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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Bloodletting -- first 13

   
Author Topic: Bloodletting -- first 13
Grumpy old guy
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In a rush of foolishness, I've decided to submit a short story HERE and I have until the end of January to do it. I started yesterday, which is proof I'm no angel, simply a fool.

Any feedback would be gratefully accepted.

Dawn Houston opened her eyes, then blinked rapidly as the tears caused by the blinding white light began to trickle down her cheeks. What’s happening, what’s going on? She closed her eyes against the light. Then she heard a male voice, echoing in her ears as if he was speaking from within a long, rocky tunnel.

“Dawn, we have a problem.”

Well, at least he didn’t use the tired old cliché everyone usually does, she thought. And then she suddenly realised her Deep-Sleep Pod was open and she was awake. She ran an almost moist tongue over her dry lips and inhaled: the air smelled stale and old and dead, just like the grave. Exactly like the closet her father had locked her in when she was a child.

“Vladimir?” Her voice sounded as cracked and dry as a sun-baked


Phil.

[ January 20, 2013, 04:31 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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babygears81
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I like it. The only thing that i found kind of jolting was the "exactly like the closet her father had locked her in when she was a child line." Don't know why, just sounds kinda wierd. But I can't judge something like that with just thirteen lines. Since it seems so random, my only suggestion is that if you are going to mention it here, that you don't go too long before explaining it.

Good luck getting this written and ready in time!

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A Yeatts
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I like the idea of vampire meets space travel. Some very interesting possibilities there.

My biggest suggestion would be to start the story with her in action. Waking-Up stories are very common and unfortunately very hard to nail. It's going to be a strike against you before you even get the editor past the first page. If she starts in motion, already zipping her suit and heading down the hall trying to clear her head then you already have forward momentum to carry the reader along.

The "What's happening, what's going on?" will work later in the story once you've established a deep 3rd person point of view. But this early in the story, I stopped to decide if you were being experimental and not using quotation marks before I realized she was thinking this. Or tag on "she thought".

Hope that helps. Best of luck with it! Again, great idea... would love to see where you go with it.
Anna [Smile]

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Grumpy old guy
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A Yeatts, I think you may be confusing the editors dislike for the waking up, OMG I'm in a strange world, with a character waking up, knowing where they are. Btw, I rewrote the opening to try and remove any hint that Dawn's surprised at where she is. But she is surprised that she's been woken up.

The edited version looks like this:

Dawn Houston opened her eyes to blinding white light, then blinked rapidly as tears welled up and trickled down the sides of her cheeks. She closed her eyes as a male voice echoed in her ears.

“Dawn, we have a problem.”

Well, at least he didn’t use the tired old cliché everyone usually does.

“Where are we?” she eventually said. To her, her voice sounded as cracked and dry as a sun-baked claypan.

“Jupiter.” Vladimir said.

Jupiter. Just like that, a single word, no explanation. What’s gone wrong? She was about to ask when he spoke again.

“Don’t worry about it right now. Let me finish reviving you.”


Phil.

[ January 04, 2013, 01:00 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Okay, an update. I've got to finish this story in the next 10 days. Anyone interested in a quick read-through if I can have a finished draft in the next 7 days?

Phil.

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skadder
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Waking cliche...
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KellyTharp
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Drop the "...almost moist tongue." With the dry lips it didn't work for me. Her tongue should be shoe leather if her lips were so dry. Just my two-cents worth.
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Grumpy old guy
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Take your point, Kelly.

skadder, is this still cliché? [Smile]

Dawn Houston closed her eyes so she would not see the lid of her coffin close and lock her in.

Idiot! It’s not a coffin, she chided herself. It’s a Deep Space Hibernation Pod and I’ve left all that nonsense behind. I’m cured, have been for fifteen years. I haven’t had a panic attack for nearly –

*

Dawn Houston opened her eyes to blinding white light, then blinked rapidly as tears welled up and trickled down the sides of her cheeks. She closed her eyes as Vladimir’s voice echoed in her ears.

“Dawn, we have a problem.”

Well, at least he didn’t use the tired old cliché everyone . . .

Phil.

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skadder
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Yes. Just because you show her going to sleep a sentence earlier doesn't mean it isn't a waking opening.

Also, starting a story a few minutes after someone has woken (brushing their teeth in the morning) is often considered a disguised 'waking' opening. As was mentioned elsewhere, you can do it if you want, but you risk your work being discarded by slush readers.

What it really comes down to is, if you can engage the reader immediately with your fabulous use of words and your magical and mysterious immersive prose, no-one will care about the waking cliche.

If there are elements about your writing that suggest you are less than skilled, and you start with the waking cliche, then you will get dumped--quickly.

The further you move from the moment of waking the better.

Consider your opening. I have no idea where it is going, but to cover the stuff you have already there you could have your MC, Dawn, walk around the deep space hibernation pod, her finger touching the gel-like interior, wondering (internal dialogue) at how she'd spent 15 years of her life in it--15 years that'd passed in a blink. Meanwhile she could be finding out what the 'problem' is by way of a conversation (external dialogue) with Vladimir.

The film 'Alien' starts with them waking--it is a commonly used device.

[ January 21, 2013, 07:56 AM: Message edited by: skadder ]

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extrinsic
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Waking openings are a form of Dischism caused by a writer "waking" or becoming conscious within the secondary setting of a narrative.

From the Turkey City science fiction workshop writing lexicon, edited by Lewis Shiner, 2nd edition by Bruce Sterling ("Dischism" http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city-lexicon-a-primer-for-sf-workshops);

Dischism

"The unwitting intrusion of the author’s physical surroundings, or the author’s own mental state, into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision — when this is actually the author’s condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. “Dischism” is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M. Disch)" (Italics emphasis mine.)

[ January 22, 2013, 01:05 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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A Yeatts
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I read slush for a pro magazine. Like skadder said, if you open with any kind of waking scene and you don't blow me away by the first paragraph, I'm on to the next piece. Sad but true. And I read a *lot* of waking up pieces (a whole heckuva a lot of them coming out of cryostasis aboard a space ship...) Not to say it can't be done, but it's a tired cliche for a reason.
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Grumpy old guy
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Okay. I'm going to say this once and then NOT comment any further. Hunger Games -- clichéd waking-up opening, multi-million dollar book and film deal. Who would own up to rejecting it? Would you say, "I threw it in the slush pile," skadder?

Just because it's clichéd, doesn't mean it doesn't work. I am so fed up with people who say 'this is how it's done', or 'that's so old school'. The first few lines of a story are meant to inveigle the reader in. We should be enticing, not 'grabbing' and 'dragging' them in. The 'hook' is a fiction.

I've got a library of 500 or so main-stream fiction works. If I read the opening three sentences of all of them, what do I find? Well, I'll tell you this: I don't find a 'hook' in the first 13!

Phil.

(slightly inebriated and very angry)

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JSchuler
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While I get what you're saying, keep in mind Suzanne Collins was already a published author before Hunger Games came out. She had her foot already in the door, so she didn't necessarily need to grab the editors attention right from the get-go with a totally creative and original opening scene. Doesn't mean that her book wouldn't have benefited from it.

I agree that waking openings aren't bad in and of themselves. They're tropes, not cliches. But, I think your first draft was dangerously close to crossing over. Your second/third edits are much improved. I think it might work even better if you started at "Dawn, we have a problem."

I did like the "I'm cured, have been for fifteen years" line in the third. That was more of a hook for me than anything else. In terms of the actual writing, though, I liked the second out of the bunch.

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skadder
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If you want to be angry, you can--you don't have to listen to me. You can write stories any way you want. You can just use words with the letter A in them, if you want. Most of the advice on Hatrack (in this section) has historically been about trying to get short stories published in today's markets. The advice is generally broad and generic as people rarely say where they are going to sub to.

However, I would like to point out that I didn't say that you couldn't use a waking opening, just that you risk your work not getting the chance it should, because it may get dumped prematurely.

But, if I were the slush reader for a pro magazine...

There are still elements in your prose that, together with the waking opening, suggest to me that you still have things to work on and I'd would move on to the next submission.

Of course that would just be my opinion and I am just one person and very definitely not a slush reader...

[ January 22, 2013, 05:19 PM: Message edited by: skadder ]

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A Yeatts
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I'm trying to think back over the last couple months of slush. I remember one story with a waking scene that I gave a thumb's up for winnowing (where the editors and other slush readers look at them). The MC wakes up in a hospital bed and deals with questions of reality. Should I have liked it based on what I've already said? No. Did I? Yes.... why? Because it was BEAUTIFULLY written. The prose wouldn't let me pull my eyes off the page. But it didn't make it through winnowing. Got chomped up by the other slush readers and editors (and nailed by nearly everyone for the opening). Other stories overshadowed it in the end.

I think you have to look at novels vs short stories too. In a novel, the reader will usually give you a few pages to pull them into the plot (or character or milieu) so a waking scene would be easier to pull off. In a short story, you have to be more economical with your word count and make everything serve as many functions as possible. In flash fiction, even more so. Why throw away 20-30+ words to describe something that's a given (ie. being awake vs asleep).

It's your call as the writer. You know your story better than anyone else. You have to go with your gut.

Not an attack of any kind. Just a conversation about the pros and cons of a certain technique. The first story I ever posted a first 13 here for was a Waking Up story and I got the same feedback. Looking back, the critiques were right. I was starting my story in the wrong place.

But that's your call to make.
Anna [Smile]

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skadder
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Trope or cliche? Not sure so I looked them up:

Cliche is an over-used phrase, metaphor or idea.

A trope is the use of figurative language--the example they give is the use of 'Washington' (a place name) to represent those in power in the USA.

Personally I like the look of 'cliche' in this instance--the waking opening scene being an over-used idea, but I am happy for someone to correct me...

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JSchuler
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Keep reading that wiki entry, skadder.

"Since the 1970s, the word has also come to mean a commonly recurring literary device or motif, a cliché."

All cliches are tropes. Not all tropes are cliches.

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extrinsic
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I appreciate and empathize with your anger, Grumpy old guy. Anger is often an expression of frustration with a double bind: two, or more, mutually exclusive circumstances that do not seem reconcilable but demand reconciling. Also known as a cognitive dissonance.

You decide a waking-up opening is supportable and meritorious. You own that right. Readers, screeners, editors can take it or leave it, period. They individually own that right. The audience balks, in other words, at waking-up openings when they are unsupported and because they are outworn by their commonness as a rhetorical device. Mutually exclusive circumstances. I wish you timely reconciling and best outcomes.

[ January 22, 2013, 07:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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skadder
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quote:
Keep reading that wiki entry, skadder.
JSchuler - didn't you say earlier that a waking opening was a trope, not a cliche?

What you are saying now--'all cliches are tropes'--is that the opening is both a trope and cliche?! And, if 'not all tropes are cliches', then specifying that the opening is a cliche seems more specific (and accurate) than simply using the catch-all term trope? After all, the word 'cliche' hasn't ceased to mean what it did mean...

My preference is to call it a cliche...

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extrinsic
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Prescriptively defining the rhetorical principle "trope" came about a few millenia ago in ancient Greece. The English word meaning a figurative turn of language, "trope," came about in the 16th century. The '70s saw the term's broadening meaning to include cliché or symbolism motif or dramatic premise or literary theme among other meanings and clichéd usage of the term "trope."
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JSchuler
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quote:
didn't you say earlier that a waking opening was a trope, not a cliche?
Yes.
quote:
What you are saying now--'all cliches are tropes'--is that the opening is both a trope and cliche?!
No. The logical construction allows for a trope to not be a cliche. Sometimes, starting a book by the MC waking up is perfectly logical, as that's when the action happens.

I recently read Darkship Thieves, and that starts with the character waking up during her attempted kidnapping. Perfectly appropriate.

Now, as a rule of thumb I like to ask whether the action can wait until after the character has finished breakfast. If the answer's "no," then we're dealing with a trope. If "yes," then it's a particular kind of trope called a cliche. None of us know the plot of Grumpy's story, so I will err on the side of caution and avoid the pejorative term.

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skadder
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quote:
None of us know the plot of Grumpy's story...
I thought your original statement, ("I agree that waking openings aren't bad in and of themselves. They're tropes, not cliches.") that waking openings were tropes, not cliches, seemed quite definite, but now it seems that it is dependent on subjective interpretation of its appropriateness--some are tropes (but not cliches) and some are cliches (but also tropes).

I'm confused. I think I'll stick with calling it a cliche.

[ January 23, 2013, 05:15 AM: Message edited by: skadder ]

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JSchuler
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quote:
I thought your original statement, ("I agree that waking openings aren't bad in and of themselves. They're tropes, not cliches.") that waking openings were tropes, not cliches, seemed quite definite, but now it seems that it is dependent on subjective interpretation of its appropriateness
I highlighted the portion that should clear your confusion.

Yes, the distinction is subjective, as is everything when you judge fiction. If it were otherwise, computers would have put writers out of business long ago. So I'm not sure how I'm supposed to take that. It's like having someone point out that a book used words to convey meaning.

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skadder
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My point is that you corrected me when I said that waking openings are cliched.
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JSchuler
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I was unaware I even quoted you, and a glance at my first post shows that your name did not appear, and that its content is 100% on point to the topics addressed in the post directly above it.

Unless you're saying Grumpy is your alter ego. In which case, I suggest professional help.

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skadder
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I didn't say you quoted me, just that you corrected me as I was the one that called it cliched on this thread...
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skadder
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quote:
I suggest professional help.
Time to leave.
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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by skadder:
I didn't say you quoted me, just that you corrected me as I was the one that called it cliched on this thread...

Impossible, as I didn't read your post until after I had written mine. I don't read the critiques of others so that they don't influence my reaction.
quote:
Originally posted by skadder:
quote:
I suggest professional help.
Time to leave.
So Grumpy is your alter ego then? Intriguing. Which one wears the spandex and the cape?
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skadder
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?!
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Osiris
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I probably shouldn't be jumping into this conversation, but I've learned that the most important thing to advancing one's writing career (and get published) is to have the confidence to believe you can get published and the humility to take advice when given to you, especially from those who are sincerely trying to help you by sharing what they learned to help them get published.

I've read Skadder's work, and his WoTF winning story, and it was my favorite of the anthology. He's sold stories to a very challenging market in IGMS. He knows what he is doing, as does A Yeatts as a slush reader.

You may not agree with their opinions regarding waking scenes (for what it's worth, I do), but at least try to have humility to understand what they are saying. They are saying if your intent is to publish in today's market, you should avoid waking scenes. Hunger Games and Aliens succeed despite their waking scenes, because they do so much right, not because of it.

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History
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Good to see you skadder. Miss your input.

Grumpy, write what you feel works best for your story. Live with the results of your choices as we all do (my dead albatross is story length, for example).

All this back and forth on opening with a "waking scene" suggests to me a prompt for another Hatrack challenge some day: Write a waking scene story or opening that is original! (i.e. makes the reader want to read on) Ha!

Though out of vogue, some of my favorite stories as a boy took place with the protagonist going to sleep and dreaming!:
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by HP Lovecraft
The Valley of the Worm by Robert E Howard
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

And yet such dream stories are also out-of-favor today.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Grumpy old guy
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I know I said I wouldn't post again on this subject -- and I'm not. I'm just going to clarify that skadder and Grumpy are not related in any way. Well, not that I'm aware of.

Interesting reading though. Thanks all for the input -- well, most of it.

Phil.

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