Got around to finishing an old idea. Critiques on the 1st 13 and readers for the whole thing appreciated. Anyone with a knowledge of 1960s Los Angles would be great.
quote:Ben checked his weapon before walking into Golgoth’s bar. Inside, gaggles of orcs clutched bottles of alcohol and drank hard. Bitter-mouthed waitresses walked between the tables with their gazes always an inch away from true eye contact. The orcs should have been riotous at this time of day, but the place felt as quiet as an abandoned church. He hailed Dwalin, the bartender. “One mead. By the gods, you bastards are a depressing lot. What’s happened here?” “Haven’t you heard?” Ben shook his head. “Someone shot President Kennedy, down Texas way.”
quote:Ben stepped over a drunken orc on the footpath before entering Golgoth’s bar. Inside, gaggles of orcs clutched bottles of alcohol and drank hard. Bitter-mouthed waitresses walked between the tables with their gazes always an inch away from true eye contact. The orcs should have been riotous at this time of day, but the place felt as quiet as an abandoned church. He hailed Fardur, the bartender. “One mead. By the gods, you bastards are a depressing lot. What’s happened here?” “Haven’t you heard?” Ben shook his head. “Someone shot President Kennedy, down Texas way.”
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited April 24, 2009).]
quote:Ben checked his weapon before walking into Golgoth’s bar.
That opening sentence by itself, for me, doesn't contextually flow into the following paragraph. The immediate question it raises in my mind is over the ambiguity of "checked his weapon." I'm unsure whether Ben is checking that it's ready for business or checking it in at the entrance because weapons aren't allowed in the bar. Also the generic classification of "his weapon" seems like a missed opportunity to characterize Ben, the milieu, and introduce possible salient features of the story.
Either way, I'd want to know right away why Ben's carrying a weapon, what kind of weapon, and an introduction of what he does with it in the normal course of carrying a weapon.
If Ben is going into a bar where he needs to have a weapon on his person, and he's required to check it in, I'm at a loss to why he has it. If he's checking that the weapon is ready for business, I'd like to know what business it's capable of before moving into a setting where it might be relevant.
On the same sentence, "before walking," gerund verbs that describe generic actions in opening sentences have a feel of a narrator telling the picture of an action. I prefer to see actions directly depicted.
"Checked his weapon" and "before walking" as actions combined in one sentence suggests a proximate coincidence of events. Again for an opening sentence, depicting the actions separately might more dramatically open the story.
//Ben checked the magazine load on his pride and joy, a Mather .459 Slagcaster. Satisfied he was ready for business, he sauntered into Golgoth's Bar.//
//Ben handed his pride and joy over to the gun check girl. Without the Mather .459 Slagcaster's familiar weight on his belt, he felt exposed. Ill at ease, he slouched into Golgoth Bar's taproom.//
Edited: I lived in Los Angeles in the mid '60s. Insulated to some extent from the trials of the megatropolis, though. My memories of it are dominated by a cacaphony of sensations, hydrogen sulfide stench in the air, hydrogen sulfide tastes in the tapwater, the chaos of noises of rushing traffic and the dreary sights of parking lot interstates, the mustard gas yellow glow of starless night skies. Los Angeles was a shock to my sensibilities after the tropical idles of the Florida Keys in the later Hemingway years.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited April 24, 2009).]
Thanks Extrinsic, good pick-up. I am working in a bit of twilight-zone gimmickry above, so I'll leave the milieu detail for later in the piece (whether that's a good idea or not...) Modified version above.
quote:In LA there are no footpaths, only sidewalks.
You know, that's a pretty interesting point.
Some of us don't live in the US but like to set stories there - either because it fits the story, or because there is a larger market.
Yet, even though we may have lived in the US in the past or even be US citizens, I suspect we often run into this problem: While we can visualise and write about the setting fine, our outlook and language reflects the culture we live in. It's not just spelling colour as color or visualise as visualize - boots become trunks, torches become flashlights, footpaths become sidewalks, jam becomes jelly and jelly becomes jello.
And all this despite what seems to be the vast majority of our TV programming coming from the US
Makes me realise just how difficult 'authentic' cross-culture writing can be.
[This message has been edited by BenM (edited April 24, 2009).]
Actually, we do have footpaths, too. But, I agree that sidewalk is probably more appropriate, here.
And I still live in the greater Los Angeles area. The air's better now, BTW. That's why we have the Air Quality Management Department. But, for a bit of context, Los Angeles is in a giant basin. The ocean is to the west and most of the time the breeze blows from that direction. To the north and east are mountain ranges which essentially trap all of the exhaust produced by a modern city and hold it there. Way back, before there was ever a city here, the Indians called it The Valley of the Smokes, because the smoke from any fires stayed in the basin.
quote:Some of us don't live in the US but like to set stories there - either because it fits the story, or because there is a larger market.
In my case, I generally go for the US because the market is larger. My approach is generally to try and make my stories generic because they rarely need an American setting. In this case however, the story doesn't work if it's not set in LA.
Anyway, I thought I'd bump this one more time because I really need someone to rip it apart. I'm not getting any traction with publication, so I'm obviously making mistakes.
Traction, an interesting observation. For me, the first thirteen don't create an immersion in (traction with) Ben's meaning space. The narrator's, yes, but it's an impersonal objective narrator who's too remote to get a grip around.
I think that's what's lacking, is the point of view resolves from the narrator and doesn't meaningfully slip into and stay in touch with Ben's, which is my expectation from introducing Ben as the focal character in the first sentence. He steps over an orc, passes unmolested and without interacting with a room full of patrons and employees, sits down, orders a beverage, asks what's up with the depressing atmosphere.
Not even from instinct, when I've walked into a depressing bar, I deliberately turn around and go elsewhere. No welcoming invitation, moody patrons, my purpose for being in the bar is thwarted and, certainly, unwelcome trouble will ensue. A neighbor crying in his beer, buddying up in a misery-loves-company appeal, bracing for a one-up-manship discussion duel or fight, worse troubles from patrons testing for a whipping post to vent their emotions on and raise their self-esteem therewith. And no satisfying experiences anticipatable. No thank you. I'm gone. In other words, the bar setting works as stage dressing but doesn't immediately and intimately involve Ben, nor me vicariously as a reader. It makes me want to leave the bar.
Kennedy's assassination, that matters to me and the manner it's introduced makes it more important than Ben, pushes him farther into a background point of view. However, Jack is a personage near and dear to me. My back goes up immediately. Will his assassination be a cheap plot device, will his assassination be an insensitive reimagining, will it make me angry at the writer? It's as touchy a topic for me as 9-11 is to the present-day public. Handled sensitively, okay. Yet it's a treacherous path. And I think its power to resonate suggests that's where the story opens, especially if it's related from the beginning on as it relates to Ben's point of view.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited April 30, 2009).]
Ben’s got a reason to be there and a reason to ignore the patrons. Would his entry into the bar and ignoring the patrons consist, to you, of an example of withholding? I didn’t think that the setting would raise questions that needed to be immediately answered, but it seems it might have.
Not so much witholding or any quantifiable property, nor immediately qualifiable feature. Though I felt more alignment with the narrator than Ben, which is what clued me into an immersion issue. However, an objective third-person narrator is impersonally remote, which is what allows a narrator to take a back seat to a focal character's dynamic emergence.
All the emphasis in writer's discussions of hooks suggest to me they have a reader-baiting purpose, but not in any particularly meaningful way to me. Some aesthetic hunches, some intuitions, some insights into hooks, but what's it really mean? An opening's primary purpose in my perspective is to intimately immerse a reader, individually and meaningfully, in a story. Other necessary introductions aside, introduce a reader to the moment and place of a story that they will ride along in involved with a story.
Thirteen lines averages 130 words of real estate to do that in. Perhaps only thirty seconds of reading time, but if there's no immersion or if what immersion a reader brings or has already committed to or invested in is confused, then it's spoiled space.
An objective third person narrator allows for intimate immersion through a focal character. To my thinking, that's the strength of objective third. How immersion might be facilitated with this story is a matter of choosing one or more narrative methods that puts a reader into alignment with Ben. Ben meaningfully interacting with the milieu strikes me as one way, another is if he immediately realizes the morose mood of the bar and judges or disapproves of it or in some meaningful way portrays his subjective attitude toward it.
Personally, I'm okay with an opening dip into a focal character's thoughts, as long as it's not out of the blue. In other words, a thought is portrayed as an effect-reaction to an influxing pressure from the external world, and that thought leads in turn to a cause of an effluxing pressure, an effect in turn that causes an outward reaction from completing a train of thought.
In my upthread example, for example, Ben enters, visual and/or audio sensations clue him in that the patrons' mood is surly and he's concerned. He then struggles to decide whether he's staying or leaving. Add in something pity-worthy and noble about Ben, say he's got a phobia about being in the bar or some other internal emotional opposition, like he's been on the banned list for the last month for trouble he was involved in. This is his first time in the bar since and he's unsure of his welcome, but suppresses his anxiety and confidently saunters in regardless. And trips up and blows his cool. Or depicting some such contentious struggle that's relevant to the main action of the story.
Anyway, in as many ways as possible introducing Ben, his noble struggle, his immediate purpose for being in the bar and tie it into introducing the milieu and he'll subliminally become a reader's immersion nexus. A lot to ask of thirteen lines, sure, but if the introductions are done as they emerge from Ben's point of view, not necessarily or exclusively inside his head or even in his shoes or on his shoulder, but within his sensory experiences and reactions, immersion will be well and truly initiated.