigator sifts through public records of the crime. Once again, this is done by proxy, but the character who deals with the aftermath is unclouded by age or a personal attachment to the people; he merely experiences the atrocity. And that's another major theme of the story, which develops more slowly: hell by proxy. We deal with it in news casts, etc., on a daily basis. The "fictional" aspect of my world and its characters is the way I have them respond to these things (First, the destruction of the province, then the investigator's reactions/conclusions).
In any case, thank you all for your feedback to date; it's obvious that I to spend some time working on the skills of the writing craft. This is poignantly proven by the fact that I've needed to explain so much about my snippet, all the while thinking that I'd achieved clarity. If I don't have the reader with me, it's a pointless exercise, and if writers have such trouble with it, with their somewhat elevated awareness of the viability of prose, I can't expect a reader to find any joy or ease with my writing. I encourage more thoughts/comments, but I've decided to kill this story, spend some time working on the craft, and then coming back to fiction with a fresh approach.
I wouldn't worry about it too much, really -- the style thing. You are getting our opinions, which are rife with bias and prejudice, and generally we mean well by them. There are plenty of writers with a style similar to yours who manage to sell stories and novels, and there are many more readers who enjoy that type of prose. The real issue isn't about style, but more about not having a clear picture of what is going on.
I am certainly not elevated, too. Most avid readers are far more savvy than I am...
Regarding "the question": In that third fragment only, the question is unfortunately not obvious to me. Easily resolved by actually stating the question immediately after the teaser sentences. Is there any reason NOT to put the question out there? What would it hurt to say it like it is, for what it is, for the benefit of clarity and properly engaging the reader with Mako? In my opinion, you stand to gain far more by telling it straight than you do otherwise. Just something to consider...
By the way, Welcome! We all get our work torn apart, even those of us who've been here a few years or more. You will never please everyone here, nor is it possible to please every reader... We still try to some extent, though.
Well, it's true enough that the style issues for the voice of this story are very challenging. It's very difficult to maintain the simple demands of diction at that level, let alone the subtle variations of tone and implication. I'm a fan of that sort of thing, but not everyone likes it even when it's really well done.
On the other hand, Yalwen might not be your primary POV character. If his segments are contrasted with the actions of other POV characters, the text might be more managable and temper any overarching feeling of melancholy.
I thought the second one was the strongest, and that it just needed a little bit of tweaking. The third sentence needed some shoring up, and the sentence about the past/future didn't make a lot of sense to me. I wouldn't compare the sound of the crowd to the conversation to the building. Maybe something like, outside it was chaos/but inside it was calm. I would make a contrast here instead of a comparison. With some minor changes it is probably a really good hook.
Posts: 11 | Registered: May 2006
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So, I killed the story. And it died quite well. But from the ashes came this:
Though the interior of Yalwen Mako’s office was scarcely a thousand yards from the streets crisscrossing the Political District, on the twenty-seventh day of the Valyrian calendar, it might as well have been as distant as the sun. Riot had descended upon the Province, translated through the thick walls of the Parliament building as a muffled, thumping roar. A roar in which Yalwen Mako thought he heard the voices of his people, accusing, blaming, and begging him. At this point, there was nothing he could do but follow the Letter of the Law. But he hesitated as he stared at the monitor screen before him. The glowing letters displayed there asked him a question he didn’t want to answer: “Proceed with termination order?”
I asked some of my friends who read avidly to comment, and they consistently said that it was clear, that they liked the flow, and the language wasn't intrusive. What do you guys think?
quote:Though the interior of Yalwen Mako’s office was scarcely a thousand yards from the streets crisscrossing the Political District,
Good so far: main character (I assume) introduced, city setting, "Political District" means political situations will likely follow.
quote:on the twenty-seventh day of the Valyrian calendar
Personally, I think that introducing a calendar system here doesn't help you. Since I don't yet know anything about the culture, I can't relate to what "Valyrian calendar" means. It becomes a distraction for me instead of drawing me in.
It might be better if you either (a) relate the day to an important event in Yalwen Mako's life -- 10th anniversary as a civil servant, 50th birthday, etc. -- or (b) related it to what was happening that day.
quote:as a muffled, thumping roar. A roar in which
I use repetition in my own writing, so I sympathize with what you're doing here, but since the second "roar" begins a sentence fragment, it feels more like a grammatical error than a deliberate effect.
quote:the Letter of the Law.
Unless "the Letter of the Law" is institutional, a creed of some sort, I wouldn't capitalize it. It seems archaic, like the way old-time documents used to be written. ("We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility...")
quote:But he hesitated as he stared at the monitor screen before him.
My two cents on a continuing discussion: this use of a preposition to start a sentence worked for me, no problem.
I would continue to read based on this opening. I like it better than the first one.
I think it's almost there. I think, too, that "a ruffled, thumping roar. A roar which" should have at least have a comma instead of a period. Maybe that makes it work because it seems to be the thought of the main character??? I also didn't like the Valyrian calender thing. It was distracting and made no sense because I don't know what a Valyrian calendar is yet. Otherwise it seemed to work pretty well.
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Though the interior of Yalwen Mako’s office was scarcely a thousand yards from the streets crisscrossing the Political District, on the first anniversary of the signing of the Accord it might as well have been as distant as the sun. Riot had descended upon the Province, translated through the thick walls of the Parliament building as a muffled, thumping roar in which Yalwen Mako thought he heard the voices of his people, accusing, blaming, and begging him. At this point, there was nothing he could do but follow the letter of the law. But he hesitated as he stared at the monitor screen before him. The glowing letters displayed there asked him a question he didn’t want to answer: “Proceed with termination order?” Posts: 8 | Registered: May 2006
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Just a thought on the whole calender, anniversary thing, since neither of these mean anything to the reader at this point, why not just say "...the Political District, on this (that) day it might as well have been ..."
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I think the third version is the best. You have my interest and I want to know his answer to the question: "Proceed with termination order?"
I am still having an issue with the first sentance because there is too much information crammed into it. Also, I don't have any sense of the MC's state of mind. How does he feel about the riot? I suspect I'll know how he feels about the termination option shortly. It would be nice to know that he is facing a life or death issue sooner. He's a bit too detached for me. The only hint we get of his possible turmoil is that he hesitates before carrying out the law.
quote: Yalwen Mako thought he heard the voices of his people, accusing, blaming, and begging him.
I liked this sentance although you probably don't need to use his whole name again.
quote: Riot had descended upon the Province
This sentance doesn't really convey the chaos. It seems too passive. While often used "riot engulfed . . " might work better.
quote: But he hesitated as he stared at the monitor screen before him.
Okay, since this is my nit, I have to put my two cents in. I don't mind the "but" to start the sentance here because you only use a conjunction to start a sentance once in these 13 lines. Also, the "but" flows naturally with the POV.
Yes, it's very clear, very direct. It seems much more consistent, and the voice is more robust and accessible. There's still a sense of melancholy, but that clearly arises from the situation rather than being a pet involution of the character. It's well balanced by the fearful immediacy of the termination order he has before him.
I don't see anything that really strikes me as needing to be changed. It's possible that you want to say "on this first anniversary" and perhaps "Riot" needs to be replaced by something that is "capitalized" regardless of opening a sentance. But those would be stretching at nuances that I can't confidently assess without reading more.
I've been re-reading this, trying to figure out what's throwing me off a little bit. In general, it's very good, and I would keep reading. (What termination order, dammit?! ) But I think I have a minor problem with it.
> Though the interior of Yalwen Mako’s office was scarcely a > thousand yards from the streets crisscrossing the Political > District, on the first anniversary of the signing of the > Accord it might as well have been as distant as the sun. > Riot had descended upon the Province,
I think my brain keeps trying to tell me that the rioting takes place on the streets crisscrossing the Political District, but then it tells me that there's nothing in the paragraph that really proves that. In fact, I get the feeling from the second sentence that the rioting is just outside of the Parliament building. It's a little temporal shift, a blip that distracts me.
If I were reading "for real" and not to critique, then I might not even notice. Not sure how anyone else feels.
Re: "Riot". This isn't a problem per se, but notice that I said "rioting" in the paragraph above. I think normal usage would dictate that your sentence read "Rioting had descended upon the Province..." Using "Riot" makes it somewhat poetic, as if Riot Herself were a being or a bird of prey. (It specifically reminds me of the litany of Arthur's companions in _Culhwch and Olwen_, for any Arthurian legend fans out there.) If that's what you're going for, then great, but otherwise you might consider "Rioting".
[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited June 01, 2006).]