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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » 13 - Fantasy WiP

   
Author Topic: 13 - Fantasy WiP
axeminister
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Any and all comments welcome:

I was eight years old when my power manifested.

Inside our log cabin, deep within the frozen confines of Winterdale, I doodled in my notebook instead of doing my homework. The cauldron above the fire bubbled, softening the roots and tubers for our nightly stew. Father sat nearby, plucking buckshot from a frost rabbit's hindquarters with his teeth, spitting the round, metal balls into a nearby wooden bowl. Mother tried in vain to sweep the rabbit's fur into an organized pile on the hardwood floor. Clumps swirled up and over her broom, only to land behind it. Each of her harrumphs were so perfectly distanced, one to the next, that I imagined I could tell time by them.

I dropped my pencil between the pages of my math book and clasped my hands together to keep them warm.

------------------------------
Alternate opening sentences:

Those with Power have two choices: run or be sentenced to death. On the night of my tenth birthday, I chose to run.

I will forever hate smoke, because despite my ability to control it, smoke is the reason I fled my childhood home.

[ November 06, 2013, 09:00 AM: Message edited by: axeminister ]

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Denevius
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It's funny how there's so much rich detail, from the type of cabin, 'log', to the cauldron, to the actual ingredients of the stew: roots and tubers. There's buckshots plucked from the rabbit, as well as the rabbit's type: frost. We even know the sounds his mother makes: harrumphs.

Yet, in my mind, the one sentence that should have a poignant, eye catching detail, that very first opening sentence, is just so flat and generic. It doesn't invoke mystery, or intrigue, nor is it very compelling. It also doesn't help that, unlike all of your other active sentences, this opening line is passive.

And though the descriptive paragraph is well written, I'm in the group that thinks stories, particularly short stories, should open up on the plot near the very beginning. What does the character want, what's their motivation, and what's standing in their way.

Right now, with no title to this piece, I have little idea what the story is about. You've given us a 'where' to place the story, but not a 'why' to read the story.

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Denevius
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Ah yeah, and the tone. You're going to run the risk of readers saying this doesn't sound like an 8 year old. Yeah, maybe it's being told from a later date, and the narrator is an adult. But in my experience, people still feel disorientated, particularly with first person narrator's, when a little kid is the POV. And especially for a short story, where I think the odds of us ever meeting the adult is very slim.
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axeminister
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Denevius, you are spot on, thank you.

I'm currently struggling to combine the top four pieces of advice swirling around my head regarding openings:

1. Have a killer first sentence.
2. The first sentence should encompass the entire story.
3. Start en medias res
4. Set the stage in detail.

I suppose the first sentence/paragraph should also be a hook, but I believe that will happen naturally with 1 and 2.

I'm concerned with this story having a flash-forward first sentence, then moving back to set the stage, then having the action start around page two.

Another part of the "hero's journey" opening is that the "ordinary world" be established. That's what paragraph two is, but it should be paragraph one.

Can the ordinary world be established while setting a hook and encompassing the story in a killer first sentence? Is there a way of doing it without the flash-forward "cheat"?

I've posted a few alternate first sentences for additional critique above.

Note to Kathleen: If the new first sentence(s) combined with the original opening push me past 13, please let me know and/or you/I will delete that 3rd paragraph.

Axe

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axeminister
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Denevius, regarding tone, I agree. I struggle a lot with separating "my" voice from that of a child. OSC got away with it by making his children geniuses, then mixing in fart jokes. [Smile]

I think two things will solve this. 1. I'll make him a little older and 2. I'll change "math" book to "physics" book.

A ten year old doing physics? Prodigy. Only now I risk Agent J showing up and killing him.

Axe

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extrinsic
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The setting description is the strongest feature of this opening for me, though on the generic side for me. Nightly family activites inside a log cabin in the woods--what makes this scene unique and exotic from the generic and routine one of any folk tale? one I default to when infering when and where this scene takes place. One small "telling detail" distiguishing this setting would start to develop this place as unique.

Like what? Maybe a detail that's out of place in the opening at present. I don't associate "hardwood floors" with traditional log cabins. Dirt floors are the convention. Hardwood floors implies and I infer a well-to-do family situation. A brick hearth apron maybe. Pine floor maybe, maybe mere pine planks in a few strategic places. Otherwise a firm earthmold floor, polished into a stone-like finish from grease spilled onto a high-clay and low-organic matter content soil and constant sweeping. Yeah, too much to put into a thirteen-line excerpt. But along that line about any detail that would set this setting apart from any other log cabin.

Event and character development are sufficiently begun I feel: the first person narrator-protagonist doodling instead of doing homework, Dad plucking buckshot with his teeth, Mom chasing fur bunnies with a broom and harumphing. Those are artful telling details. By telling details, it is not meant to mean summary or explanation lecturing but expressing artful showing details. These are exquisite, such that I yearn for the setting to be similarly developed for this opening.

Okay in the measure of storytelling details or story development for an opening yet voice or shall we say the discourse is underdeveloped. As Denevius notes, the narrative voice is on the sophisticated side for a youngster. In and of itself, that is not so much a contradiction as a viewpoint glitch. If the narrator's relative standing to the scene were developed differently, establishing that the narrator's standing is from a future time, that would be one method. On the other hand, less sophisticated diction and syntax would be another method. Several word choices contradict a child's perceptions: "frozen confines," "instead of," "hindquarters," "round, metal balls," "tried in vain," "organized pile," "only to land," "perfectly distanced," "I imagined."

The syntax is also on the sophisticated side for a child from using mostly complex and compound sentences. Two are simple sentences. Narrator voice predominates; I don't see a bit of character voice in the moment, place, and situation of the scene. An inkling or two of child perception, conception, and interest, though, is set up in doodling and imagining time could be kept by Mom's harumphs, though reported in narrator voice.

Contrarily, the narrative voice works for me, second strongest feature after setting development. The voice is poetic without calling undue attention to its poetry beyond its adult sophistication.

The three proposed opening lines do serve to imply the narrator recollects his childhood from a future time. Individually, no one of them works for me, though. Each tells a dramatic implication too directly for my imagination to work on infering its meaning.

Also, the transition from a possible future time to the present time of the past scene is on the abrupt side. A stepped transition that moves smoothly from the future to the past is one possible adjustment. Another might use a future-now temporal reference to establish the narrator's standing to the recollection.

In any regard, telling directly what the dramatic import of the scene is, up front, blunts possible mystery, curiosity, and meaning-inferrable-by-readers potentials.

For me, the narrative story of the opening is almost complete without any of those opening sentences. One feature I feel is missing is a cue of a dramatic complication. The third proposed opening sentence contains a potentially strong suggestion of one: forced to leave home, presumably due to being able to control smoke. If that were shown in a mysterious way by the character manipulating smoke while doodling, two activities my imagination can link together, I think that would cue up a complication adequately for subsequent, later development.

I'm also thinking that this opening could as easily be in third person as first. That would obviate narrator sophisticated voice challenges. As it is, though, in first person, other challenges of that person are not not-working nor a bar for me: overly self-involved narrator mediation, untimely, excessive, or false interiorization, and empty viewpoint character characterization devlopment. This opening baldly--limited mediation--takes in the narrator-protagonist's exterior perceptions, a timely and credible thought reaction to Mom harumphing, and they in turn along with his actions begin developing his character.

Again, this is for me a mostly complete opening lines scene development, barring a few minor voice, setting, and dramatic complication shortcomings.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Axe, I don't think they'll add too much. I figure I'll allow an extra line if I know the person is trying to keep within the 13 lines (mainly because some browsers--such as Firefox--say that 14 lines is 13--if that makes sense).
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pidream
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I was eight years old when my power manifested.

1.I have to agree with Denevius, the opening line does seem overshadowed by the rest of the imagery. And the characters age might be older too, but then again maybe his power has made him wise beyond his years (we don’t know, yet). Perhaps you can circle back to it or maybe you do in the unseen line 14.

Inside our log cabin, deep within the frozen confines of Winterdale, I doodled in my notebook instead of doing my homework.

The cauldron above the fire bubbled, softening the roots and tubers for our nightly stew.

2.I like the tone and imagery but there is a lot of it. Maybe consider cutting- ‘softening the roots and tubers for” to move the story along.

Father sat nearby, plucking buckshot from a frost rabbit's hindquarters with his teeth, spitting the round, metal balls into a nearby wooden bowl.

3.I have two images in my mind reading this sentence that either conflict or compliment the following sentence. The father biting into the rabbit with the fur intact. Then, yes, there would be spurious bits for the mother to sweep up. But if he skinned and dress the rabbit, outdoors, as it is usually done. The innards would be removed, the pelt stripped from the flesh, and the paws and head removed. There would be no fur to sweep up as the pelt would be either discarded or hung some place other than the house waiting to be cured. Just something to consider.

Mother tried in vain to sweep the rabbit's fur into an organized pile on the hardwood floor. Clumps swirled up and over (Consider- the) her broom, only to land behind it. Each of her harrumphs (Condiser-of frustration was) were so perfectly distanced (Consider-spaced), one to the next, that I imagined I could tell time by them.

4.I say consider because, for me, the
harrumphs just seem to hang there unconnected to the rest of the sentence. IMHO

I dropped my pencil between the pages of my math book and (Consider- rubbed) clasped my hands together to keep them warm.

5.By the time I got to here, the imagery I enjoyed so much had caused me to forget the first line which is supposed to be the hook. Coming back to it would be great.

I liked this, but got a little lost in the imagery. I would read on.
Good luck.

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JenniferHicks
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The description is absolutely spot on, but the opening lines aren't doing it for me. What you've come up with for opening lines are declarative statements that sit outside the framework of the narrative. For that reason, they're a little jarring. IMO, you should try to weave some hint of action into your opening paragraph along with the description, something that teases the kid's discovery of his powers. Your first sentence doesn't need to encompass the whole story; it only needs to hook us into reading the next one. Good luck!
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axeminister
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Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

Extrinsic, I hadn't thought of 3rd person, but that might be the answer to my using my own voice...

Pidream, yes, rubbed. I like your other "consider" ideas as well. I appreciate your thoughts on the imagery, too. I'm going for 1 step from overkill.

Jennifer, "...declarative statements outside the framework of the narrative." is hitting the nail on the head.

I believe I know what to do. Open: The boy moves the smoke, it's no big deal. (This is the "ordinary world" I'm seeking ala Hero's Journey.) But in paragraph four, one of his parents catch him, and that's when they explain - they need to run.

So, thanks again!

Axe

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