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Author Topic: Sci-Fi short (WIP) 1,396
RSJ
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Working Title - Frontiersman
John having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat turned the combine in towards the barn as the sun began to dip behind the mountain. Even in the failing light he could see the black words spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. Another window was broken but the house was in order. No one had entered and destroyed or stolen anything. The house was just what he and his wife had always wanted. Out in the country, but not too far from civilization. Two stories, white with a wrap-around porch, and plenty of windows. A place to raise their children away from the world. John swept up the broken glass and covered the window with plastic. He would sand away the graffiti and paint over it tomorrow. After he cooked a meal for himself he went upstairs...

(John is a generic name until I think of something better.)Working Title is Frontiersman.

(Revision)
John, having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat, turned the combine in towards the barn as the sun began to dip behind the mountain. Even in the failing light he could see the black words spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. Another window was broken but the house was in order. To his relief no one had entered and destroyed or stolen anything. This improvement was what he was hoping for when he left his military career for the life he had long desired. The house was just what he and his wife had always wanted. Out in the country, but not too far from civilization. Two stories, white with a wrap-around porch, and plenty of windows. A place to raise their children away from the world. John swept up the broken glass and covered the window

(2nd Revision)
John, having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat, touched the computer screen to shut down the threshing wheel and turned the control stick to maneuver the combine in towards the barn. A small grin appeared on his face when he thought of how easily he learned to operate the complex machine, considering he had never sat in the cab until that morning. It reminded him of his impressed flight instructors the first time he took a fighter to the skies. Of course they never said so, but he could tell from the way they barked out reprimands for his minor mistakes. They could think of nothing better. The sun began to dip behind the hills, even in the failing light he could see the black words spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. A window was broken but


(3rd Revision) I decided I needed to start the story earlier.
John woke to the sound of a rooster crowing. While he was putting on his thick overalls and jacket he paused for a moment as he looked at the portrait of his wife he kept on the night stand. He let out a soft sigh, zipped up his jacket and went down stairs for a quick breakfast. The sun was still cresting over the horizon as he walked out to his large barn. The dim light gave an amber glow to his large field of wheat.
“Hello neighbor.”
John somewhat surprised, looked across the fence to see a man harnessing a team of horses to a harvester.
“Oh, good morning Samuel.” John said
“You have a fine looking crop Mr. Barlow, are you ready for the harvest?’
“I certainly am, and thank you.” said John


[This message has been edited by RSJ (edited January 08, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by RSJ (edited January 08, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited January 08, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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Hmm...not bad, but not terribly inspiring. You need some commas...for instance, one after John and probably one after wheat, other places as well. It comes off sounding rather monotone in my head.

Perhaps throw in some suggestion of who is vandalizing the house, and/or why to grab interest a little more?


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RSJ
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Pretty much everything interesting happens in the next paragraph. I was trying to portray that having his house vandalized is a pretty normal occurance for him, I don't even bother explaining it for several paragraphs.

The monotone part was what I was mostly worried about. I'm not sure if I should change to his POV much sooner, it does transition in the next two sentances.


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Merlion-Emrys
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I would suggest perhaps an amalgam of the two. Use the begining to establish that its a regular accurence, but, if possible, find a way to include some background or action a little more quickly.

I'm not a huge proponent of the "must grab reader right at the very begining" school of thought but...even just spicing up the voice a little would definitely help. Its not bad, as is, just a bit bland.


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RSJ
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I agree somewhat that a story shouldn't have to start with a car chase or a nuclear holocaust to pull in the reader.
OSC said somewhere (I think in his book How to write science fiction and fantasy) that some people are good at hard science sci-fi but aren't so great at character developement. This story is definetly in the hard science catergory (sorry no lightsabers) and I do need to work on the characters perspective of things.

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LAJD
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Or this would work if there were some strong emotions tied to these actions. Is he surprised/happy/anxious that this time the house was not vandalized? Does it mean that something worse is coming? I don't need to know that but knowing how he feels about it makes this work, for me.

Leslie


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RSJ
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here's a revised 1st 13

John, having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat, turned the combine in towards the barn as the sun began to dip behind the mountain. Even in the failing light he could see the black words spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. Another window was broken but the house was in order. To his relief no one had entered and destroyed or stolen anything. This improvement was what he was hoping for when he left his military career for the life he had long desired. The house was just what he and his wife had always wanted. Out in the country, but not too far from civilization. Two stories, white with a wrap-around porch, and plenty of windows. A place to raise their children away from the world. John swept up the broken glass and covered the windo



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Brendan
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Probably the reason this doesn't grip me is the number of passive verbs in it. For example "no one had entered", "improvement was what he was hoping", "he had long desired", "house was just what", "his wife had always wanted" etc. This can distance the reader (if they are comfortable with passive tense) or slow and confuse the reader (if they are not). It also suggests that the character will be quite passive, which usually isn't what you want the reader to believe.


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genevive42
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I agree, it's very passive. It seems that your MC's dream of a perfect life is going down the toilet. So it would stand to reason that he would have a stronger response to it. What is he really feeling? Anger? Frustration? Disgust? Fear that he'll never be able to have a normal life?

Since the vandalism is ongoing, what makes it different this time? Why are you starting the story here?

If your characters are passive about the events of your story then your reader will feel that passivity too and wonder why this moment is important to the character.

Just some things to think about. Hope they help.


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Foste
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Just tone down the descriptions at the beginning a bit and add a bit emotion to the narration. Otherwise, I think it is fine as it is.

Descriptions can come later (if it works for you).

[This message has been edited by Foste (edited December 20, 2009).]


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NoTimeToThink
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I'm not sure what is happening here, but if John doesn't seem to care, it's hard for me to get interested in finding out.

He seems to care enough about the vandalism that he plans to clean it up in fairly short order. He should have some emotional attachment to the place; it was part of his and his wife's dreams, and he had "long desired" this life. In the first version he cooks a meal for himself, no mention of anyone else, so I assume his wife is dead or gone. Lots of reasons to feel something stronger than the boredom that's oozing from him.

Maybe I'm supposed to care about the fact that he doesn't seem to, but I'm not there yet. Need to know more about what he's feeling.


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stutson
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Knowing even a word of the graffiti could spice things up in my mind, even if not in his.

The long description of how wonderful this house is could wait until later -- or if it were shorter, I think the contrast would increase.

As it is, I probably wouldn't read on.


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RSJ
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I think I'm going to begin the story earlier when he is still a space interceptor pilot and quickly move into his wife and childrens murder. I was planning on a type of flashback to these events but even I am bored with this opening. And the graffiti is going to be a modern derogatory slang term for someone with moral principles. Along the lines of "Puritan" or something, obviously I haven't created a lot of the modern jargon yet. I did try to emphasize that he isn't bothered by the vandalism because it is so common and having a window broken is rather tame for what he is used to.

So my real question is do I start the story somewhere else, or would it be more interesting if told you the word/s painted on his house if they eluded to some modern hatred?


[This message has been edited by RSJ (edited December 23, 2009).]


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Bent Tree
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quote:
John[[Comma]] having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat turned the combine in towards the barn as the sun began to dip behind the mountain.[[This sentence has a good and vital purpose, but its is a bit unwieldy and to me lacked a real oportunity for something vivid. See note: #1]] Even in the failing light[[How is the light failing? The sun? Did it fail to stay up for its allotted fourteen hours? Doesn't make sense to me. I appreciate poetic metaphores but this one didn't do it for me]] he could see the black words[[Ia this point I would like to see the words. Or you could simply call them graphitti]] spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. Another window was broken but the house was in order. No one had entered and destroyed or stolen anything.[[Then why mention it? it is implied by the sentence before and the one following. He also seems quite indifferent about this entire situation.]] The house was just what he and his wife had always wanted. Out in the country, but not too far from civilization. Two stories, white with a wrap-around porch, and plenty of windows. A place to raise their children away from the world.[[See Note:#2]] John swept up the broken glass and covered the window with plastic. He would sand away the graffiti and paint over it tomorrow. After he cooked a meal for himself he went upstairs...

Note:#1 Potential actions that could add detail and impact; Pausing, wiping the sweat from his brow with rough caloussed hands, feeling relieve to see only one more row to plow, sensing that his oxen or ass, or horse was seemingly just as excited to know they were almost done, feeling his throbbing feet numly sinking into the freshly plowed earth etc...

Note:#2 The description of the house to me seems long-winded and somehow disturbingly flat. I suppose it is the lack of emotional response from the POVF charater that is striking my nerves as I read this. There are clues here I suppose about the upcomming conflic(someone vandalizing his house) potential conlict in "She wanted to move her but I...." but there is no follow through on any of it because the viewpoint is so flat. He doesn't seem angry about it at all so at first I thought he might be some "bhudda patient" guy. Then there is the other potential conflict about how he feels about living here, but it never develops.

This intro ends with him making a meal for himself and going to bed implying that he is alone, but they(wife and kids) had always dreamed(the only emotional clue I found)about living her. Where are they? this is a potential point of interest or conflict as is the Vandalism, but the MC is so flat I was totally turned off. I also felt that there was alot of information, perhaps too much info in this intro, but not enough detail. Does that make sense? I would mush rather know How the MC feels about the walls of his house being graffitied up and vandalized much more than if it is two stories or not. I would much rather feel his jaw clench as he remembered how his family was murdered or whatever left him alone than here a summary of what seems must be a few hours at least that the span of this intro covers. Some stories don't even cover that much time.

I hope I am not coming across too critical. I find I get myself riled up from time to time when I encounter stories in which I see huge potential that is misguided. I just want to help you make this one work.

I recomend focusing on the primary conflict and getting the MC some real emotion. One of the most important goals in the first thirteen is to establish an emotional connection between the reader and the MC. I am trying now to imagine myself in the MC's shoes. I will write it in the first person present tense simply for demonstrative purpose. Of course I am speculating on conflicts and key facts I am sure. Mostly because there were too few clues to make an inference.

Suns startin to set over the mountain ridge. Trigger winnies. I can tell she is just as relived to be done plowin as we look down our last row. Past the point of pain, my feet are so damned numb the new plowed lanes feel like I am walking in butter. I have to look at em just to make sure they are doin what theys supposed to. At the end of the row I finally look up.
Damnit, even in the dim sunset I can see the graffiti on the walls of my house--Our dream house--or it was. NOt again. I don't even know why I stay anymore, now that Karen and my little susie are gone. We thought the country would be a wholesome place to raise a baby girl--a safe place. Now they are gone We couldn't have been more wrong.
As I unbridle trigger I feel sorry for the old mare. I work her so hard, and for what? I don't even have anything to work for anymore. I don't even know why I stay. Sometimes I get stuck in the memories. Everything is as though it is on a reel.
As I sweep up the broken glass, I am at least relieved that they didn't ramsack the inside. If i just left--iwouldn't have to deal with these bastards anymore. They killed my girls and now they just reminded me on my impotence. I should have stopped them...

This is just some random things that come to me when I put myself in the boots of the MC here. I hope it helps. I'll be glad to look over your entire story if I haven't offended you too much here already.

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited December 24, 2009).]


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Bent Tree
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Oh man! It is terribly frustrating to those of us who don't read others' comments before posting(To help maintain the integrity of my comments) to see that there is a revision burried in the middle of the thread. When You make a revision, you should always include(Edit) it into the original post. I just spent nearly a half hour commenting on something that has already been rewritten.

Still willing to look over the whole thing if you want. Consider it my free pass to the new person. Welcome to Hatrack BTW.


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RSJ
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Bent Tree that is exactly what I needed to hear. I see what you mean about too much info and not enough detail. I need to learn how to translate his emotions into writing. Now I know what I need to do to rewrite just about everything. Not change the story, just how it's presented.
And I thought that the failing light was a good description for the sun going down and it becoming darker but still light enough to see the details of some things. And I need to emphasize that he is driving a modern mechanical combine with computer screens and a control stick and such, because a horse drawn plow wasn't what I was going for at all.

I'll rewrite it and repost. Thanks

I know it's more than 13 lines but here's the revised beginning.

John, having completed harvesting the last few rows of wheat, touched the computer screen to shut down the threshing wheel and turned the control stick to maneuver the combine in towards the barn. A small grin appeared on his face when he thought of how easily he learned to operate the complex machine, considering he had never sat in the cab until that morning. It reminded him of his impressed flight instructors the first time he took a fighter to the skies. Of course they never said so, but he could tell from the way they barked out reprimands for his minor mistakes. They could think of nothing better. The sun began to dip behind the hills, even in the failing light he could see the black words spray-painted on the side of his home as he locked up the great barn doors. A window was broken but


Does the transition between his thoughts and the narration seem clunky?

[This message has been edited by RSJ (edited December 24, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited January 08, 2010).]


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NoTimeToThink
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Bent Tree's advice about posting revisions at the start of the thread is standard practice and helps those trying to help you.

1) Some of the sentences are a bit long (the first, for example). Try breaking them up.
2) This whole passage needs to be broken into paragraphs (I wonder if it just didn't format properly when you copied it in).
3) This is all in 3rd person, but there's a sentence that looks like first ("I came to this backwoods...").
4) There seems to be a little more emotion from John, (such as fists clenched, the small grin), but he still seems too remote for me to care. The elements are there (the vandalism, the absent wife & children, the lost dreams) for me to expect stronger feelings from him, but he doesn't seem to have them.
5) I'm not very good at this myself, but you need a little more showing and a little less telling to get us closer to John. You make a stab at it with

quote:
He stood on the front porch his fists clenched in frustration that his home, something he almost considered sacred, had been defiled.

It might just be me, but I would have felt more from:
quote:
He stood on the porch and clenched his fists.

I think the length of your sentences and descriptions (and those "ing" words) are getting between me and John. Better, but not quite.

[This message has been edited by NoTimeToThink (edited December 24, 2009).]


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RSJ
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I'm making an attempt at writing a conversation between characters. I don't think it's a strong point of mine but I felt the opening needed to be earlier in the story and not just try to dive into the unusual characteristics of this future.

My revised beginning is in the first post at the top.


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genevive42
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First a technical thing on the latest revision: He zips up his jacket to go down for breakfast. I know he goes out to the barn after that so I'm pretty sure the jacket should come between breakfast and going outside.

But the truth is, the third revision gives us setting and the hint that the MC appreciates his wife. It doesn't give us any sense of conflict. All we know is it's a story about a farmer. The event of the morning routine and greeting a neighbor reads rather flat. It might be okay if it gives us a sense that there is something terribly unique about this person but that doesn't come through here.

I think you were closer when you were starting with him discovering the vandalism. But I think you need to show his reaction, his feelings in a stronger tone.

Maybe something like:

"John cursed under his breath as he swept up the glass from the latest round of vandalism. They hadn't damaged anything inside but this round of hate graffiti had gotten particularly personal. Die you lousy Hoggerag! it had said. All he wanted was some peace and to harvest some wheat. Why couldn't they forget the past? Why wouldn't they just leave him alone?

He looked at his wife's apron hanging on the hook in the kitchen and his heart sank. It had been empty for days. He had sent her away so she would be safe but his life just didn't feel right without her at his side."

I'm sure you can come up with something better and please forgive my intrusion on your idea but I thought an illustration might help.

But something like this gets you into the MC's head, gives a quick setting and the conflict. You can start lacing in the other details of his life as it goes on and flesh out the reason for the vandalism in the first place.

Of course these are just suggestions. Take them as you will.

Hope this helps.


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ScardeyDog
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I agree with gen42. I think revision 3 is starting too early.
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