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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » WotF 1st 13

   
Author Topic: WotF 1st 13
Grumpy old guy
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Having spent the last few days constructing a world within which to base this story, I wonder if the opening would 'grab ya'. The title of the story is 'A hint of Rayne' and is intended to be a, well, let's be honest -- a space opera in ye goode olde style. A series of stories telling one long tale -- a serialised novel, if you will. Here we go:

The world went black and Algernon Reginald Mowbray-Harrington the sixteenth opened his eyes on silence. Rayne, my name is Jack Rayne. Remember it!

He looked around him, but before he could make sense of what he was seeing, the smell hit him like a fist to the throat, making him gag. It was a sickly-sweet smell of decay – and death. Then the background smell of sweat and fear and disillusionment spewed out from the mob of dishevelled men and women shuffling past him. No one looked down at him, just another ‘downer’ lying in the gutter – probably in his own excrement, nothing to see here, move on . . . move on.

Alger– Jack! Dammit!

Jack checked the laces on his right boot. The knot was tied just..

Any response welcome'

Phil.

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babygears81
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Full disclosure: I have zero experience with space opera and my own ignorance may be the source of my confusion. That being said, below is my honest, if ignorant, reaction:

Is it interesting, yes. Would I keep reading, yes. But I am also a little confused. The phrase "opened his eyes on silence" doesn't quite make sense to me. I also wonder, since Jack Rayne doesn't sound like it is necessarily an abbreviation of the long name first mentioned, I wonder if they are the same person or if he's a new character, or hearing voices, or what.

I like your description of the smell hitting him like a fist to the throat, very visceral, but it seems the "sickly-sweet smell of decay and death", would be unmistakeable, therefore, I would use the rather than a. I might also drop then from the sentence that follows.

I find the line "Alger-Jack Dammit" confusing as well. Is Alger a person? Is the hyphen meant to indicate that he is speaking? If not, what is Alger?

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History
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I thought we were not supposed to post the first thirteen of our WOTF entries...that it violated some WOTF rule for anonymity, etc.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Long Writer B8
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Hopefully you won't be offended. I like your style, but below are my first impressions.

Like Babygears81, I was confused by the long name introduced in the first sentence & then whether that was the same Rayne. It almost seems like two openings instead of one. I'm wondering if opening with "Rayne, my name is Jack Rayne. Remember it." Wouldn't be a bold choice. That would definitely get my attention if you followed that up with something that would confirm his cockiness.

I was confused by "opened his eyes on silence" but also intrigued if you follow this up in the next few pages with some context.

In the 2nd paragraph, you say he looks around, but before he can make sense, the smell hits him. I would think the smell would hit him before he opened his eyes & thus some of the punch seems lost on me. Having said that, I like your descriptive grab.

I don't see anything in these lines that hints at this being the future. This could be a drugged out bum on the sidewalks of 1968.

By the way, Grumpy, I like the comments I've seen you make on various other posts. Good guidance. I would read more to see if the next few pages eased my reservations with what you sent.

Not sure what WOTF is, but I see nothing wrong with you posting this.

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Grumpy old guy
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In response to the confusion I've deliberately created in the first 13, all those questions are answered on the first page, just not the first 13 lines.

The sense of smell is an interesting phenomena. If you breathe through your mouth, you can't smell your surroundings; a useful tool when visiting scenes containing a decomposing corpse. Works just as well when someone throws up in a crowded train carriage too.

Phil.

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snapper
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For WotF? Alrighty...

I forsee a high probability that the cordinating judge, Dave Wolverton (a.k.a - Dave Farland), wouldn't read any farther than this sample. Based on his Daily Kick In The Pants posts, and for the fact he makes a large part of his living teaching amatuers writers to write well enough to become pros, here are my reasons why...

1) Cliche

It's a varation of a Waking up opening. Dave Farland has publically acknowledged his distaste for cliched openings, singling that particular kind out. Anything that looks like the MC just woke up, has amnesia, or any other form of putting the protagonist and the reader in a 'White room' will likely get your script tossed aside.


2) POV stylistic switch

Sentence one is written as a 3rd person perspective. Sentence two is clearly 1st person. The rest snaps the narrative back into 3rd person.
I can forsee Mr Wolverton deciding the yo-yoing narrative not worth the effort right there.

3) Sensory overload

He can smell. He can see. That much is clear. But...

the smell hit him like a fist to the throat, making him gag. It was a sickly-sweet smell of decay – and death. Then the background smell of sweat and fear and disillusionment spewed out from the mob of dishevelled men and women shuffling past him.

...is laying it on a bit thick, in my opinion. You used the word 'smell' three times as well. I suggest you Thesarus alternates (aroma, whiff) and compress the decription into two shorter sentences.

4) confusion

So, what the hell is going on? If you counter that question with you'll find out in the next couple of pages then you're too late.

In the latest WotF anthology, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (a finalist judge) emphasized that "Short fiction writers must get to the point." Why? One reason is because she reveals the stories that made the anthology were...

quote:
...chosen out of the thousands - and I do mean thousands - of stories that the Writers of the Future receives each quarter
With that in mind, I ask you, do you have a better way - or better location - in which to open this tale? To get the cordinating judge to want to keep reading onto page two will require a very sharp hook on page one. And I am sorry to say, I don't think the bait you dangled before us with worth the bite.

Good Luck!

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Grumpy old guy
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Snapper, I may buy you a cigar. A lolly one if you don't smoke. I'm crappy at short stories, it's why I don't try and write them. And yes I can change the opening except, the MC hasn't woken up, he's just unplugged himself from all his networked, technological support.

But I get the gist of your recommendations. I'll re-think.

Phil.

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snapper
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Phil,

I suspect you're not all that bad at short stories as you say you are. Regardless what level your writing is at, Ms Rusch also said in her essay that I quoted above that all beginning writers should learn to write short fiction first. Not because it's easier but because it is harder.

Give it another shot. It is clear that you have the right attitude for it.

I'm pulling for you!

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extrinsic
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This reads to me like noir: hardboiled cynical characters in bleak, sleazy settings. Mickey Spilllane's Mike Hammer is a noir archetype. In any case, a pattern and sequence common to noir begins with understatement and gradually escalates to overstatement. Laying on the cynicism heavy right out of the gate doesn't leave much room for escalation. Also, the pattern comes in waves, each crest more cynical and sleazy and bleak and overstated than the last, until the ending.

quote:
By Grumpy old guy:
[H]e's just unplugged himself from all his networked, technological support.

I think showing Jack unplugging would be a great place to open. An unplugging scene would be the opposite of a conventional arming scene, where a character takes up arms to gird for battle with the bad guys. Just showing the unplugging ritual would clue readers in that Jack's changing mental states. Sort of like a gamer who's gamed away a marathon weekend and resets mentally to go to work. Not unplugging one jack like The Matrix, like being disconnected from full medical life support only more, what, visceral?

Crime, mystery, noir narratives are often visitation shape stories. A central character visits with dead bodies, crime scenes, law enforcement, politicians, villians, perhaps damsels in distress and femme fatales or their gender opposites, as the case may be.

The visitation scenes coincide with the previously mentioned overstatement crests and cause setbacks while advancing toward a goal. A central character in one scene may seem close to reaching the goal and in the next scene may seem farther away but making progress nonetheless.

Though Spillane's method is now a somewhat formulaic structure, crime, mystery, noir narratives anymore introduce artful surprises and misdirection along the way so that the structural formula takes a distant back seat to the action.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, exactly where my new opening starts, Algernon sloughing off all the trappings of his previous life because he has to, and then entering a world he is completely unprepared to exist in, even though he thought he had planned his escape so well. Best laid plans and all that.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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snapper, one thing I might want to take you to task over is this:

quote:

Sentence one is written as a 3rd person perspective. Sentence two is clearly 1st person. The rest snaps the narrative back into 3rd person.

A question first: if I had added the words, he thought, would that have kept it in third person?

Writing styles and usage have changed, and quite dynamically, over the years. In dialogue, years ago it was commonplace to end every line of dialogue with he said, she said, he argued etc. etc. etc. Now, most writers only apply attribution if there is an issue in understanding who is speaking. The same is true for internal monologue, or internal thoughts.

'Modern' writers, and I use the term advisedly, prefer the immediacy of internal thoughts and dialogue unencumbered by the addition of he thought, etc.

Also, take a look at the entire opening paragraph of 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Dickens. A 'modern' editor would have consigned him to the slush-pile immediately.

All I'm trying to say is that a writer needs to keep abreast of current trends. Literary novels are fine for people like Joyce, I make no attempt to compare myself with the likes of him, but popular fiction is an ever changing environment.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
A question first: if I had added the words, he thought, would that have kept it in third person?

Yes. However, as you note about current trends, free, or untagged, speech or thought is a rising preference. Free direct speech and thought aren't yet fully integrated into reading skill sets. Sophisticated readers familiar with the methods and signals of the art, though, appreciate when free direct discourse isn't disrupted by ample attribution tagging.
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Writing styles and usage have changed, and quite dynamically, over the years. In dialogue, years ago it was commonplace to end every line of dialogue with he said, she said, he argued etc. etc. etc. Now, most writers only apply attribution if there is an issue in understanding who is speaking. The same is true for internal monologue, or internal thoughts.

'Modern' writers, and I use the term advisedly, prefer the immediacy of internal thoughts and dialogue unencumbered by the addition of he thought, etc.

Also, take a look at the entire opening paragraph of 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Dickens. A 'modern' editor would have consigned him to the slush-pile immediately.

The voice attitude of A Tale of Two Cities' opening might recommend publication regardless. Alliteration, syncrisis, and irony; artful language excess. Sophisticated readers appreciate those features.
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
All I'm trying to say is that a writer needs to keep abreast of current trends. Literary novels are fine for people like Joyce, I make no attempt to compare myself with the likes of him, but popular fiction is an ever changing environment.

Phil.

Free direct discourse challenges readers and writers. Signals and methods of FDD developed to date are numerous and overlap to a degree with tagged and indirect discourse. One, that your excerpt uses to some effect, is interjection-type sentence fragments, especially exclamations, like "Rayne," for one interjection exclamation.

"my name is Jack Rayne." repetition, substitution, and amplification emphasis on previous interjection. "Remember it!" exclamation.

Understated or overstated, interjections signal direct speech or thought. Why I feel that interjection passage doesn't quite work, for me anyway, is from the thought standing alone. The thought closes narrative distance into Jack's thoughts, but then doesn't develop a casual relationship with the previous or following content nor linger in Jack's thoughts for a moment or two. The thought stands apart from the wrapping text. I'd label this unsettled narrative voice and suggest reworking for smoother transitions between narrator voice and character voice and some lingering in character thoughts.

Writing mode choices are numerous and complex. For character-narrator discourse, eight basic mode types are available to choose from:
  1. Free direct speech
  2. Tagged direct speech
  3. Free indirect speech
  4. Tagged indirect speech
  5. Free direct thought
  6. Tagged direct thought
  7. Free indirect thought
  8. Tagged indirect thought.
Direct speech is dialogue, conventionally signaled by quotation mark brackets and paragraph breaks for circumstance and speaker changes. Except for direct thought's traditional, though by no means absolute, italics emphasis, the others are set in roman text, no brackets, nada, plain wrapper.

[ December 13, 2012, 05:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Thanks for that extrinsic, I'm new to this direct speech/thought process. Most of my reading life has been 'old school' tags for speech and thought.

I also know that the 'free direct thoughts' of my MC need work -- and context. Ah . . . a fool rushes in. One day I may learn to keep my lip zipped and put my mind in gear before engaging said mouth.

But if I had, an enlightening conversation may not have developed. A conundrum, for sure.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Thanks for that extrinsic, I'm new to this direct speech/thought process. Most of my reading life has been 'old school' tags for speech and thought.

I also know that the 'free direct thoughts' of my MC need work -- and context. Ah . . . a fool rushes in. One day I may learn to keep my lip zipped and put my mind in gear before engaging said mouth.

But if I had, an enlightening conversation may not have developed. A conundrum, for sure.

Phil.

You're welcome, sir. I was oblivious to the intricacies of tagging or not to tag until a few Hatrack folk mentioned Free Indirect Discourse about four years ago in the All Things Writing thread. Then it was game on; I hit the books, the Internet, and dissected a few hundred short stories I enjoy. I noted how invisible tagging of the she thought and he said variety could be and, contrarily, how visible tagging could be when artless. As a writer, I'm hyper conscious of attribution now, measuring every word's practicality.

Action tags work most effectively in most cases instead of speech or thought tags. Mary Sue put plates of opossum vittles before the sudden arrivals. "You-all want salt or hot sauce or what, speak up now." They would, if she knew them boys from down yonder hollow, want pickles and ketchup. Vile ketchup. The ruination of her fine cooking.

Action tagging also fulfills a need for sensation and emotion context. Context tags appeal to readers with the five writing modes practical for every scene's context: action, sensation, conversation, introspection, and emotion. Sometimes though, judicious and timely tagging in addition labels perhaps unclear origination. Them boys from down yonder hollow, they wanted pickles and ketchup with their opposum vittles. Vile ketchup, Mary Sue thought. The ruination of her fine cooking.

I'm a victim, too, or benefactor, really, of happenstance learning from inadvertent remarks uttered in naive haste. Tel est la vie—such is life. I hedge more anymore, so my foot only grazes my lips instead of clogging up my mouth.

[ December 14, 2012, 04:50 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
I thought we were not supposed to post the first thirteen of our WOTF entries...that it violated some WOTF rule for anonymity, etc.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

What I've heard is that potential entrants shouldn't post titles or indicate that the story is intended for WotF because that's what ruins the anonymity.
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axeminister
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Definitely shouldn't mention it's for WotF.
However, I've found that my 13 changes so much after feedback, that's it's unrecognizable from what I might initially post.

Still, nothing wrong with saying, "first 13, sci-fi- approx 5000 words".

Or even mention that it's for a contest. Then it could be for something like On the Premises and no one would be the wiser.

Grumpy, would you be interested in my e-mailing you a cheat sheet I've put together for the contest?

In fact, I'm going to link it for the folks in the WotF Q2 group below, so you can grab it from there if you'd like.

Axe

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Grumpy old guy
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Thanks Axe, I'd appreciate it. Btw, my first 13 for the contest is now almost unrecognisable from what I posted here. Just like you said.

Phil.

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