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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Working Title: My Father

   
Author Topic: Working Title: My Father
Apprentice Wordsmith
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James pushed the car door shut, crunched his way across the gravel, and climbed the wide, stone steps. Lifting the heavy, black knocker he rapped on the door. A good two, maybe three, minutes went by before his father leant out of an upstairs window.
'James. What are you doing here? Er...I'm not up yet. Er...just let yourself in, I'll be down in a minute.' he said, and then was gone.
Frowning James glanced at the red Megane parked between his father's Jaguar, and his own Golf. If his father wasn't up yet, why was there a car he didn't recognise parked on his father's drive? Shrugging the question away, he took out his keys and let himself in.

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Apprentice Wordsmith
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Hi, I would appreciate any feedback on the above opening to a short story I'm in the process of writing. Thank you
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NoTimeToThink
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Welcome to Hatrack!
So far I'm not hooked. I don't know what kind of story it is (speculative? mystery?...), so I don't know what to expect from it. You do a lot of describing of physical setting and objects, but I don't know what's happening. For a short story, you need to set my expectations quickly and get into why I should care before I lose interest.

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KayTi
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I'm not the best person for this advice, being addicted to commas the way I am, but I think you have more commas than you need (wide, stone steps and heavy, black knocker, for example.) But that raises a point, which is that you probably should shorten at least the knocker description to one word, following so closely on a two-word description of ANOTHER inanimate object.

(more extra commas: "A good two, maybe three, minutes..." - you can say this "A good two, maybe three minutes...")

Also...plausibility point, nobody I know has the patience to stand and wait two or three MINUTES at a front stoop, and certainly not at a house where they have a key! I think that should be addressed. How about going into the MC's head. "James knew his father wasn't great about answering the door so he pulled out his cell phone to answer some texts while he waited. A good two, maybe three...")

Good luck with this, I think it's a good start, but NoTimeToThink has also made some good points about a hook or a reason to read on. Give us some hint, short stories are so short, we need to lay it out up front for the readers or at least give them a question to put in their minds that they try to answer while they read.


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Bent Tree
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I am afraid I wasn't much compelled by this. I caught no glimpse of a speculative element or conflict. Overall the plot seemed very mundane. the "father" character seemed the only one developing and it felt a bit superficial and therefore fell flat. Mc seemed unremarkable. He knocks on the door and...? I think this is due to what I call a false start. The STORY, does it really start here? Why is he suddenly knocking on daddy's door? Does he go everyday? Or has he not seen him in years? A big fallout? Did he go to give him a piece of his mind? Is he dying? These are things I wonder and the MC knows. By offering this through strong POV it will compel the reader forward. We need emotion,motive, something to make us care why we are knocking on his dads door and not our own. If he is going to go punch the old man before he kicks the bucket we may hate him, but sympathize with him also. You gotta develop a reason why to turn the page.
Sorry if this sounds harsh...I really feel it is the starting point throwing this off. I have been guilty of it many many times.

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Apprentice Wordsmith
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Thank-you for all the replies. They are all really useful in helping me see how other people react to the story.

The 'hook' I'm aiming for is that when a son makes his fairly routine visit to his father he sees a car that he doesn't recognise on the drive, and then appears to catch his father off-balance, and flustered. The idea being that the reader wonders why the car is there, what the father is up to, and in the next few lines i try and show James wondering that too. For example he sees a pair of lady's shoes in the hallway. I'm trying to lead the reader into guessing that the father (who is a widower) has a woman staying over, just before James comes tothe same conclusion, which sets up the rest ofthe story as that isn't the case.

Obviously I need to work on the beginning to achieve what I want, so this feedback is very helpful, thank you

[This message has been edited by Apprentice Wordsmith (edited November 17, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Apprentice Wordsmith (edited November 17, 2010).]


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sojoyful
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I wasn't interested until the part about the car, and then only mildly so. Since the car is important to your hook, why not start with it? After all, James must have noticed it when he first pulled into the driveway. Then James can be already wondering about the owner of that car as he walks up to the door. Then Dad says he's not up yet, which sounds even more suspicious because we're already curious about the car.

I agree with others that you could cut the description of inanimate objects without losing anything critical.

The dialog didn't work for me. I understand that you're trying to show that Dad is off guard, but you could lose the Ers and just say he was stuttering and breathless, or something like that.

Keep at it. The first 13 is always tricky.


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Osiris
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Hello,

Welcome to Hatrack. I generally agree with what has been said, particularly what sojoyful said; I was not hooked either, but mildly curious about the car. I'd like to offer you some inline comments as well:

quote:

James pushed the car door shut, crunched his way across the gravel, and climbed the wide, stone steps.

Consider that if the first 13 of your story is prime real-estate, then the first line of the first 13 is beachfront property. You want to introduce the most important things of a story here: character, conflict, setting, etc.. It doesn't have to be all in the first line, but some of the best first lines I've read manage to get most of these in. As sojoyful mentioned, the notion that there is a car that doesn't belong in dad's driveway is the initial hook and hints at a conflict. So start with that, and go bold with it. You could start with something like "The car did not belong." Or some variant thereof.

quote:

Lifting the heavy, black knocker he rapped on the door. A good two, maybe three, minutes went by before his father leant out of an upstairs window.

the use of 'heavy, black' and 'two,maybe three' dilute this sentence, making it weaker. The power of sentences lies primarily in the use of strong nouns and verbs. Also the past tense of lean is leaned, not leant.

quote:

'James. What are you doing here? Er...I'm not up yet. Er...just let yourself in, I'll be down in a minute.' he said, and then was gone.

The 'Er..." use here doesn't work. I see that you want to convey discomfort and surprise, but the mechanical nature of the "Er..." does the exact opposite. It reads like someone pretending (badly) to be surprised. Try reading it out loud and you will see what I mean.

Also, a note on dialog tags. dialog tags are part of the sentence structure of the dialog, so the period before 'he said' should actually be a comma. Also, its proper style to put the dialog tag either in the middle of the dialog or after the first punctuation, like so:

"James," he said. "What are you doing here?"

Hope the feedback helps, and don't be discouraged, just keep working at it.

[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited November 17, 2010).]


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philocinemas
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I agree with most of what has already been said, at least in premise if not in technique.

If you name something "My Father", I generally expect it to be written in first person.

One of the biggest problems is that you are failing to get into the main character's head. This is not always necessary (such as in cinematic 3rd POV), but I expect it to be important for this type of story. You could do this in first person, but I feel first is often more challenging to do right.

I feel your idea for a hook was good. I did get that "your" father had a woman upstairs, but I did not know he was a widower. I assumed he was having an affair, which instantly gave me a certain impression of your father. You may want to let the reader know he is a widower first (possibly in the first sentence) - be careful not to infodump.

I do feel that you overdid the adjectives a little. I liked your use of verbs and some of your sentence structure, but you may wish to tone down the commas - they are typically not necessary when you only have two subsequent adjectives. On the other hand, you needed one after "Frowning".

The "A good two, maybe three, minutes..." was grammatically correct, but I agree with Osiris that it makes for a weak sentence. Indefinity can work for a character, but not usually for a narrator. Along those lines, I also agree you should break up the father's dialogue. Technically, "James" is an interjection, which should either be followed by a comma or an exclamation mark. If it were a comma, the following "what" would be lower case as such - "James," he said, "what..." - or use the exclamation - "James!" he said. "What..." The period after said could be a comma. The "Er's" didn't work for me.

I feel that your opening could work if you get into your narrator's head more, work on how you set the scene, and tighten up your sentences. You probably should comment first that this is not a speculative piece, since this is primarily a speculative forum. I hope my comments help and add to what others here have already said. Good luck.


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walexander
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I would like to say welcome to Hatrack!

You have plenty to work with already so no comment from me except-

If you've come to learn about writing there is no better place,
but bring an open mind, your determination, your sword, and your shield - or be fed to the lions. The Caesars around here are a tough bunch. But you'll definitely learn a lot about writing quickly.

I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

W.


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Apprentice Wordsmith
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Thank you for all the comments. I certainly do have a lot to work with, which is great. I hope to return soon with a new version that tries to make use of all the advice.
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Grayson Morris
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I completely got that James' father has a lady friend over, and thought it silly of James not to jump to that conclusion right away. Now, perhaps the father is very reclusive, hasn't seen anyone in ten years since James' mother died, and so on, but the reader doesn't know that yet. And even then, I'd expect the first thought James entertained to be "could it be a woman.....no! Not knowing Dad...hmm..." - that kind of thing.

Now, if you make it a gentleman friend James' father has over, you're setting James and the reader up for a big surprise, especially if James is homophobic (and even if he isn't, it will be quite a jolt, as it will completely rearrange his image of his father, his own childhood, put old arguments he overheard between his parents in a new context, and so on...). And that way, you don't need to have James seem so terribly naive - too naive for this reader.

But that, of course, may not at all be where you want to take this story. :-)


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Apprentice Wordsmith
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I've got a new version I'd like to run by you all. I've tried to use your advice. I'm hoping I haven't gone too far the other way and made the hook to obvious.


As he stepped out of his car, James glanced at the red Mazda in Father's driveway. It looked like Father had a visitor. He paused for a second on the doorstep. Maybe he should come back another time. It would be better to talk to his father when he was alone. No, better to get it over with now he was here. He had put this visit off too long already. It had been over a month since he was last here, yet he had been coming every week before that...ever since Mother died last spring.
He rapped loudly on the big oak door. A few moments later his father's voice came from above him. Looking up he saw him leaning out of a window, wearing a dressing gown.
"James," he said. "It's you! I wasn't expecting you. Wait, I'll be down in a minute. No, actually, let yourself in."

[This message has been edited by Apprentice Wordsmith (edited November 19, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Apprentice Wordsmith (edited November 19, 2010).]


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sojoyful
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This is much improved!

To address your comment, I don't think it's possible for a hook to be too obvious. A hook can be either strong, weak, or nonexistant (IMHO). You have definitely strengthened your hook with this revision.

quote:
He paused for a second on the doorstep. Maybe he should come back another time. It would be better to talk to his father when he was alone. No, better to get it over with now he was here. He had put this visit off to long already.
With that section, you did a nice job writing from the character's point of view. Instead of YOU telling us what James is thinking, James is telling us himself, in his own words.

quote:
He glanced curiously at a red Megane parked next to his his father's Jaguar. It looked like his father had a visitor.
This bit is still more YOU telling than James telling. The adverb curiously is a clue. Instead, show the action ("He glanced at the red Megane...") and then the reaction ("Who would be visiting Father at this hour?") Similar to what you did in the passage I previously quoted.

Notice that in my little rewrite I said "Father" instead of "his father." In James' mind, I doubt he thinks of his father as "his father." Instead, he probably thinks of him as Dad, Father, Rick, Jerkface, or some other name. Since you're writing from James' perspective, call his father by whatever name James uses in his head. (Note that this may be different from what James calls him when speaking out loud.) Same thing for "his mother."

quote:
James pushed the car door shut and crunched his way across the gravel drive. He glanced curiously at a red Megane parked next to his his father's Jaguar.
The first sentence came across as somewhat bland. Would it be possible to combine the two, to get to the hook more quickly? For example, "As he stepped out of his car, James glanced at the red Megane in Father's driveway."

A comment, not a critique: I've never heard of a Megane, so that word keeps bugging me. Is it a commonly known car name? Either I'm uninformed (possible) or other readers will also be thrown by the unfamiliar name (also possible).

Spelling nit: "He had put this visit off too long already."

Nice job. I would offer to read the full piece, but I'm already overcommitted.


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DavidS
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A Megane is a medium sized Renault - probably fairly common in Britain, where Apprentice Wordsmith is from. They're quite rare here in Australia and I suspect completely unknown in the US.

Depends on the final market for the story I suppose - it would be fine in Britain and Europe. For a global market perhaps something like a Mazda would be more appropriate, if you want to keep a specific brand there. Otherwise "small hatchback" might be a substitute.


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Apprentice Wordsmith
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Thank you. I felt when I was writing it that 'my father' felt wrong, but wasn't sure what to use instead. 'Father' is much better. As was said Megane's are fairly comon in the uk, but Mazda works as well, thanks.

I've edited the new version with your suggestions. It's a shame your over committed, as I would love it if someone would be willing to read the whole piece through. I've took it as far as I think I can without feedback as I've redrafted and edited it a few times.


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philocinemas
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I agree, this is greatly improved.

Sojoyful gave you some great advice. Try to keep that perspective throughout the piece. Look at what you've already written and consider perspective all the way through.

There is one mild continuity error in your opening:

quote:
He rapped loudly on the big oak door. A few moments later his father's voice came from above him. [What did he say?] Looking up he saw him leaning out of a window, wearing a dressing gown. [James looks up in response]
"James," he said. "It's you! I wasn't expecting you. Wait, I'll be down in a minute. No, actually, let yourself in." [Now you have his father speaking for the first time]

Consider putting his knock after 'He had put this visit off too long already.' and then have 'It had been over a month...' The only thing to remember is that if you change from his father's dialogue to James's perspective, you also need to make new paragraphs (unless you can sneak a less intrusive perspective in without it being obtrusive). Think about what James would hear - like possibly the window opening. This could be why James looks up. Don't let us write this for you. You can make changes based on our comments, but this is YOUR story. Make it your own.

I might have some free time next week to look at it, no promises - I'm starting a new job, working on my own current project, and my wife's feeling neglected.


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philocinemas
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Also, FYI, it is better to edit your original post by writing "SECOND VERSION" or something of the sort, putting the new opening, and then letting others know by posting at the end of the thread. This generally increases the number of people responding to your post.

Edited to add: Don't delete your original post when you do this, so others can see how your opening has progressed.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited November 19, 2010).]


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Apprentice Wordsmith
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Thanks Philo, if you do have some time to look at it that would be great, just let me know.
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