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Author Topic: Shared Reality (Working Title)
wetwilly
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Science Fiction, about 5,000 words. I'll look for readers once I get an ending nailed down; for now I offer you this opening as fodder for your literary axes and chainsaws. Happy chopping!

***

Jake woke up in the morning with a feeling that something was off. He realized it was a feeling he should listen to when his mother's face melted at the breakfast table.

She sat with her chin propped on her palm, swirling her spoon in her cereal bowl in sleepy circles. As she yawned, her cheeks sagged down around her hand and her forehead dripped into her eyes. She took a sip of coffee, and grimaced when it scalded her tongue.

This was normal, right? Part of Jake wanted to freak out, but another part was pretty sure this happened from time to time. He couldn't think of any specific instances off the top of his head, but it seemed like this was not unusual enough to warrant panic.

His mom pushed her dripping forehead back up like a stray piece of hair.“No please, not today,” she said.

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Denevius
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The prose is a little too conversational, and can probably be tightened. You have a hook, though, through the mystery of what's going on.

quote:
She took a sip of coffee, and grimaced when it scalded her tongue.
Change of POV here. Other than that, good luck on nailing your ending!
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extrinsic
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An odd though not overly panic-worthy event confronts Jake. Mom's face slips; though she knows what that means, Jake doesn't. A strong and artful use of dramatic irony.

A few viewpoint, voice, and diction concerns hold distance open more than ideal. Jake is patently the viewpoint character, the agonist of the moment; however, the narrator views Jake from outside the scene, accesses his thoughts, reflects his sensations and reactions to them from an over-distanced exterior. Closer than the average narrator mediated drama, though, from access to Jake's thoughts, though emotionally neutral and vague from lack of one or another, narrator or viewpoint agonist, attitude commentary expression.

First sentence, for example, "Jake woke up in the morning with a feeling that something was off." Woke up where; at home in his bed presumably, otherwise a bland, everyday routine waking-up scene summary tell. Stronger expression would develop the scene's reality imitation.

"something was off" is vague and lackluster jargon. Though Jake's premonition doesn't naturally come with clues to its cause; he doesn't know, stronger expression would give hints so that readers know more that a highly dramatic turn of events is about to unfold and before Jake so that Mom's face melt has impact from knowledge beforehand. Reconsider any "some" word as a signal of vagueness that warrants rewriting.

"melt" is a problematic word. Is Jake high on hallucinogens? Does Mom's face actually melt? //slumped// would be too direct, lacking from interpretable meaning and attitude, for the contexture, though that appears to be what happens. Mom's facial skin slips loose from her face bones, right? Sagged, right? "dripped" and "dripping" are as problematic as "melted."

Troublesome conjunctions "but," "when," and "as."

Jake not panicking to a degree defuses any tension potential Mom's face "melt" offers.

"Part of Jake wanted to freak out, but another part was pretty sure this happened from time to time."

Jake should "freak out" and be "pretty sure this happened from time to time" at the same time, emphasis on the former for tension development's sake. Lackluster attitude generally, though, from tired language jargon: "freaked out," "pretty sure," and "from time to time."

Few robust setting and character development scene details, few robust attitude developments, little emotional contexture development, lack of narrator or viewpoint agonist attitude, and over-distanced viewpoint blunt an otherwise potentially engaging opening "hook," a Mom's, and by natural extension Jake's, shape shifter-like nature. A somewhat strong promise implied of a meaningful dramatic complication event fraught with conflict stakes' developments and dramatic setbacks worthy of a narrative.

[ October 17, 2014, 12:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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Can we talk about the finer points of POV?

quote:
quote: She took a sip of coffee, and grimaced when it scalded her tongue.

Change of POV here.

I had already thought about whether this was a POV violation while writing my initial draft. My thought is that we're not inside Mom's head feeling her scald her tongue, but rather still in Jake's head watching her. He sees her grimace when she drinks her coffee and infers that she scalded her tongue. A fine point, perhaps, and only a matter of a couple words difference either way, but an important point nonetheless.

My theory is that we all do this constantly. We see others perform some action (grimace after sipping coffee, look away from somebody while talking to them, smack the table during an argument, etc.), and automatically fill in motivations based on our own inferences. Therefore, characters should do the same. Or at least, characters should be able to do the same.

So, I pose the question to you folks: can a POV character infer what another is thinking in this manner without violating POV?

-Totally unrelated side note: Denevius, you still working on that "Korean Undead" book? I was curious to see where that one would go.

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Denevius
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quote:
He sees her grimace when she drinks her coffee and infers that she scalded her tongue.
Perhaps, but then:

quote:
As she yawned, her cheeks sagged down around her hand and her forehead dripped into her eyes. She took a sip of coffee, and grimaced when it scalded her tongue.
You write an opening in which a character is observing his mother's face melt. A "grimace" could be due to any number of reasons when someone's face is dissolving.

quote:
Denevius, you still working on that "Korean Undead" book? I was curious to see where that one would go.
Thanks for the query! I'll keep you posted.
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extrinsic
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POV is a shorthand acronym used vaguely to express a shorthand for a spectrum of narrative features. Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction details a number of them and distinguishes their parameters and conventions and strengths and disadvantages.

POV generally is a narrative's overall narrative point of view, a narrator's viewpoint and voice specifically: grammatical person and degree of access to characters' perceptions, thoughts, and emotions.

For example:
  • First person (singular or plural)
  • Second person (singular or plural)
  • Third person (nonnumbered)
  • (Fourth person, as if anyone anymore knows its conventions, c'est moi)
  • Detached narrator
  • Total omniscience
  • Selective omniscient
  • Selective omnipresent
  • Selective omnipotent
  • Close access
  • Limited to one viewpoint character at a time
  • Limited to one character altogether
A grid with person along the top and degree of access to characters' internal viewpoints along the side is how Knight illustrates their relationships. He, like many writers and readers, disparages second person as "weird" to write and read. Second person has three cases, imperative (commands like recipes), conspiratorial, and reflexive. Not so weird if managed artfully. Anyway, Knight includes second person though dismisses that narrative point of view and viewpoint.

First person naturally cannot access other characters' thoughts, the narrator and the viewpoint character are one and the same, though the character switches between narrator mode and reflector character mode. Access to thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and reactions is solely from the first person narrator's interior discourse and viewpoint and a purely subjective objectivity.

Yes, a first person narrator can speculate on another character's thoughts, interpret their vocal intonations and nonverbal and nonvocal expressions, and the meanings of their actions and words. However, unless a first person narrator is able to possess another character from within, a first person narrator cannot see, hear, touch, smell, taste, think, or feel from within another character. Also, a first person character cannot percieve the self from an external perspective, though again, can speculate about how the self appears, sounds, etc.

An omniscient third person narrator can access other characters' sensations and perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and interior reactions to internal stimuli. A detached narrator cannot. Like a first person narrator, a detached narrator can speculate based upon external cues. Also like first person, in third person, a viewpoint character cannot perceive the self externally, though can speculate.

Many third person narratives flow between those two-by-two-by-two extremes, part subjective, part objective; part omniscient, part detached; part internal, part external. Third person ranges from purely objective for detached viewpoint to varied degrees of objective subjectivity and subjective objectivity, the most variable and flexible narrative point of view.

Variety is the spice of writing.

The fragment as posted is mostly detached third person narrator.

"Jake woke up in the morning with a feeling that something was off." Note "feeling," an action attribution tagged by name "Jake." //Jake felt// is an attribution tag of an emotional nature, similar to Jake said, a narrator's viewpoint attribution. The sentence signals narrator access to Jake's interior perceptions. A first sentence introduces narrative point of view. That sentence establishes a third person selective ominscient narrator with internal accesss limited to one character: Jake. The rest of the first paragraph likewise internally accesses Jake.

Likewise rhetorical question "This was normal, right?" and the rest of the third paragraph accesses Jake somewhat internally: "Part of Jake _wanted_ to freak out, but another part was pretty sure this happened from time to time. He couldn't _think_ of any specific instances off the top of his head, but it _seemed_ like this was not unusual enough to warrant panic." (Underscores above bracket internal attribution.)

The remainder of the fragment is detached narrator. The degree of internal access of the first and third paragraphs is on the detached side though.

The rhetorical question stands alone, though, as closest distance, though spoiled by lack of transition setup and attribution. That sentence comes out of the blue no where from a disembodied mind. That is a viewpoint glitch, in this case, a sudden intrusion of a character's thought (viewpoint) into a narrator's viewpoint or, in other cases, vice versa. A "POV violation" is a real writer or implied writer intrusion of any kind.

In all, the fragment's narrative point of view aligns with the narrator's detached viewpoint, external to the narrative's perceptions due to the emotionless nature of third person detached narrator.

The narrative point of view and viewpoints are unsettled, demonstrated by alternate paragraphs express detached narrator viewpoint and, in turn, narrator access to reflector character. A touch stronger emotional attitude, stronger setting development, and stronger event and character development for reflector character leavened in would close into Jake's subjective viewpoint though estrange and preserve narrator objective viewpoint. Which is third person close limited omniscient narrative point of view.

[ October 18, 2014, 03:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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Revised opening:

Jake woke up during the night with a feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. He decided he should pay attention to the feeling the next morning when his mother's face melted at the breakfast table.
She propped her chin on her palm and swirled her spoon in her cereal bowl in sleepy circles. As she yawned, her cheeks sagged down around her hand and her forehead drooped into her eyes. She took a sip of coffee and grimaced. “Ouch. Coffee's too hot,” she said.
Jake tried to speak calmly so he wouldn't panic her. “Mom, your face.”
She pushed her dripping forehead back up like a stray piece of hair. “I do not need this today,” she said, her voice taking on a whiny tone.

I found myself an ending and have a completed draft. Anybody care to read? Happy to trade crits. This one is 4,900 words.

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extrinsic
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Just to note that Mom eats a cereal breakfast signals the time, place, and situation of this fragment's substantive event, both versions, and obviates a need to express that Jake woke up, the night before, the morning of, and that the event occurs at the breakfast table. Thus, avoids a "waking up" opening's concerns.

If the cereal were emphasized from Jake's personal, subjective viewpoint, emotional reaction, and attitude, for example, symbolic-like of his trepidations, the scene would be more appealing because of closer distance. Also, that could result in a revision that develops the event, setting, and characters more concisely from focus on the immediate event of the moment: Mom's face skin sags. That focus would lessen some extraneous word count and allow for more emphasis of the immediate event of the moment within thirteen lines limitations.

Note also that a "face slip" possibly has a deep and appealing symbolic meaning: "loss of face" in Far Eastern terms is a personal embarrassment and shame of a publicly revealed personality, nature, and behavior trait fault, caught with a wayward hand in a cookie jar, so to speak.

[ October 19, 2014, 05:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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Denevius, what do you mean by "too conversational" of a tone? Could you clarify?

Extrinsic: What on Earth is fourth person? I'm just imagining a story in which every sentence starts with, "This guy I know told me that his friend...", in which case, I can see why it doesn't come up so often.

Extrinsic, you note the concerns of a "waking up" opening. In my mind, the point of this opening isn't the waking up, it's the feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. I can lose the waking up without shedding a tear over it. Maybe get rid of that and shift more focus on the bad feeling? But then the opening would be ungrounded if he's just feeling something in no particular place or time. If I'm going to tie it to a particular place and time in the first sentence, which I think I should, in his bed at night seems like as good a place and time as any. But, on the other hand, you could just as easily say some other place and time (say, in his car on his way home from work) would be as good a place and time as that, without the stigma of the waking up opening.

I always appreciate suggestions that help me cut word count. Trimming the fat is always one of my goals. Thanks.

Also, hadn't thought of the "losing face" thematic connection to this imagery. I might play with that in revision. If this were a more whimsical story, "Losing Face" would be a fun title. Better than the lackluster "Shared Reality" I'm using for now.

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extrinsic
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Fourth person is a language phenomenon of late neolithic cultures in which a person's status in relation to others' status informs syntax. Greek retains some of fourth person's status relationships, more than Romance languages. English retains a few fourth person markers though many through unconventional uses.

Passive voice is a fourth person construction, for example. Also, terms that distinguish sex, age, or station: actress, Jack Smith, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Jane Doe, for examples. Passive voice emphasizes the status of a sentence object over a sentence subject.

An example of fourth person translated from a William Strachey interpretation of a conversation with Wahunsonacaugh, paramount headman of the Powhatan nation circa 1600s. The one below, though is active voice fourth person.

I you tell English ships come again when.

The "I" first because Wahunsonacaugh believed his status was higher than Strachey's. "you" second because the person addressed, Strachey, is secondary in status to the speaker. Verb "tell" status follows the subjects of the sentence and the conversation. "English ships" next because that's lower status than the talk participants, the topic of interest. "come again" next because its status is next, that's the action of interest. "when" last because that's last in status relation, the time significant modifier of "come again."

Fourth person in English usage can often be passive voice because fourth's language's grammar principles place emphasis in conversation on persons' status who participate over actual doers of a verb's action. For example, I you hurt by misthrown tomahawk. Passive voice. The tomahawk is the doer of the hurt, though blamed on "you" for the misthrow.

On the other hand, fourth person is a useful strategy to create an English second language user's voice and, as the case may be, fictional foreign, fantasy, and extraterrestrial characters' voices.

For grounding Jake's standing, status, as it were, to his premonition in the immediate scene moment, consider the premonition sensation happens in the moments before Mom's face slips. Perhaps through a symbolism use.

Symbolism in prose terms is a sensory stimulus weighted with intangible, immaterial, abstract meaning, meaning, for example, that expresses natural forces, like premonitions, emotions, that are otherwise difficult to express concretely. Imagery prescriptively is visual sensations that function the same way as more general symbolism, which may include aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and emotional sensations as well as visual.

Say Jake taps a glass of water from the kitchen sink. He sees, say, a squirrel collect dirt out the sink window, if a house. Maybe roaches scurry into light along an apartment sink wall. Unusual behaviors that step transition into a peculiar event and develop setting and Jake and Mom's characters.

The water might taste strange and that be a symbolism harbinger of a premonition: //Tapwater drank from Mom's kitchen sink was coppery--tasted of blood.// Just for illustration.

Jake physically and dramatically moves in the scene's immediate moment is the function, rather than sits idle at the breakfast table and watches Mom's face slip. The kitchen sink details and oddities, for example, develop setting, set up for Jake to have the premonition, develop his and Mom's characters, and foreshadow the face slip event within the immediate moments of the scene.

[ October 23, 2014, 03:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Lamberguesa
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wetwilly- I haven't read the other comments, but I'll give my impressions anyhow in case it is of use to you. I did read the revision and I think it is an improvement. The first submission had a few phrases that seemed too conversational or confusing and drew more attention to themselves than the story at hand. The second seems to have fixed that problem.

I really like this piece, it is intriguing, artistic and off-putting. It makes me want to read it again to make sure I didn't miss something obvious. All at once, it is clear what is happening and yet unclear as to why and how it is happening. Undoubtedly, it makes me want to read on. Good stuff!

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TaleSpinner
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Hmm - contrary view if not too late.

I think the first version was better because of its voice. The second has for me lost its energy. (I think it was Ray Bradbury who advised that, in revision, one should be careful not to lose one's original passion for the story. For me, that's what's happening in the second rev.)

In the first version his mother's face melting comes as a shock. In the second the shock impact has, for me, gone.

I see no reason a narrator's voice can't be conversational, contemporary if the author chooses to make it that way.

I don't think the POV slip matters. Indeed, if it had not been mentioned, I'd not have noticed. To me the fix is clumsier than the original. How many SF readers would notice, or care?

Hope this helps,
Pat

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wetwilly
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Extrinsic, thanks for the explanation of 4th person. Totally new term for me.

Lamberguesa, intriguing, artistic, and off-putting: exactly what I hope to accomplish with this piece. Thanks!

Talespinner: I save all my drafts. I'll go back to draft one and look at voice. I had a lot of excitement writing that first draft, and I don't want to lose that. I actually never thought about that.

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Denevius
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What I meant by conversational is that the prose reads as if I'm at a bar with my mate and he's relating something that happened to him that morning.

quote:
Jake woke up in the morning with a feeling that something was off.
This doesn't allow me to be part of that feeling, but in a conversation, a person isn't going to try to speak in a more snappy manner. What's the feeling? How did he wake up?

'Jake rolled out of bed, got tangled in his sheets, and slammed head first into the floor. Every day he nailed the landing, but now the room was weaving from side to side like some carnival ride. Something was off today.'

This to me is the difference between conversation, "I feel like something is off", and prose writing.

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