Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Withered Bough

   
Author Topic: The Withered Bough
easterabbit
Member
Member # 9810

 - posted      Profile for easterabbit           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I sensed one among the crowd of commuters flowing past me. I lifted my head, kept my gaze dull and scanned the passing faces. It was easy to spot them. Sharp minds always see me, they probe their surroundings constantly like hunters in the night.
He was old, but not too old--skin hung from angular cheekbones, yet his eyes were like chips of blue glass. He saw a dirty beggar spoiling the underpass, but then his gaze lingered on my polished shoes and red silk socks. He lifted an eyebrow and I could almost hear his mind resisting my subtle snare, but then I caught his eye and the trap snapped shut.
He frowned and reached in his pocket. As he leaned forward to put the change in the baseball hat I touched the back of his hand. His body went rigid as my swimmers punctured his skin and engaged his

[ September 09, 2013, 05:04 PM: Message edited by: easterabbit ]

Posts: 61 | Registered: Apr 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This is a nearly well-developed opening. A few mechanical style glitches and a missing causal motivation for the action.

Why does the narrator-first person viewpoint character ensnare his victims? looms large in my unanswered questions from this opening introduction.

The ellipsis points after "He frowned—I could almost hear his mind resisting..." do not feel to me they signal an elliptical expression. An elliptical expression signals missing content that is otherwise easily udnderstood. Ellipsis points may be used to signal faltering or broken speech or thought, but I don't see that in that use. Ellipsis points conventionally signal missing content, like trailed off or faltering speech or thought. For example, Mat said, "I was there, so . . ." When a grammatically complete independent sentence signals an elliptical thought or speech, then four points are prescriptively indicated. The general issue I see is "resisting" can be either an intransitive verb that takes an object or a transitive verb that doesn't. Strengthening the sentence would signal which verb form, erring on the side of an intransitive verb. //He frowned—I could almost hear his mind resisting. . . . What? The coercion of my will.//

Use of the conjunction part of speech "as" to join actions that may or may not be concurrent creates minor hiccups when I read. I generally am less disrupted when the actions are set apart sequentially in their own sentences. "The always find me as I present them with a subtle conundrum." First, a typo? "The[y] always . . ." There, "as" I assume means when. But using "as" confuses the sentence's main idea, that of a subtle conundrum presented as a distraction.

The next two uses of "as" similarly conjoin actions that may or may not be concurrent. I think separating the spliced independent clauses into their own sentences would be clearer and stronger. Also, the second sentence inverts causality. "As he leaned forward to put the change in my baseball hat, I touched the back of his hand. His body went rigid as my swimmers punctured his skin and engaged his nervous system, releasing blooms of nerve agents and tiny machines." //He leaned forward and put change into my baseball hat. I touched the back of his hand. My swimmers punctured his skin and engaged his nervous system, releasing blooms of nerve agents and tiny machines. His body went rigid.//

If I had a strong and clear cue as to the underlying causal motivation for this narrator-viewpoint character's actions, I think I'd be more curious and empathatic and engaged. What does he want, other than victims, from his victims?

[ September 09, 2013, 05:06 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 5163 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
easterabbit
Member
Member # 9810

 - posted      Profile for easterabbit           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Apologies. I re-jigged it slightly after Kathleen snipped off the last line, and I wanted the hook still evident in the 1st 13.

Unfortunately while I was doing that you were commenting on it!

Posts: 61 | Registered: Apr 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
For the revision, I don't see a "hook" cue in my sense of the term. In this scenario, why does he hunt his victims? I'm adrift until I'm given a cue why. Okay opening context there is: who, when, where; inadequate texture: why and what; okay how, though.
Posts: 5163 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
easterabbit
Member
Member # 9810

 - posted      Profile for easterabbit           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Point taken, but the 'why' he hunts is to harvest something quite subtle from his victim's minds. I tried a few openings where I spelled it out but it swamped the first 13 (it requires accepting a different view of the mind), so I decided to drip feed the information in via an actual harvest scenario--it seemed the best way.
Posts: 61 | Registered: Apr 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm thinking a few words of a "drip-feed" could provide a cue about what and why he harvests his victims. Something tangible like a reaction or anticipation reaction of what's to come when he harvests the man. And why, what he gets out of it. The thrill of it? Feeding on that subtle quality he gets from harvesting? So that he changes slightly in a subtle way? Subtle is usually on the intangible side and challenging to express. Consider balancing subtle intangibility later on with concrete tangibility up front so readers have a want and problem anchor to latch onto from the beginning.
Posts: 5163 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
easterabbit
Member
Member # 9810

 - posted      Profile for easterabbit           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This was an earlier incarnation:

“Is this seat taken?” I had to focus on my tongue to speak normally--my mind was fragmenting fast.
The seated old man glanced first at me and then at the empty seat beside him with quick intelligent eyes. He lifted an eyebrow and smiled.
“No, sonny—I can only sit in one seat at a time. Help yourself.”
I could almost smell it on him. His ancient skin hung from angular cheekbones, yet his quick, sharp eyes spoke of a mind still quick. If I slipped through the cracks in his skull I'd find his hidden treasures. They'd hang in the shadows of his ancient mind, like ripe fruits turning gently in the breeze on a withered bough, still warmed by the failing glow of his life force. Ghosts.
And I will harvest them.

Posts: 61 | Registered: Apr 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
jayazman
Member
Member # 2818

 - posted      Profile for jayazman   Email jayazman         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
While there are some issues to look at, I was intruiged enough that if I was reading this in a magazine, I would continue to read it.
Posts: 212 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I see the situational context in each version. What I don't see are cues to why personally the narrator does what he does harvesting from people's minds what he harvests from them. One cue would work great potential, prepositioning in the opening for later filling in the details. Say he harvests because he craves the rich experience of other people's life joys. Is he then an emotional vampire?

A more tangible intersection would in some way, perhaps symbolic, relate to a substitite for subsistence, personal security, or social interaction.

I don't suggest that he must be consciously aware of why he does what he does from the beginning. Maybe that's one discovery he makes along the journey. Just projecting for example, say, why he harvests is from a desire to feel a sense of belonging to humanity or even something quite narrow and focused, like he seeks a unique human experience, say how knowing a place with other people as a home root, feeling the sense of belonging to the place and its people so deeply that he feels part of it.

Harvesting ghosts to me is more than taking the spirit shades of people. Ghosts are to me the feelings of settings people extend to them emotively, evocatively. The second-posted, prior version describes to a degree what he feels when he harvests but generically. What if in the opening you portray a hint of what he seeks specifically and doesn't quite grasp? So that a cue to his why and what are given.

Here, maybe? "It was easy to spot them. Sharp minds always see me, they probe their surroundings constantly like hunters in the night." //Spotting fulfilled lives was easy. Their sharp minds always see my hunger for their life's joys. They probe for cravings like mine, afraid of my desperate need, like hunters wary of other predators in the night.// Again, just projecting. But a few minor word changes can work wonders.

Posts: 5163 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Denevius
Member
Member # 9682

 - posted      Profile for Denevius   Email Denevius         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
I sensed one among the crowd of commuters flowing past me. I lifted my head, kept my gaze dull and scanned the passing faces. It was easy to spot them. Sharp minds always see me, they probe their surroundings constantly like hunters in the night.
I wasn't the biggest fans of these first lines because they're so vague. Definitely the opening sentence is weak. It gives readers nothing concrete to hold on to, and it's not exactly engaging. The first person narrator at this point can't mean anything to me, 'sensed' doesn't give me an idea of what he's doing or what he means by it, and 'one' is as non-descriptive as you can get. 'Crowd of commuters' creates no images.

In the next line, the narrator scans 'passing faces', which again gives us nothing to visualize. I'm not sure what's 'sharp' about the minds, nor do I know who 'they' are or how they 'probe'.

I think I get that you're trying to create a mystery, but I have a feeling that if you just laid your cards out more plainly on the table, you'd probably do a better job of creating intrigue in the prose.

quote:
He was old, but not too old--skin hung from angular cheekbones, yet his eyes were like chips of blue glass. He saw a dirty beggar spoiling the underpass, but then his gaze lingered on my polished shoes and red silk socks. He lifted an eyebrow and I could almost hear his mind resisting my subtle snare, but then I caught his eye and the trap snapped shut.
He frowned and reached in his pocket. As he leaned forward to put the change in the baseball hat I touched the back of his hand. His body went rigid as my swimmers punctured his skin and engaged his

The rest of this picks up significantly. All of a sudden we have images, like 'angular cheekbones', and 'eyes like chips of blue glass'. 'spoiling the underpass' sounds way too refined, and if the narrator doesn't keep it up throughout the prose, then it can probably be changed to something more common. People may say out loud, "That guy is spoiling the underpass", but I feel they'd just think to themselves, "That guy is ****ting on the sidewalk".

The last image is a bit confusing because I can't tell how close anyone is to each other. The way the sentence reads, I thought the beggar was further away, not right nearby. I also thought the narrator was further from the guy he's looking at, not close enough to touch his hand.

Posts: 1216 | Registered: Nov 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Denevius
Member
Member # 9682

 - posted      Profile for Denevius   Email Denevius         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
“Is this seat taken?” I had to focus on my tongue to speak normally--my mind was fragmenting fast.
The seated old man glanced first at me and then at the empty seat beside him with quick intelligent eyes. He lifted an eyebrow and smiled.
“No, sonny—I can only sit in one seat at a time. Help yourself.”
I could almost smell it on him. His ancient skin hung from angular cheekbones, yet his quick, sharp eyes spoke of a mind still quick. If I slipped through the cracks in his skull I'd find his hidden treasures. They'd hang in the shadows of his ancient mind, like ripe fruits turning gently in the breeze on a withered bough, still warmed by the failing glow of his life force. Ghosts.
And I will harvest them.

Though this opening has its faults with language, it does do much more to create intrigue. But there's stuff here that could change to make it read more smoothly, like in sentence two, you can drop 'seated', as it's implied. I'd lose 'sonny' as it sounds cliche', an old many using that word. You don't need 'ancient' because of context and the description of the man's skin that follows. 'hidden treasures' is quite weakly worded. You use 'ancient' again in the next line, but that whole sentence is melodramatic.
Posts: 1216 | Registered: Nov 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I was intrigued, and felt I could trust that the explanation was coming as to what the POV character was going after. What tripped me up was your use of swimmers. This isn't a deal breaker for me, but since I don't know exactly what is going on, my brain has to try and fill the gaps. When you create an alien situation and then use a slang term for sperm, my brain had to stop to consider that. Thus, I was pulled out of the story somewhat.
Posts: 816 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The very first sentence feels a little incomplete the first time through (in the sense of, one what, exactly?) And yeah "swimmers" did throw me off a little as well, but overall I found it excellent and for me, not knowing what he is after from people or why is a compelling reason to keep reading.
Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Bent Tree
Member
Member # 7777

 - posted      Profile for Bent Tree   Email Bent Tree         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
very captivating. The first line felt like razor wire though. May I suggest writing in a more active style? Something like, " I felt it, somewhere there in the sea of faces and sound..." I suppose it is a depth of POV. The rest is so rich. It just needs that first line to nail the POV. Feel his confusion, excitement, concern... see it as he sees it.

Good stuff

Posts: 1864 | Registered: Jan 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
snapper
Member
Member # 7299

 - posted      Profile for snapper   Email snapper         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Dude, I always liked your openings. They are what I describe 'subtle jolts' - narratives that fluidly plunge the reader into your narrative. I don't know who the protag is, what is going on, where the scene is, or why any of it is important but I'm captivated as if I'm already invested in the outcome. So rare when writers can accomplish it so effortlessly.

Q: You ever finish any of these?

Posts: 3072 | Registered: Dec 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2