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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Pyre

Author Topic: Pyre
Member # 9758

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This is a prologue of sorts to a story that's only about 10,000 words in. It takes place around the year 3000, not post-apocalyptic but a drastically changed world. Just need to some feedback on it. Things like would you read on, is it too short, thing like that.

Miguel Tanaka leaned back in his worn leather chair and sighed, staring at the small, clear USB drive on his desk. For the past three days everything that was causing his mind to race, his ears to ring, and his head to hurt was all stored in that little mass of computer chips and plastic; that, and the four people stored in block 4 holding. He quickly glanced at the hologram monitor showing him a video feed of the cell. The tall blonde woman and even taller brown haired man were sitting on the bunk they shared talking to each other with worried expressions engraved onto their faces. The other two, both with ebony black hair and pale blue eyes were sitting cross legged in the middle of the floor, staring at each other. Miguel shook his head before snatching the drive from its resting place and inserting it into a nearly invisible port at the corner of his desk.

There's two or three more lines but for the sake of the thirteen line rule I'll stop it there. Thanks for everything and anything.

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First off, you may blow off my opinions freely. That said, when I “try” to write, which is what happens to me most of the time, I write too many descriptions. Then I come back later and delete half of them and feel better about it. In your first sentence you have, “leaned back”, “worn leather”, “sighed” and “staring”. It seems that at least one of those should be deleted so no one can accuse you of trying too hard. Potent subtlety, which is what we’re all trying to achieve, is hard to do.
In the year 3,000 will they still have USB drives? This has also been hard for me because I want to sound futuristic but also want to provide a description that still connects with the reader. The way I do this sometimes is I’ll find out what the “current” thing is, then add a designator after it that is yet in the future. For example, instead of writing “USB”, l would write, “USB IV”. This way, readers know what it is they’re supposed to imagine but it still sounds futuristic.
Should “block 4 holding” be capitalized? After the words, “the other two”, should you not describe their hair color and eyes. This is because you had already described the first couple, which implies they’re more important than the second. By not describing the second couple you further elevate the first, creating a hierarchy that readers like. Because I’m such a poor reader I like it when I’m presented with a lot of information knowing which is important and which isn’t.
For a metaphoric comparison, recall any painting of a person. The face is always the most detailed, and as the painting radiates outward the detail decreases. Isn’t that the same with storytelling?
In your last sentence you use the word “nearly”. Nearly weakens whatever follows it. Saying a woman’s dress is “red” is almost always better than saying it’s “nearly red”. “Nearly invisible” isn’t nearly (sorry) exciting as “invisible.”

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Member # 8019

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I feel a little interest from what the captives mean to Miguel. Otherwise, I don't see much appeal for me. Numerous mechanical style faults further keep me removed from interest. Notably, tense consistency. The fragment has past, present participle, and infinitive tenses. They are for me a road map for revision. Thirteen instances of -ing ring rhymes each in my sense of dynamic writing ask for revision.

The narrative distance is wide open, mostly narrator or writer voice. Aesthetic distance doesn't close for me either. I think the intent is for closing distance into Miguel's viewpoint; however, the fragment observes him rather than reflects his viewpoint.

The fragment portrays a problem of stressors for Miguel, though not a want. The stressors are routine research outcomes, though, for anyone. I have no clue to what this story is about sufficient to be engaged by this opening.

Prologues are often warm-up writing and subject to rejection for little to no plot movement. Getting to the central action is crucial for an opening, to start plot movement. A prelude is more dynamic than a prologue for introductions, especially for establishing backstory.

Though some mystery arises from the captives' situation, and maybe what's on the flash drive, I don't feel a connection to Miguel or the story or the scene that aroses my care or curiosity. A more meaningful and powerful antagonism is I feel needed. Like what's Miguel personally, immediately want moving forward? What problem immediately opposes satisfaction of the wants and problems? What's at stake for Miguel personally?

Given a guess from what's given, something on the flash drive Miguel knows is problematic. He knows so he should reveal those details that cause him stress. Otherwise, the withholding is a craft shortcoming. The story and plot movement begin I suspect when he opens files on the flash drive. But he's alone, figuratively sitting in a bathtub contemplating his navel. That's static action.

Dynamic action would have him interacting more dramatically, with other characters perhaps. Five core and essential features of dramatic, dynamic scenes are action, sensation, emotion, conversation, and introspection during dramatic complication interactions through and with events, settings and characters.

[ March 11, 2014, 06:30 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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I really love the first two sentences, but when you start to describe the prisoners, I think you're going too fast.

Describe them the way the POV see's them, not just list descriptive features, unless of course that's part of the characterization. Is he seeing them the way a police officer might, Blonde woman, late twenties, tattoo above eyebrow, shared a stall with a hispanic male, late thirties,... etc. You are not only describing the people in the cell, you're describing the way the POV character sees other people.
I think your descriptions need work, but the scene itself is solid. Perhaps the issue is also that you're trying to show too much at one time, and thereby showing nothing.

There are four people in a cell, a USB drive, a hologram. That's five people in thirteen sentences, plus plenty of where, and genre details. Don't lose those. I'd suggest focusing on Miguel, let us know who he is, and perhaps a few hints of the four in the cell. They're people in a cell though, so they're automatically interesting. Make Miguel as interesting as them, and then let us see who they are, as they are actively doing something. Right now they're in a cell-- mixed males and females, and doing nothing. There's no characterization to Miguel, just noticing the color of hair.

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Member # 9758

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Thanks for the feedback. I might just have to scrap this opening anyway. What I'm getting back, not just in grammar mistakes and the like is that everyone is thinking Miguel is the main protagonist, of which he is not. The main protagonists are two of his prisoners, the two black haired people. The only reason I thought to start with this was because everything else I thought of I hated. Looks like I'm back to the drawing board again.
Thanks again for the feedback it really helped. [Smile]

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Just for the record, I did catch on to the main characters being in the holding cell. The two black haired people caught my attention because they both have black hair and blue eyes. Are they related? I also think that Miguel is a detective investigating something that the people in the holding cell may have done. I may be completely off, but that's what I got from it. It sounds like it would have a good plot. That's just my opinion. Feel free to disregard it!
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First reaction:
Miguel Tanaka. Interesting. Spanish first name, Japanese surname. Fascinating tidbit. I'll file that away for later.

"glanced at the hologram monitor showing a video feed of . . ." this can be said with fewer words and make it seem more "futuristic" and natural to the character. Even chopping it to something like "glanced at the holo-feed of . . ." That gets out every scrap of the same info, and most importantly, doesn't sound like you're over-explaining the world to the reader. Miguel knows what the thing is called, and will call it that in his mind. Stick to that.

I agree with the USB comment, too--see if you can find another word that's just as clear, yet manages to convey the barest hint of other-worldliness at the same time, or at least refrain from making your technology too easily dated. Calling something a "drive" could work, because it seems like everything from floppy disks to USBs, CDs, etc. have all been called some variation on "drive" . . . Come up with your own term and couple it with drive, perhaps? "The GLIP drive" . . . [Razz]

"tall . . . and even taller" . . . too generic. "tall blonde woman" would be fine as a simple skimming description, but when paired with "even taller" it just turns kinda boring. Not only that, but they're sitting, so their height seems like a less natural first impression. Especially as he's looking at (presumably) mini holo-versions of them . . . I mean, obviously he's been up close and in person with them, too, but if their height is so distinctive that it's still the primary perception of them in Miguel's mind, then it must be pretty darn distinctive . . . so play it up even more? Or just pick something else . . . *shrug*

I also wondered briefly at the man and woman sharing "a bunk" . . . do you mean top and bottom, respectively? Or are they sleeping together, or simply forced to share a single bed? And is it "bunk," aka "twin" sized? That could get cramped . . . True, it's a prison, and maybe that's the case . . . just something I noted and was curious about.

When you switch to the other two, you give only hair and eye-color, whereas the other two you defined by gender . . . making me picture these two as androgynous. I automatically made one a boy and one a girl, but they're nearly identical siblings, with the same haircut and lack of curves . . . . This is just the automatic picture I filled out in my mind based on the limited information, and how it was presented in comparison with the rest.

Like Brooke mentioned, my interest is pulled most by the pair that are described least . . . partly because Miguel "saved them for last," as it were, and partly because they're described so sparsely, and because they're staring into each others' eyes . . . I'm getting a paranormal vibe of some kind, personally.

How big of a character is Miguel supposed to be? If he's only a momentary scene-setting character, I'd suggest dialing it back a bit on the personal touches. Starting the scene separate from the main characters is fine, but let the reader in on it a little. Don't give us Miguel's name. He's just "The guard." And it's cool to have his perceptions, and know he's tired and frustrated, but maybe we don't need to know this has been on his mind for days? That makes us think of him not only in the present, but also in the past, and by default then into the future. I'm naturally expecting this guy to stick around. I approve of seeing the world through his eyes, because that method not only fleshes out characters, but makes the world as a whole feel more real. It just might be a problem if you're fleshing him out *too* much.

Now, on the other hand, if he is going to be some level of main or side character that sticks around, then I have no problem with the level of personality we're getting for him here. It's okay to start from a minor character and move to the major ones and come back occasionally to Miguel throughout the story, as needed. Just decide what you need from him, and flesh him out accordingly.

Back to that first reaction I had--just the fact that his name is bi-racial in an interesting way makes me believe he's important. You just don't give interesting, curiosity-inspiring names to throw-away characters.

Some things to consider. hopefully some of the ideas everyone has shared are helpful to you even if you do restart with a completely different opening . . . just keep the concepts in mind.

Luck! [Smile]

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The thing is I don't want to have to start over. If I wrote a sequel to this at some point Miguel would be a major character. At the moment he's an anchor. If I were to change the opening a little to make it more clear he would keep showing up here and there. The story mainly takes place in the 'past' much like a book written like a diary would. But here and there it jumps back to the present to clarify, if you will, details. That's why I like Miguel so much, he's the one character that is an anchor without being a narrator.
The main character's are 'paranormal' in nature. Think vampire without the whole disease spreading it kind of thing. They are genetics experiments, created to study the effects of inserting certain genes to prevent disease. The result is an almost immortal creature that is sensitive to sunlight and has hyper senses (notice I said hyper not super. They can't fly and they're not light speed fast or anything.) Due to these genetic issues along with normal food they must also consume blood, any blood, to take in the required nutrients and replenish their own blood cell counts. If they don't they die of anemia not starvation. Unfortunately they don't have fangs, I figured it would be a bit cliche. They were locked in stasis pods when the project was dropped due to funding. They were also locked away because of another side effect of adding the genes they because aggressive, especially the main male character. There's a whole lot more to the story but I have to iron out more details before its all concrete.
Thanks again for the feedback.

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Why start over? So maybe there are some problems here, but it isn't a blank page. Finish the rest and come back for revision.

As for the prologue, what is its purpose? What are you hoping to accomplish with a prologue that you can't without it? Your explanation of the story's structure would have me worried or at least a bit daunted. Why can't it survive with a more unified timeline? Or, what does the split timeline offer that a more unified one wouldn't? Is the split timeline a cheat?

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You mentioned that your story is set in 3000 AD in a drastically changed world. The first sentence of your opening paragraph says, "USB drive." My mind will not make the jump to 3000 AD with a USB drive sitting on the lead character's desk. USB drives didn't exist 20 years ago and they won't exist 20 years from now.


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