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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Peace for the Unicorn

   
Author Topic: Peace for the Unicorn
mayflower988
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I'm an amateur writer, just trying to make my dream into reality. This story isn't as good as I want it to be yet, and that's where you come in. :) I need your help. This is a short fantasy story (1833 words) that I've been working on for about a year, I think. It's come through a few changes, but I've asked for critique on it here before (it was called The Unicorn Tamer then). I'm looking for a few readers who are willing to read the whole story and offer some constructive criticism. I appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks.

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The unicorn heard a scuffling outside the dungeon cell. He raised his head. The iron doors shrieked open on their rusty hinges and the cell flooded with light. A young woman was thrown inside. “See you at dawn, wench - if you manage to survive the night.” The slams of the iron doors reverberated in the unicorn’s old bones.
The girl groaned as she raised herself to her knees. The unicorn’s joints creaked as he got to his feet. The girl froze, listening. She stood up slowly. “Well, come on, brute. Kill me quickly.”
The unicorn jerked his head up. “I’m not going to kill you.”
“Oh. Oh, I – I didn’t know your kind could talk.”
“We can, but only after your kind speaks first.”
“Oh.” She wrung her hands. “Do you have a name?”

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mayflower988
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I've been doing some revision. Here are the new first 13 lines - as near as I can tell. I still struggle with figuring out how much is 13 lines, even though I went back and read the "how to tell if it's 13 lines" post. Also, the story is now up to 1965 words.

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Orin heard a scuffling outside the dungeon cell. He raised his head. The iron doors shrieked open on their rusty hinges and the cell flooded with light. A young woman was thrown inside. The moonlight shining through the small window illumined the tears on her cheeks. “See you at dawn, wench - if you manage to survive the night.” The slams of the iron doors reverberated in the unicorn’s old bones. The girl groaned. Orin’s joints creaked as he got to his feet. The girl froze, listening. She stood up slowly.

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Carl F
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mayflower 988,
I'd be willing to give it a shot. Maybe it'll get me working on my own two unfinished ones too.
Carl

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mayflower988
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Thanks so much! I just sent it to you.
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extrinsic
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Let's see if I might muddy the waters about Hatrack's Thirteen Lines principle.

A simple explanation is the text entry form box for posting new threads and the full reply form, but not the quick reply form, are set so that on most browsers the amount of text that will fit without running over is thirteen rows (lines) of up to sixty-five columns. 845 total matrices. Each glyph, keyboard character, letter, numeral, punctuation mark, or word space, but not hard return, takes up one matrix. A hard return, though will end a line short of the sixty-fifth line matrix. Tabs don't display and the second space of a double space doesn't display when posted but both do display in a text entry form box.

If writing beforehand in Word or WordPerfect or the like, and copying and pasting into an entry form, setting a letter size page's left and right margins to 1 inch and font to a 12 pt monospaced typerwriter typeface, like New Courier, will impose 65 glyphs per line, absent tabbed paragraph indents.

Monospaced typefaces impose one glyph per matrix and all glyphs take up exactly the same amount of line width, regardless of whether a capital M or period or word space. Thirteen lines of text formated that way then is the amount that will fit into a Hatrack text entry form.

Ms. Dalton-Woodbury doesn't count line spaces separating paragraphs in the thirteen lines. (The way standard online mechanical style formating signals paragraph breaks.) Sometimes she will allow a word or two over the limit if they are necessary to the sense of the sentence. Rarely, she might allow a line or so over as well for the same reason.
------
I liked the former title, "The Unicorn Tamer" for its similarity to The Horse Whisperer, its pleasant associations. But those titles imply focal viewpoint characters other than a unicorn or a horse, respectively, and their perspectives are at the forefront of their dramas.

I like the inpsiration I sense of the short story, a grouchy old unicorn, though the voice doesn't work for me. Both openings largely tell the introductions from a wide-open narrative distance but the intent seems to me to be to report in a close narrative distance.

Verbs like "heard" for example tell that aural sensation happened. Showing aural sensations simply describes the sounds. What are the sounds Orin hears of the scuffle outside the dungeon cell?

Simlarly, "raised his head" describes a bystander's observation of Orin, when I think the intent is to close into Orin's veiwpoint. He can't see himself raise his head. This is what Turkey City Lexicon labels a "viewpoint glitch."

In all, the narrator voice predominates when, again, I think the intent is to portray Orin's viewpoint. This is signaled by the opening subject and predicate "Orin heard."

Otherwise, a more raconteur-like narrator voice might first introduce the narrative voice, that the narrator reports the action. Short-short stories are strongest and clearest when who the viewpoint persona is, character or narrator, is clear to readers from the outset.

Example openings that clearly introduce a narrator voice are, for instance: once upon a time; in a galaxy far, far away; the year was Our Laird's fortieth; close by to the home front of Odyssey, and so on. Though the first is widely considered trite if not cliché, different wording may pass unnoticed or be considered effective, clear, strong, and artful.

[ June 17, 2013, 02:12 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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mayflower988
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Thanks for the help, extrinsic. That is a good point about introducing the narrator's viewpoint. Is it possible to have that close narration in the third person? Are you saying I should not describe Orin doing something that he cannot see himself doing? I've rewritten the opening per your advice. Now let's see if I can make sense of your advice about the thirteen lines. :)
---
A loud voice echoed down the corridor outside Orin's cell. Two sets of footsteps hurried down the hall, one heavy, one light. A sudden impact and a cry of pain startled Orin. The footsteps came closer, right outside his cell, and the heavy iron doors were yanked open. A young woman was shoved inside. She fell hard against the stone floor, the straw covering it doing little to cushion her fall. The guard with the loud voice barked at the young woman. "See you at dawn, wench - if you manage to survive the night!" He yanked the doors shut again, and their slams reverberated through Orin's old bones. The young woman groaned and lifted herself onto her knees. Orin stood, all his four knees popping and his long leg bones creaking. The young woman froze, listening. She slowly got to her feet and braced herself as if for an attack. "Well, brute, kill me quickly."

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mayflower988
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By the way, I still need a couple more readers - any takers?
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
Thanks for the help, extrinsic. That is a good point about introducing the narrator's viewpoint. Is it possible to have that close narration in the third person? Are you saying I should not describe Orin doing something that he cannot see himself doing? I've rewritten the opening per your advice. Now let's see if I can make sense of your advice about the thirteen lines. [Smile]
---

You are welcome, mayflower988. Working with developmental guidance editing also helps me more firmly grasp writing concepts I'm working on. So it's a two-way-street conversation. Thank you for your considerate contribution.

Third-person close, as writers refer to it, can be close narrative distance at times and somewhat open at times. The narrator still reports the action, but opening and closing narrative distance varies voice, from at times character voice to narrator voice and overlaps between the two voices. Closing narrative distance begins from external perceptions, open, and comes physically closer, and deeper and deeper into thoughts, closest. One character's thoughts. Opening narrative distance moves the other direction, internal to external but not losing touch with the viewpoint character's perceptions. This is K.I.T. in C.J. Cherryh's writing vernacular: Keep In Touch.

Using the viewpoint character's name amd clear pronoun referents in ample context (Who, Orin, both as sentence subject and object), as you do in the revised version, develops the narrative viewpoint and viewpoint character introductions, keeping in touch with the viewpoint character. Those revision features in your recent version I feel are strong and most definitely work for me.

The slamming doors' vibrations reverberating through Orin's old bones closes narrative distance closest of the sentences. He internally in the moment and place feels them. The woman getting up onto her knees before Orin stands up, though, breaks the closing distance (unsettled voice). If Orin stood up before her, and had a thought reaction beforehand to the young woman's initial, abrupt arrival, narrative distance would close in even more.

Actually, closing narrative distance would show Orin's thoughts, and physical reactions he can perceive, to the initial disturbance in the outside hall. Orin's attitude. I project he'd be grumpy about the disturbance, or, stronger yet, he might be conflicted: both somewhat delightfully surprised at the interrupted routine and upset by it. Viewpoint character thoughts and reactions, attitude, artfully interpret actions and reactions so that readers can interpret what they mean specific to a viewpoint character's meaning space: the moment, place, and situation (setting) in which they occur.

Physical reactions Orin can perceive about himself are volitional actions, actions he's conscious of making beforehand, like standing up, which though a natural reaction to a visitor, I imagine he had to consider for a moment. Nonvolitional physical reactions are challenging to portray from a close third-person perspective, since they aren't thought of beforehand.

In close narrative distance, the narrator ought not describe actions that Orin cannot perceive. However, if the narrator's voice is developed early on, transitions opening narrative distance can report close-by actions and sensations that a viewpoint character doesn't volitionally perceive but is aware of.

Either way, though, transitions are tricky. Seamless transitions are crucial so that readers who can keep track can follow along with changing perspectives. Think of close narrative distance as a movie camera on the viewpoint character's forehead, able to access that character's thoughts. More distant places are, for example, a viewpoint character's shoulder, less able to access thoughts; or a wandering spy-eye able to move from forehead, to shoulder, to nearby, to farther away but with much less access, if any, to thoughts. In the latter case, external actions and reactions serve to show what characters are thinking instead of reporting deeper thoughts.

Anyway, in some ways I think the revised version is stronger; in some ways less strong than I feel is your intent or an ideal best practice for a close third-person narrative voice. The shortcoming I see is attitude; in other words, emotional reaction to stimuli. Developing a viewpoint character's dramatic situation calls for attitude commentary. Close narrative distance means in this opening Orin's commentary about the stimuli he perceives, when he perceives it, from where he perceives it so that the dramatic situation develops clearly and strongly for readers.

The young woman's arrival, by the way, presents a strong dramatic complication, a bridging complication that will do until the full complication develops: that of a problem for Orin that wants satisfaction. Subtle and artful and works for me.

I am most impressed that you understood and adopted my guidance so easily and artfully and in your own way without undue stress, and that you kept your creative vision pure, without contamination from my creative vision projections. Well done.

[ June 17, 2013, 01:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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mayflower988
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
quote:


Anyway, in some ways I think the revised version is stronger; in some ways less strong than I feel is your intent or an ideal best practice for a close third-person narrative voice. The shortcoming I see is attitude; in other words, emotional reaction to stimuli. Developing a viewpoint character's dramatic situation calls for attitude commentary. Close narrative distance means in this opening Orin's commentary about the stimuli he perceives, when he perceives it, from where he perceives it so that the dramatic situation develops clearly and strongly for readers.
Good point. I see what you're saying here. My revised version is showing what Orin is seeing and hearing, but not what he thinks or feels about that. Carl said something similar, and I noticed this gap in my opening. I'm still not telling my readers anything about Orin. All I've given them is the name. I'm not going to re-do the entire opening right now, but I've inserted a sentence that I thought might help ameliorate this: "A loud voice echoed down the corridor outside Orin's cell. Two sets of footsteps hurried down the hall, one heavy, one light. Orin began to tremble; the guards had not yet refrained from using torture." Is that the kind of thing you're talking about?

[/QUOTE]I am most impressed that you understood and adopted my guidance so easily and artfully and in your own way without undue stress, and that you kept your creative vision pure, without contamination from my creative vision projections. Well done. [/qb][/QUOTE] Why, thank you. You just made my day. [Smile]

[ June 18, 2013, 09:26 AM: Message edited by: mayflower988 ]

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mayflower988
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Oops. I seem to have accidentally quoted myself. That second paragraph that starts with "Good point" is my response to extrinsic.
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extrinsic
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"Orin began to tremble; the guards had not yet refrained from using torture."

That's in the vein, but a narrator tell that summarizes and explains the dramatic situation, opening narrative distance and is on the unsettled voice side. Orin thinking, remembering, recollecting the previous torture session and then reacting, perhaps frustratingly against his volition, notices his legs tremble might be stronger. A prepositioned adverb or adjective, stronger and clearer, in one or both the previous sentences could also set up for the third sentence's meaning.

"Loud," for example, consider gruff or how would Orin perceive the voice's sound and meaning to him of the context (who, when, and where), and texture (what, how, and why)? "Loud" is a how, though nonspecific, vague. Brutal? Beastly? Brash? Booming? Cruel? and so on.

Simllarly the second sentence might benefit from how Orin perceives the footsteps' context and texture. That sentence, perhaps some of the nouns and verbs could be stronger, for example, clomping footsteps thumped.

And consider distinguishing the large and small footsteps as one set confident and one set resistant in separate clauses or sentences for two distinct ideas. Confinement tends to heighten sensory awareness, for Orin maybe, that he might recognize one set as belonging to a guard from a distinctive sound and the other a prisoner from how the prisoner scrapes her feet.
----
For editing a post after posting, the second-from-the-right icon button that looks like a piece of paper with a pencil beside it, on each post header dateline, is for editing a post a member might like to change after posting.

If susbstantive adjustments to content are made, it's a polite courtesy to note an edit, "Edited to add: added text," for example. Minor style changes, like spelling and such or formating, don't need noticing, since a line saying "Date, Time, Message edited by: Member or 'Kathleen Dalton Woodbury'" will append to the bottom of a post edited after any other viewer has visited the Hatrack site. Otherwise, if no one has visited in the interim between posting and editing, the edited byline will not be added since the edited post's original would not have been priorly viewed by another viewer.

[ June 17, 2013, 11:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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mayflower988
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Okay, so my sentence about the torture would be stronger if I applied the "show rather than tell" principle, i.e. showing the memory coming back to Orin and showing his reaction and how he feels about that. And more specific, stronger adjectives, nouns, and verbs would better describe and draw in readers. I had thought about distinguishing between the two sets of footsteps, but I thought that might cause the story to get bogged down in details, which seemed to be a disadvantage right at the beginning. I'll give it a shot, though, and try to keep it fairly brief.
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mayflower988
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[/QUOTE] The woman getting up onto her knees before Orin stands up, though, breaks the closing distance (unsettled voice). If Orin stood up before her, and had a thought reaction beforehand to the young woman's initial, abrupt arrival, narrative distance would close in even more.[/QB][/QUOTE]

Extrinsic, I was going through the critique I've received so far, and I realized that I didn't quite understand what you meant by "If Orin stood up before her". Do you mean if he stood up before she did? Or do you mean if he stood up before the young woman arrived? Or maybe if he stood up in front of her? Sorry, I just now realized I didn't know what you meant by this.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by mayflower988:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The woman getting up onto her knees before Orin stands up, though, breaks the closing distance (unsettled voice). If Orin stood up before her, and had a thought reaction beforehand to the young woman's initial, abrupt arrival, narrative distance would close in even more.

Extrinsic, I was going through the critique I've received so far, and I realized that I didn't quite understand what you meant by "If Orin stood up before her". Do you mean if he stood up before she did? Or do you mean if he stood up before the young woman arrived? Or maybe if he stood up in front of her? Sorry, I just now realized I didn't know what you meant by this.
I mean if Orin stands up immediately before the woman does and expresses a thought or two, then narrative distance can open a mite for new external stimuli for him to internally react to: her fearing he will kill her. But he can stand up anytime before her, after he hears her and the guard in the hall.

I recognize brevity is important for this story. Oddly, a strong word or two added here and there and a bit of syntax adjustment might realize a shorter and stronger story than it is now, from then more clearly seeing a few superfluous words that can be cut. These kinds of revisions are magical in that way.

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mayflower988
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Here is my best attempt at revising my story while keeping all the critiques in mind. I was told to make Orin memorable and give him more character. Well, I tried, but I struggled with making him sound like an elderly unicorn. Perhaps some readers can offer suggestions on how to better do that, as well as critiques on the rest of the story. I should warn you all, though, that the story is now about twice as long - 4445 words. (I would also consider suggestions on what I can cut out of the story.) Here are the new first thirteen. The last sentence is a long one, so I cut it off in the middle.
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A gruff shout echoed down the corridor outside Orin's cell in the humans’ town dungeon. He heard the sound of heavy footsteps far away. Orin’s heart began pounding. The last time the guards came, they had brought a whip. Orin’s bony back and sides were still sore. Every movement brought the pain back in a fresh wave. He had not raised himself from the straw on the stone floor since the whipping. Orin could almost feel the whip on his hide again. He began trembling all over, and he cursed his cowardice even as he berated himself for being stupid enough to even come to the humans. A fool’s errand, that’s what it was. The humans didn’t want peace; they never would. The Headman wouldn’t even speak to Orin. There was no way the Headman would even hear, let alone care about, Orin’s last wish. Orin had allowed old age to turn him into a foolish dreamer, and now he would die here...

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mayflower988
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I still need readers, so I'm posting to make this visible on the Active Topics page.
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mayflower988
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Anyone care to give my story a read?
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alliedfive
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I'll read. Send it along.
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