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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » SF story, untitled, first 13 crit appreciated

   
Author Topic: SF story, untitled, first 13 crit appreciated
LewisC
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This is another story I am working on. I am doing a major rewrite and haven't yet decided if this is really the beginning but it is for now. This is a sf story running between 8000 and 10000 words (depending on which version of it I use).
*******************************************************

The battered RV worked its way up the embankment, the pitter patter of rain mixed with the squeak of the wipers. The diesel engine barked and spewed black fumes as it tried to push the massive weight up to the road running along the levee. The motorhome had seen better days. It was black with grey highlights, like monochrome waves running its length. It was almost as long as a city bus.

Larry glanced through the windshield at a sky that was overcast and gray, no clouds, just bleakness. It was cold outside and he was sweating in the fake heat and dryness of the RV’s heater. At least the beast was an automatic, he thought.

Once on the road, Larry drove the RV until he reached a cluster of trees.Stopping in the middle of them, the groan of the engine

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rabirch
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This is a good descriptive start. The only thing that jumped out at me is that the five sentences in your first paragraph all began with either 'the' or 'it.' I think you could just rearrange to make it stronger. Just one example: Black and grey highlights ran its length like monochrome waves. They're your words (good words!) just a little bit more direct.

You might look for other places where you can tighten. Otherwise, good start!

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GhostWriter
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Hey there Lewis! Thanks for posting up your work!

"... as it tried to push..." in the first sentence doesn't make sense. It tried and then it did? I think it would flow much better if you said that it pushed, instead of tried to push. Just a thought.

I think your concluding sentence in the first paragraph should be "The Motorhome had seen better days." The sound at the end just adds to the punch that it's rough.

"Larry glanced through the windshield at a sky that was overcast and gray" is awkward. Better to say "Larry glanced through the windshield at a gray and overcast sky."

"It was cold outside and he was sweating in the fake heat and dryness of the RV’s heater" sounds awkward as well. If it was cold outside, then wouldn't the conjunction be a "but" instead of "and". (I hope I got that technical jargon right...)

I feel that you need something more in the hook of the first line. I don't need to know about the wipers so much as I need to know why he is driving the beast, and other character or important information that will keep me going.

Thanks for putting up your work Lewis. I enjoyed reading! Keep up the good work and may your pages be ever full!

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extrinsic
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The opening is strong from descriptive context establishing the setting and milieu. The primary sensation is, of course, visual, though aural and tactile join in. I wonder about incorporating a tiny bit of olfactory sense for its power to evoke strong reader association and setting and milieu grounding. An old motorhome has distinctive lived-in aromas. One or two will serve to authenticate the narrative and ground readers in that authenticity.

This line changes voice from character perspective to narrator perspective: "The motorhome had seen better days." Thus opening narrative distance when a best practice for an opening ought to close narrative distance. The next two lines are also narrator voice: "It was black with grey highlights, like monochrome waves running its length. It was almost as long as a city bus."

If Larry thinks those thoughts and amplifies them by showing rather than summarizing that "the motorhome had seen better days," the voice would be less unsettled between narrator and character. The first paragraph then will also close seamlessly into Larry's interior perspective as portrayed in the second paragraph.

The third paragraph fraction I think untimely opens narrative distance again. It summarizes what Larry does, sees, and hears through the narrator's voice and perspective rather than portraying them as he experiences them.

I would revise for syntax and diction as well, but that would be my voice imposed on yours. Consider what subject is the intended sentence subject and recast accordingly, for example.

I sense a dystopian setting is in play. Driving an RV motorhome, or caravan in British parlance, off road is either an exigent or desperate act or a fool's journey. There's enough in those possibilities to suggest a dystopia and almost enough to imply and for me to infer that some kind of fantastical premise is pending.

However, a general principle of thumb fantastical fiction editors and judges go by is looking for an unequivocal introduction of a fantastical premise within the first page. The Hatrack thirteen lines principle amounts to a first page formatted in Standard Manuscript Format with half-page sink (blank above the story title, byline, and perhaps word count).

Consider including a setting motif or object that will signal a fantastical premise. If dytsopian, for example, Larry would notice a dystopian motif in the RV, on the embankment, the levy, or the roadway toward or at the tree grove that strongly signals society has collapsed. This is two-edged sword ripe for signaling later that Larry enters either less or more societally declined areas.

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LewisC
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Good stuff! Thanks.
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micmcd
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One thing I feel is missing from this opening is a sense of promise to the reader as to what the story is about. From this I gather that there is a man in a relatively rugged environment trying to deliver a payload, but that's it. Obviously, you can't put an entire query into a first 13, but I need a hint of something interesting other than a well-described setting. I think you're close, but I'm missing the hook.
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axeminister
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To echo Micmcd, I recommend adding something to compel us to read on. Why this character? Why this RV? This story at this time?

I prefer to write my hook in the very first sentence, even if it's slightly disconnected from the rest of the opening.

I feel there's a certain amount of authorial intrusion allowed early on in stories until they get going. Look no further than the first Harry Potter book. Do you hear the author speaking directly to you early on? That vanishes after a short while.

Can you give us a powerful first sentence that summarizes Larry's plight?

Check out some openings from Harlan Coben.

CAUGHT
I knew opening that red door would destroy my life.

NO SECOND CHANCE
When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter.

THE INNOCENT
I never meant to kill him.

GONE FOR GOOD
Three days before her death, my mother told me - these weren't her last words, but they were pretty close - that my brother was still alive.

Hope this helps!

Axe

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SR Dev
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--
"like monochrome waves" didn't really work for me as a line.

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